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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.


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.    

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