When I was first hired as a graduate data planner, fresh-faced and eager to get stuck into the world of propensity modelling and response rates, there seemed to be plenty of women working in my area of marketing. My line manager was female, the head of department was female and I remember a firm 50:50 gender balance in our large team of data planners and analysts.
Fast-forward 12 years, with my marginally less fresh-faced self now challenged with multi-channel customer journey tracking, and it seems that things have taken a step backwards. Last month I attended the DataIQ Future Summit and was saddened to find only two female speakers on the day’s 20-strong panel. From a quick glance around the audience, I could see that roughly 40 per cent of the attendees were women, making the 10 per cent representation on the panel seem a little incongruous.
I took to Twitter with my thoughts and received a couple of interesting responses: Patrice Bendon, one of the two female speakers that day, replied to say that, “there are great women in data” and that the issue could be a lack of self-promotion. DataIQ’s editor, David Reed, suggested that in his experience there are fewer women in senior data and analytics roles, but that DataIQ is committed to helping to change that. Thanks, David!
So are we women simply too shy to shout about our successes? Or is the “data dame” a dying breed? As a data practitioner, I’m most comfortable when looking at figures, so I gathered a few more:
I’d like to avoid resorting to crass gender stereotypes, but there may be something in the idea that women don’t self-promote enough. On canvassing thoughts from the other three girls in my team, one suggested that she had found senior data positions to be more male dominated and wondered, “maybe we just don’t make enough noise”.
There are certainly studies that have found women to be less confident about their own abilities than their male counterparts. For example, the Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed British managers about how confident they feel in their professions. Half of the female respondents reported self-doubt about their job performance and careers compared with fewer than a third of male respondents.
I found an alternative view after I joined the MeetUp group, Women in Data. Boasting over 550 members, the group was set up in 2012 “for women who love data - big or small”. It isn’t restricted to marketers and therefore includes female statisticians, visualisers, journalists, developers and analysts, among others. Yodit Stanton, the group’s organiser, responded to my question on the topic, stating that she believes there are plenty of women in data in plain sight, running companies and working on interesting projects. For her, the question isn’t why there is a lack of women in this field - instead, it is “why aren't organisers engaging with them?”
For me, I find the change in the profile of marketing data people an interesting factor. I started my data career in a department full of data planners – a role that attracts people who are interested in the strategic side of data, who can tell stories from data, and who enjoy using it to unearth insight into human behaviour.
My current department still boasts data planners, but also now includes web and social analysts, database consultants, data campaign managers and other more technical roles. The explosion of all things digital has spawned many changes in the marketing data world – from the sublime (APIs, connected devices, telematics) to the ridiculous (hello, data scientists!). These in turn have marked a shift in the need for more technical data people to join the marketing army and it appears that they are the ones receiving the speaker invitations.
Technical data types tend to come from a scientific or maths-based background and, unfortunately, women are still significantly underrepresented in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) from school-age onwards. Data planners, on the other hand, are still highly-numerate and logical, but can come from a variety of backgrounds – my data planners have a rather eclectic mix of degrees in Psychology, Social Science, Philosophy, English, Marketing and American Studies – and that means they are less affected by the educational STEM bias.
My quest for more evidence led me to the IQ Talent Award 2014 shortlist and this certainly seems to illustrate a techie skew: overall women made up 42.3 per cent of the individuals shortlisted, a great sign that David was right and DataIQ really is trying to change this gender imbalance in the industry. However, looking at some of the award categories individually still shows a lopsided picture, with Data Scientist and Marketing Technologist boasting two of the lowest percentages of women on their shortlist.
So, in answer to my article’s title, I personally don’t believe that we data damsels are in distress. For a start, I don’t see myself screaming for help as the proverbial castle burns down around me. But there is clearly no simple answer to the question about why there aren’t more women featuring prominently in the marketing data arena. So instead of screaming, I would issue the following three challenges:
There are already some pretty damn inspiring data women out there and we can’t let the men have all the data-driven fun, can we?
Do you think there are too few women in data? Are you one? Join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #datawomen