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Women Data Scientists on the Rise

Feature Article | February 10, 2017 by Jeanette Rohr

Women in Data Science (WiDS) is a Stanford  University initiative that hopes to inspire women to pursue a career in data science and foster a female data science community. As one of WiDS’ main sponsors, SAP University Alliances/SAP Next-Gen organized satellite events to the annual Women in Data Science conference last week at 25 SAP locations worldwide including Berlin.

Qualified employees are crucial to companies focused on trend technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Candidates with know-how in data science are especially sought-after. Although men have traditionally made up a large part of the tech workforce, this is a great time for young women to take up what has been called “the sexiest job of the 21st century” and enlarge the talent pool companies can draw upon.

Highlighting the abilities and contributions that women bring to the technology field, the recent Berlin WiDS Conference aimed to inspire and educate data scientists, regardless of gender, and support women in the field.

As digitalization gave rise to the shift in technology that is machine learning, a whole new range of career opportunities has become available to those who fit the job profile of a data scientist. Machine learning is based substantially on large bulks of data. Subsequently, there is a huge demand for specialists who can leverage big data to train algorithms for machine learning. This specification makes the profile of a data scientist now more valuable than ever before.

“For many of our customers it’s difficult to apply machine learning because they don’t have skilled data scientists”, said Dr. Sebastian Wieczorek, head of Machine Learning Platform at SAP, during the Berlin WiDS Conference.

Women taking up education and a career in data science can thus serve an actual job market need. Also, as an asset in terms of diversity, they can further support companies’ sustainable development. Teams diverse not only in terms of gender, but also in culture and age, are indispensable for fostering innovation and creativity. A diverse workforce has an impact on business success, revenue and customer relations in an increasingly disruptive business environment.

Opposing Bias in Recruiting with Machine Learning

While it’s proven fact that diverse teams perform better, there is still a widespread tendency to build homogenous teams. Since bias is often unintentional, it can be extremely difficult to eliminate from the hiring process.

Actually, machine learning can help here, too. SAP SuccessFactors Human Capital Management Suite is able to identify potentially biased language in job descriptions that may discourage female job applicants and suggest alternative phrasing to ensure gender-neutral descriptions.

The new machine learning solution Résumé Matching, being developed within the SAP Innovation Center Network, will automate the screening of job candidates by parsing their résumés and matching them to open positions according to their skillset. Potential human bias is thus excluded from the process.

Female Tech Networks Offer Creative and Motivational Support

In addition to Agnieszka Walorska of Creative Construction Heroes who delivered a keynote for WiDS 2017 in Berlin on the shift from artificial intelligence towards artificial creativity, there were five women entrepreneurs and data science researchers participating in a panel discussion. Cindy Perscheid from the Hasso Plattner Institute; design researcher Zwetana Penova; Hajnalka Hejja from MediLad; Dr. Vedrana Högqvist Tabor and Astrid Mochtarram from Twindly all agreed on networks being a key factor to women succeeding in technology fields such as data science.

With the rise in percentage of women graduating in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, an more female mentors and role-models have become available to women aspiring to a career in technology. Initiatives like Girls Who Code, Women in Technology and local organizations such as Berlin Geekettes offer support from first steps in coding to advice on founding start-ups.

SAP supports the efforts in building a female data science community. WiDS 2017 in Berlin was sponsored by SAP University Alliances/SAP Next-Gen together with SAP Diversity and Inclusion and the SAP Innovation Center Network. The event attracted about 150 women in technology professions of the Berlin-Brandenburg area, many among them at the start of their careers.


Initiatives like Women in Data Science are so important because they shine light on the outstanding achievements of great female leaders in tech. I hope that many women get inspired and motivated by their journey and start to chart for their path in the tech field.

— Juergen Mueller, Chief Innovation Officer, SAP


Bias-Free Work Environments Are Crucial

Another key factor to female success in technology is a work environment that provides the same access to opportunity (e. g., professional development and leadership programs) to both men and women. In the U.S., 29 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by women in are in STEM fields. However, the drop-out rate in professions such as engineering is currently high. The World Economic Forum suggests that bias in the workplace may be the main reason for this.

In accordance with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #5 Gender Equality, by end of 2017 SAP plans to have women in 25% of the company’s leadership positions. An inclusive work environment doesn’t stop at gender-neutral job ads, however. These are merely a first step towards gender equality.


Women need to take ownership in technology as a catalyst for change. 

–Anka Wittenberg, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, SAP


From big events like WiDS and others, to individual mentoring, it’s clear that women are making increasing inroads into the technology field, bringing with them a wide array of skills and experience that will greatly contribute to the next generation of technology advances.

Image via SAP

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