Women a Growing Force in Statistics and Data Science, Reports Washington Post

Unlike many science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, the field of statistical science attracts a relatively large share of women, even in leadership positions, Washington Post’s Brigid Schulte recently reported in “Women Flocking to Statistics.”

“More than 40 percent of degrees in statistics go to women, and they make up 40 percent of the statistics department faculty poised to move into tenured positions. Several prominent female statisticians run the departments of major universities and lead major data analytics labs for industry and government. One, Susan Murphy, received a MacArthur “Genius Grant” last year,” reports Schulte.

No one knows for certain why the field of statistics attracts so many women. Some point to the profession’s collaborative environment that brings together experts from many disciplines. Others cite the inclusive culture often associated with statistical science. Some women are drawn to it because so many women already have blazed a trail in the field. Schulte quotes University of Nebraska statistics graduate student Marina Ptukhina as saying “There are so many females [in statistics], you never feel like you’re alone in a man’s world. You see other women, and think, ‘Oh, they can do it, so I can, too.’”

The Post also cited the work of the American Statistical Association (ASA) in raising awareness of the prominent role of women in statistics, and the importance of recruiting more women to high-tech positions, particularly in data science, one of the fastest-growing STEM fields. Schulte quoted ASA President David Morganstein as saying “It’s long past time that all of us in the science, technology, engineering and math fields figure out how to include more women. The coming need for this kind of Big Data work is so great, the supply can’t keep up with the demand. We’ve got to have all the talent we can get.”

The field of Big Data in general has work to do in recruiting more women, writes Schulte. “Google’s workforce, according to its own internal audit, is 70 percent male, 61 percent white. Facebook isn’t much different. The venture capital firms that fund Silicon Valley start-ups lag, too, researchers at Babson College have found: The share of women with the power to decide where to invest fell from 10 percent in 1999 to 6 percent in 2014.”

Schulte explains how other STEM fields, particularly math and computer science, are trying to attract more women. She quotes UNL Math Department Chair Judy Walker, who describes how the department has increased its share of women graduates in recent years: “We created an environment in which women could succeed. And if you create an environment where people are expected to succeed, they will.”

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