Why we need more women in data teams and how companies benefit from diverse teams.
International Women’s Day, 08.03.2021 – Tech is a man’s world. Currently, only about one sixth of all German tech jobs are held by women. Yet hardly any areas of life remain untouched by the digital revolution, and in the coming years it will shape the economy and professions just as much as the invention of the assembly line once did. Companies that focus on training their employees to become data analysts and scientists will be prepared for these changes and an increasingly competitive job market. Compared to their peers, teams with a high gender diversity generate better returns and operate more effectively. According to renowned studies, companies that don’t just hire more women, but also specifically encourage and promote them, automatically gain a competitive advantage. It’s an advantage that everyone involved benefits from. We have summarized four reasons why women are urgently needed in data professions, what opportunities arise from this.
Women in Data – A look at the past.
Data is fundamental to our information society, and we depend on data more and more to make important decisions – whether in business, politics, healthcare, or education. But how do we make decisions when that data is incomplete? What if every other person in e world, i.e., every woman, was not accurately represented in that data? But let’s take a step back and look at why the presence of women in data and in data professions is so important.
Up until now, men have been used as the standard when developing products. But when data is collected and analyzed without gendering it, it can lead to strong biases and misconceptions. Let’s take an example from everyday life. The temperature in office spaces is generally too low for women – their naturally lower muscle mass means their metabolic rate is lower, so they get too cool more quickly. Shelves in the supermarket are designed to be the optimal height for the average man and upper shelves are thus inaccessible to many women. Everyone has noticed the longer lines outside women’s restrooms at least once when going to the movies. These are inconveniences, but there are also cases where an incorrect data basis can become life-threatening. Many people are familiar with how a heart attack announces itself in humans: pain in the left arm and chest, and shortness of breath – symptoms that for the most part occur exclusively in men. As a result, heart attacks in women are not detected in time 50 percent more often. This “one man’s size fits all” approach also showed its failures in car production with life-changing consequences. Crash test dummies are predominantly geared to the male anatomy. This has consequences for the seat height, distance from the steering wheel and body weight that are based on these tests. What may seem like minimal differences ensure that women are 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured, 71 percent more likely to be moderately injured and 17 percent more likely to die in a car accident than men.
The use of artificial intelligence in particular reveals the lack of gender-specific data – and exacerbates it further. AI is used to assist doctors with diagnoses or to scan job applicant resumes. But this is not infrequently done based on incomplete data sets – namely, data sets that do not contain gender-specific data. A well-known saying goes “garbage in, garbage out” – so, if the data I am using is “garbage,” so are the results based on it. So, including women is critical for both economic success and women’s day-to-day lives. Not only should they be considered, but they should be actively involved in this development. This is important and worthwhile for several reasons.
The future belongs to diverse teams
The IT industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and its technical innovations are having an impact on the entire economy. Today, there are already more open positions in IT than there are graduates to meet this demand. Although we need to address the notorious skills shortage, the number of women in IT is actually expected to shrink over the next 10 years unless women are actively encouraged, according to an Accenture study. The underrepresentation of women in technical professions is undoubtedly not a new issue and although progress has already been recorded, progress is slow. This is becoming a societal problem and a fundamental challenge for business. It is not a question of favoring women, but of promoting and building mixed-gender teams. Numerous studies have clearly demonstrated that these teams perform better because members can challenge each other and bring new perspectives to the table. We’ll highlight the top four reasons why more women in IT and data teams is a win-win for everyone.
1. Performance boost
In its 2018 report, “Delivering Through Diversity”, McKinsey found that mixed-gender teams made companies 33% more likely to be profitable. A Harvard study came to the same conclusion and additionally found that mixed teams produced far better results than same-sex teams – and that’s regardless of gender, by the way. Data science teams in particular are responsible for important, strategic decisions in the company and are central to many business processes. That’s why numerous studies have increasingly turned their attention to the question of which factors make a team particularly successful. Teams with a balanced proportion of women and men perform better by building meaningful relationships, considering different perspectives, and thereby creating more successful work processes. In 2017, the Boston Consulting Group and the Technical University of Munich found in a joint study that companies with high gender diversity were able to generate 34 percent of their revenue through innovative products and services within three years. The Fortune 500 companies observed, which had at least three female executives, were able to increase their ROI by as much as 66 percent.
2. Out of the box
The more diverse a team is, the more team members are challenged to be better prepared to work together and adapt to alternative viewpoints. Whether it’s the differences between men and women or entirely different cultures, our experiences shape how we perceive the world around us. For some years now, the negative effects of filter bubbles in social networks have been discussed at great length. In filter bubbles, content is shown that corresponds to our views and preferences, without us being aware that others are not shown the same content. So social networks in particular support this confirmation bias. This ensures that we are more inclined to confirm our preconceived opinions than to find valid counterarguments and question our own view. This makes it all the more important that the same dynamic does not occur in our own workplace. Working together in a diverse team counteracts this dynamic, leading to a closer look at results and enabling better problem solving and collaboration.
3. Recruiting made easy
A company known for its diverse workforce has a powerful recruiting and employer branding tool at its disposal. By promoting female data experts, more girls and young women can be encouraged to pursue their interests and careers in a technical field in the future. This in turn can increase the size and diversity of the talent pool. On the one hand, this has positive side effects on the shortage of skilled workers, and on the other, it is important to create externally effective “role models who set a good example to the outside world. This representation of diverse people is important because it conveys that people who you can identify with can be successful anywhere. And women don’t even have to be given preferential treatment, because the acute shortage of data experts and IT specialists means there are enough vacancies for all genders and demographic groups. The shortage of skilled workers would therefore be quickly remedied if women identified more strongly with technical professions and were more likely to take them up.
4. An invisible buyer base
We all use the same power to purchase computers, cars and other products: our buying power. Women represent about 50% of the world’s buying power, and women are still responsible for the majority of spending decisions in the home. Yet they are rarely included as a variable in supposedly gender-neutral products. Following the launch of the iPhone X in 2018, Apple came under criticism from its female customers that the smartphone was too large for the average woman’s hand. This could have been prevented by involving more women in product development. This is especially true in data teams, where data layers that use male attributes as the default can be challenged from different angles. Everyone – regardless of their gender – has individual experiences with products and services in their everyday lives. In order to continue to develop high-quality products and innovative services in the future, it will be crucial to translate these individual experiences into data analyses. The best and fastest way to do this is through diversity.
Closing the data gap
Many people are aware of the need for greater diversity in data teams, and many are already actively addressing the issue. Gender equality is an important issue and it is not an easy task. It must emerge without compromising meritocracy. To make this possible, we need to start at schools and companies so that diversity in STEM fields can be promoted. Preconceptions still exist that boys and men are inherently superior in these fields. These beliefs, which have actually been debunked, still shape school grades and career decisions today. Today, technological innovations determine the market. Driven by the digitalization and automation of activities, they are shaping and permanently changing many job profiles. Women must not only be included in this development, but also encouraged. Until men and women are on an equal footing in terms of qualifications and opportunities, many women will need support with these qualifications.
The technology industry now places a lot of emphasis on recruiting, retaining and developing female talent. That’s an important signal, but the efforts shouldn’t end there. In today’s work environment, being qualified for the right skills at the right time is critical to career development. Data science and data analytics are skills in massive demand. We are encouraging women to apply for our scholarship now and prepare to pursue exciting career opportunities in the field of data science. Currently, women make up only about one-sixth of employees working with emerging technologies. We strongly believe that the industry needs more women and more diversity to strengthen teams and make them more innovative, diverse, and productive.
The tech industry needs you!
SWE Magazine (2020): “Media: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” [22.02.2021]
Forbes (2020): “Top Three Reasons We Need More Women In Tech” [22.02.2021]
Entwickler.de (2021): „Women in Tech: Die Tech-Branche wird jeden Tag offener, vielfältiger und flexibler.“ [15.02.2021]
Gender Action Portal (2013): „Business teams with an equal number of women and men perform better in terms of sales and profits, than do male-dominated teams.“ [15.02.2021]
Training Journal (2019): „Why mixed-gender management teams perform better“ [22.02.2021]
The Economists (2012): „The impact of gender diversity on the performance of business teams: Evidence from a eld experiment“ [15.02.2021]
Forbes (2020): „Top Three Reasons We Need More Women In Tech“ [22.02.2021]
Accenture (2021): „Cracking the gender code“ [23.02.2021]
McKinsey (2018): „Delivering through diversity“ [23.02.2021]
BCG (2017): „The Mix That Matters“ [23.02.2021]
Süddeutsche Zeitung (2020): „Schule, Eltern und Werbung halten Mädchen von der IT fern“ [23.02.2021]