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Women in Data Science: Moving from Inclusion to Influence

Introduction

Data scientists are much in demand. Beyond the domains one might expect — technology, the internet and telecommunications — they are being sought in energy, financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and other industries, according to recruiting firm Smith Hanley Associates.

But there’s a gender gap. Only 15% to 22% of today’s data science professionals are women, according to recent research from Boston Consulting Group. Moreover, women data analysts tend not to hold managerial roles, comprising only 18% of leadership positions at premier tech companies, according to Forbes. Data science’s appeal is lackluster among female STEM students: In the BCG report, nearly half of them perceived data science to be “overly theoretical and low impact.”

Academic institutions are working to change that. Recently, the University of Pennsylvania hosted its first-annual Women in Data Science conference — WiDS Philadelphia@Penn — to coincide with the annual Global WiDS Conference held at Stanford, and similar events held at approximately 150 colleges and organizations worldwide. The goal of the Penn event, according to the conference organizers — Susan Davidson, computer and information science professor at Penn Engineering; Mary Purk, executive director of Wharton Customer Analytics; and Linda Zhao, Wharton statistics professor — was to “inspire and educate data scientists, regardless of gender, and to support women in the field.” The Penn event was hosted by Analytics at Wharton, Wharton Customer Analytics, Penn Engineering and Wharton Statistics.