Analytics: Where the Girls Are


We hear a lot about the underrepresentation of women in STEM jobs, but analytics is shaping up to be a level playing field, according to one industry expert's predictions for 2014.

Steven Hillion, chief product officer at Alpine Data Labs, listed this assertion at the top of his new year's forecast:

Women will take a far more prominent role in the world of data science, helping solve the data scientist shortage. Women are leading and succeeding in data science. Data science draws upon applied sciences where women have had great success. Data science is collaborative and communicative -- characteristics that have been traditionally associated with women. We're increasingly seeing more and more women entering and excelling in data science. Leading data scientists are as likely to be a woman as a man.

This prediction is based primarily on a talk that Hillion gave at this year's Strata Conference in New York. He said that, unlike in most IT roles, women are fairly close to achieving parity with men in data analysis.

Hillion shared this slide with the audience at Strata.
Hillion shared this slide with the audience at Strata.

In the chart above, based on research from Bright Labs as reported by Fast Company, you can see that "data analyst" as a job title in the US clocks in at only 53.8% male. The stat seems to be borne out by Payscale.com, which pegs women at one-third of the data analysts in the UK, compared with only 10% in other IT jobs.

(Source: Payscale)
(Source: Payscale)

Hillion said that prominent data scientists like Corinna Cortes, head of Google Research in New York; Daphne Koller, professor of computer science at Stanford; and Annika Jimenez, global head of data science services at Pivotal, are considered superstars in the analytics space. And they're only three examples. (You can see more in our Women in Analytics series.)

Things get a little fuzzier, in my opinion, when Hillion brings up the "traditionally female" predilection for collaboration, communication, and success in applied sciences. As we discussed this week, the ability to write and tell compelling stories is critical for today's data scientist. Teamwork, too, is becoming a hallmark of analytics efforts across enterprises. Are women naturally inclined to be better at these softer skills?

I think we're venturing into controversial territory when we say women are better at x, y, or z simply because they're women. Hillion said this also concerns him, but "all of the women" he spoke to agreed with the assertion and encouraged him to communicate it.

Readers, what do you think? Can we throw around blithe generalizations about women? Is data science developing a vocational culture of gender equality? Share your opinions below.

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— Michael Steinhart, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn pageFriend me on Facebook, Executive Editor, AllAnalytics.com

Michael Steinhart, Contributing Editor

Michael Steinhart has been covering IT and business computing for 15 years, tracking the rising popularity of virtualization, unified fabric, high-performance computing, and cloud infrastructures. He is editor of The Enterprise Cloud Site, which won the Least Imaginative Site Name award in 2012, and he managed TheITPro.com, a community of IT professionals taking their first steps into cloud computing. From 2006 to 2012, Steinhart worked as an executive editor at Ziff Davis Enterprise, writing and managing research reports, whitepapers, case studies, magazine features, e-newsletters, blog posts, online videos, and podcasts. He also moderated and presented in dozens of webinars and virtual tradeshows. He got his start in IT journalism at CMP Media back in 1998, then moved to PC Magazine, managing the popular Solutions section and then covering business technology and consumer software. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications/journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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Re: Where the women are.
  • 12/22/2013 10:52:19 AM
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I wonder if the differences in the job descriptions are more of a reflection of the varying job titles and how descriptive the title are to the tasks of each. There's probably some big overlapping in jobs. But, some predjudice is still likely on the part of male managers as the females make progress up the ranks.

Re: Where the women are.
  • 12/20/2013 10:27:28 PM
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Thanks, Meta. Scary stuff. I suppose that speech at the end of Revenge of the Nerds was all baloney --- the nerds really don't care about equality. And on a serious note, I suppose the makes what is happening at Yahoo all the more significant.

Re: Where the women are.
  • 12/20/2013 5:25:28 PM
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"So what's the difference, exactly, between a data analyst and a data scientist?"

Michael, that's a darned good question. When I speak of data analysts, I look broadly at professions such as statisticians, data miiners, mathematicians and others. I focus on those whose primary work involves statistical analysis of data, or something closely related such as operations research. Although it can be challenging to find exactly the information I'd like about who's doing this work, there are many sources that provide bits and pieces of good information, enough to put together a coherent picture of women's participation in these professions - data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, membership in professional societies, degrees earned and so on. These sources are specified in The STEM Profession that Women Dominate.

So, what's data science? The term has come into wide use only in the past few years. Although a concept of "data science" was described in a paper by William Cleveland some years ago, that isn't necessarily the concept that people have in mind when they speak of it today. The term first became popular among some of the Silicon Valley tech companies, where the emphasis is on programming skills and skills needed for shuffling the huge quantities of data they possess. These are surely challenging things, but the more time you spend moving data around, programming from scratch and doing data management, the less tiem you have for thoughtful analysis.

Gil Press has written some terrific articles for Forbes that speak about the history and issues concerning the data science concept:

Data Science: What's The Half-Life Of A Buzzword?

A Very Short History Of Data Science - Forbes

Re: It's so like the analytics industry
  • 12/20/2013 3:48:31 PM
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It seemed as though he was quoting from the enrollment stats at UNC and Northwestern, specifically. I can dig a little deeper to get his exact sources - Alpine is very responsive to press queries.

Re: Where the women are.
  • 12/20/2013 3:47:36 PM
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So what's the difference, exactly, between a data analyst and a data scientist? Granted there weren't many female speakers at Strata, but I met several women in the audience who do this work every day -- life-saving analytics at Memorial Sloan Kettering and PhD-level studies in Computer Science. 

(They're featured in this video)

Maybe I'll reach out and ask them what kinds of experiences they've had as women in the field -- do some informal surveying.

Re: It's so like the analytics industry
  • 12/20/2013 11:11:27 AM
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Michael, did Hillion say where he got that 20% estimate for women in mathematics? My sources indicate far more women in mathematics than that.

Re: Where the women are.
  • 12/20/2013 10:10:41 AM
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Michael,

No, I do not disagree with the assertion that analytics has a more welcoming culture toward women than computing. I agree with it, and strongly.

But "data science" is not dominated by data analysts, or the analytics culture. It is dominated by programmers and the tech community.

Re: Where the women are.
  • 12/20/2013 7:46:55 AM
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Broadway,

Sure, I can provide anecdotes.

At the simplest level, I find that the men at local tech events don't engage with me, and often show reluctance when I start up the conversation. There could be an age element involved there, or maybe they just don't like me personally. But other, younger women have lots of stories to tell.

Here are a few for starters. There's the woman who attended a programming group and had a man tell her "no noobs with boobs" and turn his back on her. No other man made the effort to object, or to welcome the woman. There's the event held at the offices of a Chicago tech business that had really taken off, where one woman was introduced as the first female software engineer at the company. It turned out she was a new hire - they must have hired a hundred men or more before bringing in a single woman. There are fewer women programmers than men - but not that few. There are the events centered on whiskey and cigars - only slighty more subtle choices than old fashioned men's clubs.

Have look at the photos of the management of a few tech businesses and tell me how many women you see. There are plenty of female managers in sales, marketing, and other fields but these businesses don't hire them.

A few more stories here:

The brogrammer culture

http://metabrown.com/blog/2012/03/06/the-brogrammer-culture/

I have plenty more...

 

Re: Where the women are.
  • 12/19/2013 11:25:56 PM
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The Fast Company piece that originally published Bright.com's findings delves into the "loneliness of female coders" and shares some firsthand accounts of awkwardness, bad behavior, and sexism faced by women in software development.

Do you think this has to do with social incompetence on the part of basement-dwelling 'nerds,' or is it more insidious? What can be done to change the paradigm?

Re: Where the women are.
  • 12/19/2013 11:21:52 PM
NO RATINGS

Thanks for the link, Meta. I can't speak for the organizers at Strata, except to wonder whether the attitudes that prevail among developers (or brogrammers) -- ostensibly the primary attendees -- have leaked into the planning of the show.

So you disagree with Hillion's assertion that data analytics, specifically, has a more balanced culture in which women feel welcome?

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