Data science has an image problem—and it's helping to fuel a critical lack of diversity. Almost 50% of female STEM students perceive data science to be overly theoretical and low impact. A sense that it is more competition-focused than other jobs is also behind their exit from the "talent funnel," according to a forthcoming report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and BCG GAMMA, titled What's Keeping Women out of Data Science? A significant share of STEM women across the globe also do not feel they have a good understanding of what a "data science career" is and what the day-to-day life of a data scientist in the workplace entails. The negative perception and lack of transparency combine to boost the gender gap: only 15 to 22% of data science professionals today are women.
Students around the world are picking up on an unfortunate reality: far too many companies still struggle to create real impact with AI, and many companies continue to lack a culture of collaboration in their analytics teams. The study reveals that nearly 75% of female data science majors are looking for exactly the opposite from their future jobs—namely applied, impact-driven work—while men are ambivalent. As long as companies approach and promote their data science and AI as theoretical endeavors without concrete and measurable value, female students will continue to be disproportionately deterred from entering the field.
Regarding transparency, the study revealed that only around 63% of men and 55% of women are well informed about the various career opportunities in data science. Even among data science and computer science majors, nearly half (47%) complained of poor clarity regarding career path options within the field. Australia, France, and Spain consistently achieved high rankings on transparency, while female students in China, Japan, and Germany consistently reported the lowest understanding of their options in this field. On perceptions regarding impact and purpose, China and Japan also appeared at the bottom of the list, while students in the UK, the US, and France had a more positive picture.