Data Science is powerful. By combining the fields of statistics and computer science it allows us to analyze and understand data and make that data understandable to others. This means Data Scientists can direct the public’s sightlines to particular trends or information. One particular trend in data science, and STEM in general, worth mentioning is: Despite the growing field, only a small fraction of the STEM workforce consists of minority groups. I’m going to hop right over the messy puddle of why we need more diversity in data science and STEM because plenty has been published on the economic reasons (diversity could help end the tech talent shortage1), the business reasons (diversity is critical to innovation and productivity2), the feminist and social justice reasons (women and minorities are the most underrepresented in the fields of engineering, computer science and the physical sciences3). In doing this, I’ll assume you have made it to the other side with me.
Unfortunately, since Data Science is at the intersection of statistics and computer science, it also brings with it the barriers to entry that women, the LGBT community, genderqueer people, people of color, people with disabilities, and other minority groups face in each of these spaces individually.
Josephine Baker was a scientist in the early 1900’s, who was successful in implementing public health practices that dramatically decreased infant mortality in New York’s infamous Hell’s Kitchen. She was also a queer woman who is wore suits and neckties to succeed in the male-dominated world of public health administration4. At times, this resulted in her coworkers forgetting she was a woman and complaining to her about the deficiencies of women doctors.
Today, Silicon Valley is struggling with a culture that arises from being mostly male, mostly white and mostly upper-middle class5. When I was job searching, I was at a Data Science networking event where I ran into a senior researcher with whom I was eager to speak. When I approached him, he thought it would be appropriate to ask me if I was thinking of having children. Data scientists have to work to minimize the barriers to entry on an industry, company, and team-wide scale. There is a current tendency to put the onus on an individual to work against barriers in the work place. Books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, for example, can leave the impression that women are impeding their own success by selling themselves short; when, in reality, there are systemic inequalities in place that “leaning in” cannot change.
In order to combat the talent gap surrounding minorities in STEM, I believe recruiters need to work harder to find candidates that are diverse. This means companies have to recruit differently and in different places. For example, a company could decide to foster strategic partnerships with schools that have programs for adults and a good infrastructure for people with disabilities, or look for skills that more closely tie with their future performance than academic credentials.
In my experience, both as a board member of GLOBE and the National Mentorship Chair for Women In Bio, mentorship and networking can make a lasting impact. I had to push myself to be a mentor and be a part of someone’s network, especially when I was not sure how I could help. It is imperative that as Data Scientists we foster an analytics-driven culture full of diverse talent, and vocally support someone who is interested in Data Science and how to become a data scientist, especially the next time your team is making a hiring decision.
1Jery Weinstein, "Could more diversity help end the tech talent shortage?," The Guardian (October 13, 2014). Retrieved from The Guardian: https://gu.com/p/42c43/sbl
2Cristian Dezso and David Ross, "When Women Rank High, Firms Profit," Columbia Business School Ideas at Work (June 13, 2008). Retrieved from Catalyst information Center: https://www.catalyst.org/system/files/why_diversity_matters_catalyst_0.pdf
3National Girls Collaborative Project. (2013, June). Statistics – State of Girls and Women in STEM. Retrieved from National Girls Collaborative Project: https://www.ngcproject.org/statistics
4Bert Hansen, "Public Careers and Private Sexuality: Some Gay and Lesbian Lives in the History of Medicine and Public Health," American Journal of Public Health (January 2002). Retrieved from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447383/
5Nine Burleigh, "What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women," Newsweek (January 28, 2015). Retrieved from Newsweek Business: https://www.newsweek.com/2015/02/06/what-silicon-valley-thinks-women-302821.html
—Written by Priyanka Oberoi