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Big Data Embraces Female Players

It may be that the number of women occupying key roles in the technology industry has not moved much in the last decade, but the field of big data in particular seems to be nudging that stat higher.

More than 25 percent of today’s crop of Chief Data Officers, reports Gartner, are women— almost twice as many as the 14 percent who are CIOs.

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The explanation for this anomaly could provide meaty fodder for a women’s study class, but speculation circles around the idea that data management calls for certain intrinsic characteristics that merit legitimate consideration (while still managing to sidestep accusations of sexism.

Consider, for one, that data science requires a certain facility with collaboration. In a paper published by economists Peter J. Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval for the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?,” the researchers arrived at the conclusion that, yes, they are.

They trace this back to the fact that men tend to overestimate their abilities and downplay those of their coworkers, while women do the opposite. And their propensity to defer to their peers is more conducive to cooperative efforts.

In a 2011 Forbes article, author Lisa Gates argues that women are better negotiators than men thus: “We naturally seek affinity and common ground. We are more concerned with relationship and mutual best interest than intimidation [so are] much more naturally disposed to produce collaborative, durable agreements.”

It might also be contended that data’s complexities would benefit from a high degree of communication skills. According to a study out of the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, the average woman speaks about 20,000 words a day as compared to the average man’s 7,000.The research credits the presence of about 30 percent more of a so-called “language protein” in female brains.

Whatever the politically correct argument supporting this reality, that big data is delivering more women into IT can only be welcomed as a positive development.    

Long-Term Unemployed Suffer More

According to just-published Stats Can figures, 272,300 souls were out of work in this country for six months or more last year. That’s almost two times as many as six years earlier. And there were 96,400 folks who sidestepped gainful employment for a year or longer last year — more than double 2007 levels.

So while the overall employment picture in this country is a generally positive one — with Finance Minister Joe Oliver trumpeting that his government has created over a million net new jobs since the recession — it’s folly to lose sight of the forest for these trees.

Arguably more important is the statistic enumerating those Canadians enduring long-term unemployment, or without a job for at least a half a year.

The longer the duration of unemployment, history has shown, the more damaging it is — to the individual and the system, both. The prospects for the unemployed dim as the interval of time “between jobs” increases. 

Speculation on the reasons for this phenomenon abounds. Prominent among them: concern that time away from the workforce is also time away from a facility with the cutting-edge technical skills required by today’s employers, that the length of time a person has been out of work is indicative of his on-the-job productivity and discrimination.

On the latter, a doctoral student from Boston’s Northeastern University sent out some 5,000 fictitious CVs in 2012 and uncovered a systematic bias against the long-term jobless, regardless of how their qualifications compared to competitors who’d been unemployed for a shorter period.

ImageWhen the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston published his findings, 80 big American companies including PepsiCo and Pfizer publicly pledged not to favour shorter-term unemployed individuals in their hiring.

The average spell of unemployment in Canada shrank from 26.5 weeks in 1997 to 14.8 weeks in 2008. But when the economy contracted, that figure climbed back up to 20.2 weeks in 2012 (and if you were 65 or older, the duration actually clocked in at 32.2 weeks).