SOCIETY | Mar 8, 2020

No Data Science we’re women? It’s time for a change!

According to a BCG research, there are still too few women working in Data Science. Here is the opinion of two IT professionals: Grazia Cazzin and Monica Franceschini

Only 15% of women today works in the Data Science industry globally, but the outlook is certainly not rosy if half of the female students states they feel unfit to work in this sector. The figure, which is the result of research conducted by BCG on 9000 students under 35 in 10 countries around the world, entitled “What’s Keeping Women Out of Data Science”, highlights an important problem: the gender gap in these professions undermines the sustainable growth of Artificial Intelligence, which needs mixed teams to work properly.

“I believe that the branch of knowledge of Data Science – comments Monica Franceschini, head of the Big Data group of Engineering’s Data and Analytics Competence Center – is particularly involving for women, as it is concerned with shaping reality and in most cases requires an understanding and a strong interest in concrete scenarios, which can concern social, economic and, to mention a very topical one, also medicine and health care issues. The female point of view can feed algorithms that take into account different gender and sensitivity factors. The awareness of contributing to the resolution of these aspects and the applicability of their work to real life could make women protagonists of this subject ”.

How “appealing” is Data Science to women?

81 girls out of 100 interviewed define the Data Scientist profession as “too competitive”, a complicated nerd thing, and 48% thinks it has little impact on society. Yet Data Scientists are in such high demand that in its third annual report on emerging jobs in the United States, LinkedIn ranked this profession among the 20 most in demand this year. And considering the increase in Big Data and AI applications in the future, this forecast will certainly not be limited to the coming year.

Data Science has an image problem, according to the research, since most of the interviewees considers data science not only too theoretical but also with uncertain career prospects, evidently not well highlighted.

Why and how is it possible to increase the number of women working in Data Science?

According to the research, companies are not able to effectively transmit the impact of the Data Scientist profession, highlighting, even during the recruitment phase, only the technical aspects without making understood the social and economic impacts that this profession can have. 73% of the women who graduated in Data Science and 67% of the women who graduated in STEM subjects state, in fact, that they prefer a more practical and useful job for society (against 50% of men). The highest rate of distrust towards the Data Scientist’s work is recorded in China, Germany and UK, while in Australia, France and Spain women consider themselves well informed about the career opportunities in the Data Science sector, given also the presence of important role models.

“Data Science – comments Grazia Cazzin, director of Knowage Labs and responsible for the offer of Engineering’s Big Data Competence Center – requires both broad, extended, unconventional but also precise, analytical, scrupulous thinking skills. Women generally have these skills and the habit of doing and disassembling, revising and redesigning on-the-fly: dimensions of everyday life which become useful skills in this profession and in the IT industry in general”.

According to BCG, it will be possible to work on the attractive aspect of Data Science by changing the way personnel are recruited – all too often presented through computer challenges, hacking and coding competitions – highlighting the added value and practical utility of the work, which is of greater interest to women.

All the beauty of the Data Scientist’s work

“As a personal experience – adds Monica Franceschini – I can say that the most exciting aspect of working in the IT field is the possibility to put one’s creativity on the line in order to build innovative solutions or to identify original strategies and workarounds to problems. The democratization of ideas and their sharing to tackle the daily challenges of information technology, both online via the Internet and within working groups, makes everyone involved and pivotal towards developing new projects”.

“Personally – points out Cazzin – I love IT because it has an important space for creativity and because it allows us to see and find out the behind-the-scenes of our daily relationships with institutions, services and increasingly with our digital partners”.

Sonia Montegiove