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How to Get More Women into Data Science Teams

To honor Women’s Month in South Africa, Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator Head of BI Louise de Beer guest hosts a podcast episode exploring how to get more women to become data scientists

Despite the potential benefits diversity can bring to data science teams, recent analyses of public data suggest that fewer than one in three data scientists employed today are female.

In this episode of Data Conversations Over Coffee, Louise de Beer, Head of Business Intelligence at nonprofit organization Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, hosts a panel discussion to explore what can be done to increase gender equality in data and analytics.

Standard Bank CIO PBBSA: Data and Analytics Lisel Engelbrecht, Deshani Padayachee, Head of Data and Analytics at insurance company African Rainbow Life, and Adelaide Matsika, Head of Analytics and Insights at entertainment company Multichoice, join her.

“I think it comes from an unconscious bias where we think (both males and females) that women are more suitable for [careers in] legal, accounting and marketing,” argues Engelbrecht. “It comes from a deep and long journey that we have been on. It is assumed and it is unconscious.”

Picking up this thread, Matsika says that women in leadership positions must use their platforms to break down those gender-based stereotypes.

“Women in high positions need to take charge of that and help those who are coming after us,” she says. “If we say nothing, it is never going to be easier for the next [generation] to come through.”

One pervasive myth is that positions in STEM fields are not conducive to a successful family life. But the panel’s experience directly contradicts this idea.

“When [a lot of women] have children, obviously they want to have a more balanced life,” explains Padayachee. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good balance of being a wife and a mother and still be in this industry.”

Our panel members agree that data scientists of all genders can find the right work-life balance to succeed in data science. What’s more, they say communicating the possibilities for women in the data and analytics field to young people is one of the best ways to affect change in the future.

“We have to make it attractive enough, the marketing aspect of this,” Matsika concludes. “To say that this is an attractive career where you can actually have a work-life balance.”

Key Takeaways

  • Progress starts with education. Engage young people, particularly young women, to help them see the career potential in STEM fields
  • Personal growth is founded on self-belief. Be intentional, take charge and maintain an attitude of constant learning to fast-track your success
  • Defeating stereotypes requires a collective voice. Outdated ideas about gender are endemic in society today, but can be overcome when women work together