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Are Big Data Career Paths Attracting More Women to Tech?

02/16/2016 01:39 pm ET | Updated Feb 17, 2016
  • Rachel Wolfson Avid blogger, writer and fitness buff. I enjoy writing about women in tech and innovating startups. Follow me at racheltalkstech.com, @Rachelwolf00 or on Facebook

The famous German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once said: "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." While this quote holds an enormous amount of truth, I find these words especially relevant to the way I feel about women who work in tech. "Women in Tech" have always been outnumbered by men, but this disproportion could actually be encouraging more females to enter the tech workforce, specifically in Big Data and statistics related fields.

Taking a Closer Look

As a young woman who has worked in the tech-startup industry for the past few years, I would think that more females would want to be a part of shaping the future of technology, yet statistics illustrate the opposite. In fact, the amount of women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is dismal, and rather embarrassing.

Here are 3 figures that highlight the small percentage of women involved in tech:

Roughly 18% of computer science degrees go to women - In turn, men hold about 82% of computer science degrees. According to a recent Current Population Study, only 26.1% of women make up the"computer and mathematical occupations" category.

"Google's workforce, according to its own internal audit, is 70% male. Facebook isn't much different." - While these numbers might seem surprising, I'm not shocked. After moving to Silicon Valley, I've had the pleasure of visiting the offices of some big tech companies, and guess what - there seemed to be an awful lot of men present, yet very few women. The same goes for tech tradeshows that I've attended. The lack of women in these companies reinstates the idea that not enough women are pursuing careers with large organizations responsible for shaping the future of technology.

Less than 17% of the tech industry is made up of women - The other 83% consists of men. Not only is this percentage alarming, it has also been noted that this gender gap is worsening. Women make up about 59% of the US labor force, yet fewer than 25% of women actually work in a technical field.

While the statistics mentioned above are alarming, women might actually be more inclined to make a difference due to the apparent gender divide in the tech workforce. According to an O'Reilly Media report entitled "Women in Data," the lack of women in technology has actually improved over the years. The report notes,

"The underrepresentation of women in tech has garnered tremendous attention and support of late to the point where the continued existence of the numbers disparity has fostered a nation-wide movement to bring more women into technical fields."

So which fields are seeing the largest increase in women workers? Recently, Big Data and statistic fields have been attracting a surprising amount of females. It's been noted that women are achieving more than 40% of statistic degrees, and new career paths in data science now hold multiple opportunities for women.

The rise of women in the world of data could also be due to the belief that women typically excel in communication and problem solving, two main areas that are required for data oriented roles. Carla Gentry, a successful data scientist and founder of Analytical-Solution, explained her reasoning for this, stating:

"More women are becoming interested in the big data field because it's an interesting subject, filled with lots of potential. I think "we" see the whole picture of these possibilities because as wives, mothers, etc. we have to see the "macro view" all the time. Therefore "seeing the big picture" comes naturally, in my opinion. But, we do have an up hill battle to gain a foothold in this field, as I am constantly reminded even after 17 years in data analytics. Until "our own field" (tech/data science/analytics) recognizes us for our talent, how do we think others will? There are too few truly talented, experienced people in "big data" to silence the share women have attained. It's time to start highlighting talent and not gender. We need all hands on deck if we plan to take big data analytics to the next level."

Wendi Pannell, IT Team Leader for GE, also noted,

"IT was my fallback career. I went back and changed my major to Management Science because my dad had let me tinker with his work computers, including playing Doom from a DOS prompt with his staff during their lunch break one summer. My success became for the most part dependent on how well I executed alone, and if I could deal with that. So began my journey in being the only one or one of few woman in the room, at the table, or on the data center floor. Upon further reflection, I think I have done some great things, and in my self-evaluation I have succeeded. One of my secrets I've never shared before is to always wear a great pair of shoes. They always fit and give me a boost in confidence and height."

More Encouragement is Still Needed

While it's positive to think that the lack of women in tech might actually be encouraging more women to become involved, the bottom line remains - further encouragement and mentorship is still required in order to attract more women into STEM sectors. So what can be done to help drive females to pursue tech-related careers?

More educational programs, conferences, campaigns, etc. are greatly needed to inspire women to join the technology revolution that we are currently undergoing. Once this is achieved, we can expect to see a growing number of women within a wider variety of tech related fields. In the meantime, however, women must be aware of this gender divide and combat it by taking action. Now is the time for us to take advantage of working in technology, and Big Data and statistic career paths are just the beginning.

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