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4/29/2021
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How to Change Gender Disparity Among Data Science Roles

Founder of Deloitte's women in data science and analytics group on importance of inclusion in technology.

As organizations debate if and how they might advance inclusivity among technology teams, there may be some opportunity in the post-pandemic world.

Tracy Ring, managing director of cognitive, analytics and RPA alliances for Deloitte Consulting and founder of Deloitte’s women in data science and analytics group, spoke to InformationWeek about her team’s accomplishments and what organizations can do to improve gender parity especially in the data science workforce.

Ring says it has become part of her job to not only help organizations with their technology implementations but to also ensure diverse practitioners are involved.

Credit: Artem via Adobe Stock
Credit: Artem via Adobe Stock

What were some first steps you took to help organizations further diversify how they are staffed in data science?

Five years ago, after spending my life going to conferences, I realized there weren’t a lot of other women [present]. The data behind it is almost staggering. At a conference of 3,000 to 5,000 people, there’s just five to 10% of people that identify as female. I wanted to create an opportunity for women leaders to connect. I launched at a large tech conference five years ago and I had this idea that we would create a networking opportunity and then had this shocking experience that we couldn’t even find 50 women [at the conference] that could join the first event.

Even though it was small, it was mighty. The feedback was really strong. We did this externally and then the folks inside Deloitte said we needed this, too.

Getting women together drives the initiative. So far, we’ve connected 2,000 women globally, creating opportunities and safe spaces for learning, had some panel discussions that included a focus on self-care and professional resilience.

Where do things stand these days and what more needs to happen to make inclusion a more consistent part of organizations?

I always talk about the similarities between how we think about tech and how I think about diversity. What is the data fabric of your organization? How do you champion this idea that we make decisions, drive product development, and are creating value and driving innovation because of data? Diversity is the exact same story. How do you create the fabric and be extremely intentional? It’s about that constant focus on making sure everything we do includes an inclusion story. There is an intentionality. Sometimes it’s as simple as when creating a panel asking if this is representative of how our clients look. Is this representative of how we want our teams to look? How do we bring in that broader perspective?

Some of this is about the progress and not being perfect at the get-go. I had a briefing with a woman at a large tech company and she said, “I’m the head of product and I feel like I should be doing more but I’m afraid that if I don’t do enough it’s going to fail.”

I said, “If you do nothing, you’ll definitely fail.”

That inclusion fabric is just as important as any of the technology fabric we put into any organization.

Many organizations say they struggle to find people to fill technology roles. How can inclusion connect more people with such opportunities?

There are times that I see job reqs and I’ll see recruiters come back saying they’re not finding that type of candidate -- that it doesn’t exist. I’m pretty convinced that the way the job requisitions are written they are inherently attracting individuals that may feel more confident. There’s a ton of data around the idea that individuals that identify as female are far less likely to apply to a role if they don’t tick every single box whereas their male counterparts, if they check a third or less, will be bold and apply.

I think we need to do a better job at writing job descriptions that are inclusive. If there’s roles that you foresee your organization is going to need filled in AI, robotics, or edge computing -- some of the things that are tip of the spear -- the whole market is stripped out irrespective of what gender or background you may have. That is a leading indicator that an investment needs to be made. Whether that’s investing in junior practitioners, or creating alliances and relationships with local colleges and universities, or being more creative about how you curate your class of interns so they have time to ramp up, you’ve got to handle both sides of it.

That may mean tactically, if there’s a short-term need, you might look at some creative options. Long-term, creating the type of longitudinal career paths around this area of data science, those are things that as the technology is growing so fast, you can bring someone up to speed faster than ever before. And the learning platforms are more advanced than ever before.

Tracy Ring, Deloitte
Tracy Ring, Deloitte

I see individuals that are sales and marketing leaders who had a natural knack for data that can quickly pivot into someone creating futuristic models around prediction. We’ve got to be more creative about who we filter into these roles.

What more can organizations do, whether its working with external groups or internally, to identify areas where they can do better? And what can job candidates do to not only get a foot in the door but advance their technology career?

I try to focus on the balanced view of where COVID has landed us. We see more women exiting the workforce. We’ve seen a lot of attrition. The other side of that coin is, if you had a career that wasn’t in technology, this is the most amazing time that we have to retool. Artificial intelligence, machine learning -- these are all emerging technologies. Women can take this time and use this to have a better than ever experience doing remote learning.

Retooling is a foundational decision that I think someone needs in order to take that step.

Being bold and creative about what you put forth and what you apply for, the next role can be closer than you think. This year has taught us that a lot of what we knew about how the world will operate and work is all changed.

What are some next steps your group plans to take in this space?

Helping organizations understand how important representation is, to continue to grow female leaders at all levels. We need leaders and mentors at all levels.

I’m seeing the allyship increase dramatically. The conversation about women in tech -- I’m so excited that that burden doesn’t only have to sit on the shoulders of women.

It doesn’t matter how many women are in the pipeline if there’s a hole at the bottom of the bucket, so we’ve got to focus as much on retention.

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth has spent his career immersed in business and technology journalism first covering local industries in New Jersey, later as the New York editor for Xconomy delving into the city's tech startup community, and then as a freelancer for such outlets as ... View Full Bio
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