Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

London — Macho work cultures are driving away young women from data science jobs, say analysts, warning a failure to diversify the male-dominated sector could result in biased technology that discriminates against women.

Women hold less than a quarter of jobs in data science — where they use tech to analyse trends — and female students are put off by combative recruiting events such as coding contests and hackathons, consulting firm Boston Consulting Group said on Thursday.

“We need a woman’s perspective to ensure what we build for our society represents our society,” said Andrea Gallego, a partner at BCG GAMMA, the group’s data arm, who added that the problem extended into other fields.

“If we start building models with biased teams, we are going to run into a number of longer-term effects including ethics issues and models propagating a bias we’re trying to stop.”

The report comes amid concerns that the male-dominated tech sector is shoring up gender pay gaps and can result in tech that has inbuilt discrimination against women.

As technology transforms the world, data scientists have become among the most in-demand workers, according to reports by the career networking site LinkedIn published in January, which found it was the third fastest-growing job in the US.

But the sector is failing to attract a wider pipeline of female talent in entry-level jobs, found the report, based on surveys of more than 9,000 students and recent graduates with data-related degrees in about a dozen countries.

Young women were significantly more likely than men to see data science as uncomfortably competitive, said researchers.

They were also less likely to feel well-informed about career opportunities in data science, though countries with a higher proportion of women in tech did better at reaching women at the start of their careers.

The report called on companies to deal with the sector’s “image problem” among women, including by building more inclusive and collaborative cultures.

Allyson Zimmerman of non-profit group Catalyst, which works to make workplaces more inclusive to women, said the data reflected a macho “bro-grammer” culture in many tech firms.

“Many workplaces have been designed by men for men,” said Zimmerman, who heads the firm’s operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, adding that companies should be concerned about a lack of female staffers.

“The number one way you can compete is through your talent. If you don’t have diverse talent throughout the ranks you are missing out on innovation, better teams, better decisions and better outcomes,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Thomson Reuters Foundation