The STEM Profession that Women Dominate
Do you know which major STEM field boasts as many women in the profession as men? Where almost half the college degrees – even at the PhD level – are granted to women? Where women have a significant presence in the most influential circles of the profession? There’s so much attention paid to the participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that you’d think this would be front page news, but most haven’t even noticed.
Some are even spreading misinformation – inadvertently, no doubt, yet it’s important to set the record straight. I’ll refrain from naming names, but I was disappointed recently when a professional group invited me to a seminar that promised to cover this topic: “Women in Analytics…a rare specimen – how we can change that.”
In fact, far from rare specimens, women are well represented among analytics professionals. There are as many women mathematicians and statisticians as men. As an analytics professional myself, I’m prepared to back up that claim with data.
The number of women among mathematicians and statisticians equals the number of men. (The Population Reference Bureau, using data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, reported on this in Mathematicians and Statisticians in the United States, 2007. In 2001, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women statisticians outnumbered men, however I haven’t found more recent numbers at that level of detail.)
Almost half of degrees in math and statistics are earned by women. Women have earned more than 40% of math and statistics bachelor’s degrees throughout the past 4 decades. (The U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics reports this in their Digest of Education Statistics. Economist Mark Perry has posted a nice graph of this data)
Actuaries, the most heavily controlled and perhaps best compensated of the analytics professions, are 30% female. (Actuaries in the United States, 2007.)
More than one-third of the members of the American Statistical Association are women, and women are well-represented on the board, which includes two recent past presidents – both women. (I phoned the American Statistical Association and asked about women members. Statements about the board are based on board membership retrieved from the ASA website on April 4, 2012.)
Women statisticians are influential in many countries - 41 of the world’s 190 statistical offices are headed by women. (The World's Women 2010: Trends and Statistics, United Nations, p. 122)
There’s nothing rare about women in analytics. I have met thousands of data analysts in the course of my career, and there have always been many women among them. By contrast, I’ve seen the presence of women in software development dwindling over the years– a topic that I and many others have written about, and again, supported observations with data.
That’s not to say that life is all peaches and cream for women in analytics. Take, for example, the case of tenured math professors – fewer than 20% are women. Lengthy reports have been written on issues of career path and compensation, I won’t even attempt those topics here. The rise of the new “data scientist” role, with its strong emphasis on programming and databases (skills strongly associated with the male-dominated computing culture) opens questions about opportunity and participation for women. Equal numbers do not necessarily equate to equal opportunity.
Yet it’s clear, a woman in analytics is as common as a man in analytics. You can’t say that of engineering or physics, and you certainly can’t say that about computer science, the one major STEM area that has actually shown a long-term decline in female participation and a significant decline at that. If the picture looks different from your vantage point, you might want to give that some thought.
Meta Brown is author of "Data Mining for Dummies" (forthcoming from John Wiley and Sons). She has introduced and expanded the use of analytics in offices and factories across the US and beyond. Got a question about promoting analytics? Or on using analytics? Just want to say hello? Email Meta at [email protected], tweet her @metabrown312 or visit http://www.metabrown.com