Why Are There So Few Women In Data?

By Janani N, Jaya Deepika, and Juliet V

So what? What is the big deal about having fewer women in data science? Fair question. The response can be inferred by observing the two AI-generated images for a simple instruction of “blue futuristic city background with a woman and a man with VR glasses in the foreground.”

Shammy graphic

Futuristic systems, which are supposed to simplify and supplement the lives of humankind should not be laid on the foundation of such deeply despicable and dangerously derogatory biases. Our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bend our destiny and redefine a perfect future with Data/AI will only be complete if we join forces with a fair and equal share of women.

As a practice head of the data and analytics team, my curiosity to know why fewer women were joining this field was unsettling. While I could have turned to the internet for the responses, the idea of a few erudite men weaselling out a theory and statistics from their ivory towers was not what I was looking for, so I turned toward my team and posted this question one early morning. There were a plethora of responses ranging from insanely idiotic to intellectually intriguing. Still, the honest answer was not in the quality of the responses, but in their timing. While most men responded in the morning, with a coffee cup or a snack bar in their hand, women responded later in the day. It’s not that the women were lethargic or disinterested, but they were busy brewing that pot of coffee so that men saddled in the comfort of the armchair could swiftly respond. Whether their title is janitor, junior analyst or joint director, or something else, women are expected to be custodians of the kitchen, sole caregivers of the elders, dieticians of the family, tutors of the children and yet professionally dispense the duties at work with same deftness and alacrity of their male counterpart.

If this sounds like a sermon of the mount, let’s confirm it with a real-time acid test. Offer a fully paid round trip to a two-day conference in a neighbouring state to your male and female staff. When the man is the first one to accept, a woman will take time, the reason being they need to verify if there are no conflicts with their children’s exams, to reconfirm that there are no scheduled medical checkups for their in-laws and, most crucial, what is the availability of the maid on those planned days. Any single fallout leads to denying the opportunity. While tethering at the heights of such vulnerability, it’s easier for the world to comment and criticize the lack of women’s job passion and sincerity, but the ground reality is that the chords and constraints that bind a man and woman are vastly different. This reality check explains the rationale why a man readily scuba dives in an uncertain evolving zone while a woman calculates risk and thinks twice before wetting her toes. That’s the underlying reason why women prefer a stable job over aggressive ones such as a civil judge over criminal advocate, yoga mentor over a financial consultant, or quality engineer over data scientist.

Picture shammyPiggybacking on the same rationale, we see that as a women’s growth is stunted, the number of role models in the corresponding field is also equally less. It’s a vicious circle triggering a chain reaction impacting the next gen of women embarking in that field. A handful of companies understand and help break this stereotype by encouraging women to step out of this hamster wheel. Amazon’s Sheroes program to celebrate “Women in Cloud” is an industry-leading marquee program that phenomenally supports women moving onward and upwards. On the other hand, it’s disdainful that many companies exploit the same situation by recruiting women returning from a career break or wanting to take a less stressful role by offering lesser pay than their male counterparts. The former is commendable, while the latter is condemnable.

When I started this quest to understand why there are fewer women in Data, I was looking for the responses in the parallel universe of “Mars and Venus.” But soon, the discovery led me deep into the recess of my soul and reflected the unconscious biases that we men had been nurturing from our young age. This search made my team and me a better version of ourselves. Now, we don’t judge or criticize when a woman colleague is slow to respond, refuses to take up a challenge, or skips a client lunch. We sincerely acknowledge and appreciate that this is not a race to win but a race to complete. It’s not a competition to outsmart, but a collaboration to outperform. Finally, we have mended our ways, and our team no longer posts questions in the morning from the comfort of the cushion…..because our boys are now busy adding chicory to the brewing coffee.

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