We have reached the tipping point in big data. We can now access, manage, and manipulate massive amounts of data with such ease that the real work has shifted to analysis and practical applications across industries. This new discipline, called data science, will not be exclusive to the male-dominated computer science profession, and a tidal wave of opportunity will arise for women.
The world of finance, of course, has benefited greatly from data and data science, but most of the action in big data has been reserved for computer scientists. Right now, there are fewer women graduating with computer-science degrees than in the 1980s. Nevertheless, as we move from big data to data science, doors will open for more and more women.
Women now make up 40 percent of graduates with degrees in statistics — that’s a good indicator for women in an environment increasingly obsessed with data. As we’ve seen with most technologies, the code is eventually abstracted away from the user and the dirty work of putting the tech to use in real business situations begins. Women no longer need to be expert coders to get in on the data science game.
If you have any doubt that women are moving quickly to capitalize on this trend, I encourage you to look at today’s Women in Data Science conference at Stanford University (livestreaming here), which is an unequivocal show of strength for women in the field. It’s hard enough to find a woman at most technology conferences, and I’ve been to quite a few; yet, this data science conference managed to fill out the audience and speaker list exclusively with women.
So where does this trend go next?
There has been exhaustive discussion of the underrepresentation of women in technology over the past 10 years, but the solution can’t simply be to enroll more women in university programs. The more direct path to empowerment has just as much to do with applying data science across industries.
Consider the impact that data could have in female-dominated professions. Women are well represented in health care and education, but they also have higher rates of senior management positions in hospitality, professional services and the food and beverage industry.
Each of these industries is well-suited to reap the benefits of data science. My own experience in the health and education worlds confirms as much. We are using data to get better drugs to market faster and to personalize treatment plans. In education, we’re using data to better assess and tailor learning across the world while simultaneously getting a clear view of teacher performance across entire school districts.
The benefits in data-driven decision making in business and administration, which is the most popular degree among today’s female graduates, are well-documented. Data science is already making its mark from sourcing and supply-chain management to HR and customer-experience management. But it’s also about second, third and fourth most popular degrees among women, whose respective fields could all see transformative change if women brought data science into the fold.
While women have a strong presence in these roles and industries, competency in data science will help to fast-track their path to senior-level positions and equal pay. They already own the expertise and experience in these positions; data science merely shatters the glass ceiling between them and the C-suite.