In 2014, the Open Innovation team noticed a disparity in the ratio of International Space Apps Challenge participants — roughly 80% men to 20% women. We embarked on a quest to better understand how to attract more women and girls to data by conducting a year-long study, which included a literature review followed by dozens of interviews with leading women’s organizations in the data, tech, and startup communities.
As we dug into the literature, we found the Space Apps ratio reflects national trends. While women in the United States earned 57% of all bachelor’s degrees since the late 1990s, only 18.2% are in the field of computer sciences, according to the 2015 National Science Foundation report on “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.” A 2016 Intel report, “Decoding Diversity: The Financial and Economic Returns to Diversity in Tech” notes that “for technical roles, female representation falls to 12 percent—far short of the proportion of women working in many other occupations traditionally viewed as male-dominated.”
In 2013, women only represented 26% of the professional computing workforce, a sharp decrease from 35% in the 1990’s, according to the American Association of University Women “Solving the Equation” study. A 2002 “Women in Computing Around the World” study suggested that the gender gap in STEM and computing is inconsistent across cultures, with the lowest participation rates among women in the US, UK and Australia. And, the gap is widening.
We conducted dozens of interviews with leaders in the data, tech, and startup communities. A few key takeaways from our research: women are looking for a collaborative, welcoming environment where they can build relationships and engage early with the ideas, concepts, and technology. Women do their homework to determine if an event is worth an investment of their time. They look for signals, such as female speakers, early access, child care, and travel stipends.
Based on what we learned, we created two new initiatives to signal a welcome environment for women: Space Apps Data Bootcamp, as a one-day pre-event to get introduced to data and code before the annual hackathon; and NASA Datanauts , as a year-old engagement to learn and practice data science skills. The all-female 2015
Founding Class of Datanauts , served two important functions — to signal NASA is a welcome environment, and to help us understand their communities and how to design data engagements that attract more women and newcomers to NASA data and the new field of data science.
Our second class of Datanauts will serve as beta-testers for the data engagements we designed over the last year. We created a collaborative environment to enable the new cohort to work together, share ideas and skills, and hopefully learn and hone new capabilities as they solve monthly data challenges and host data engagements within their communities. We have 16 beginning coders, 26 intermediate, and 7 advanced. We asked the Datanauts to self-sort themselves in skills categories. The breakdown is as follows: 2 designer/artists, 16 developers, 5 entrepreneurs, 1 game designer, 6 storytellers, 9 students, 7 subject matter experts, and 2 miscellaneous.
And now…drum roll…meet the 2016 Class of NASA Datanauts (listed in alphabetical order!
Maham Aftab is pursuing a PhD in optical sciences and works as a research assistant with a large optics fabrication & testing group. She studied engineering and hold masters degrees in applied physics and optics, matter & plasma.
Analisa Balares is CEO and Chief Innovation Officer of Womensphere which brings together women and girls for a Global Codefest, Artfest and Videofest, and offers an Incubator Network and Academy.