The data world needs more women

20 February 2017

A recent survey  predicted that by the end of 2016, fewer than 25% of technology jobs in developed countries will be held by women, slightly down on the proportion for 2015. The study suggested a number of reasons for the low take-up of technology jobs by women, from problems in the education pipeline (only 18% of computer science graduates in the US in 2013 were women) to low retention rates (a US study found that women in IT roles were 45% more likely than their male colleagues to leave in their first year).

As a science graduate who now works as a data analytics consultant, I recognise the problem and can empathise. I’ve been out numbered by men for my entire career – both in my earlier life, when I studied for a PhD in theoretical particle physics (not really a topic historically renowned for attracting girls) and now in my work with data.

I can empathise, but I often wonder why data analytics, and technology in general, doesn’t attract more women as career. Just 15% of Facebook’s tech employees, and 17% of Twitter’s, are women – despite the efforts of both companies to find and recruit more female tech talent – but more than half of the users of both sites are female. We talk often of how important it is for a company’s workforce to reflect its customer base – the difficulties in recruiting more women must be a source of frustration for these companies.

For me, it was an easy and very satisfying leap when I made the decision to change my career path from theoretical particle physics to data consulting. As a physicist I was spending a lot of time in a room on my own – I felt isolated and only a small part of a much larger puzzle. Studying physics simply wasn’t playing to my strengths, whereas my job in data absolutely does – and the point is, my strengths are fairly common among women.

I love being part of a team and have good ‘soft’ skills; I’m well-organised and good at prioritising; I have a close attention to detail; and I’m excellent at multi-tasking. These aren’t unusual traits in the women I know – in other words, working in data suits many of us. And take it from me, it’s a fantastic, hugely enjoyable career.

I don’t really have any answers to this, other than to say that if you know of a young girl, teenager – or even someone older - with an aptitude for science or numbers, plant the idea. Companies really want to attract and keep more women in technology roles and they’ll bend over backwards to help and support women who work for them. Perhaps all we need is a little encouragement and one day, I will look around my office and see just as many women as men.

 

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