Who rules statistics and data analytics? Girls!
March 8, 2023

Who rules statistics and data analytics? Girls!

As the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology and innovation, it’s more important than ever to ensure that we have a diverse and inclusive workforce that can help to drive scientific and technological progress. Yet women remain underrepresented in many STEM fields, which can have significant economic, social, and technological implications. In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the importance of promoting STEM education and careers among girls and women. The European Commission proposed 2023 as the Year of Skills, and UN Women has set the main focus of International Women’s Day as innovation and technology for gender equality. 

Data plays a significant role in our lives, though we might not notice it. Most of our decisions, choices, and research are based on data analysis. Before being released to the public, data goes through a complicated process that starts with the collection, then followed by interpretation, organisation, analysis, and, finally, presentation. Each of those steps is done by statisticians, who are experts in the field of statistics. 

Atyia Al-Hammud is a Young European Ambassador from Ukraine, and she will tell us more about statistics – a branch of mathematics that deals with the processes of collecting, analysing, and interpreting data. Atyia became interested in this exciting and magical field one year ago, and with each day statistics and data analytics are becoming more and more popular among the younger generation. Atyia believes that no one should hesitate in choosing statistics as a future career, especially young girls who can bring about a lot of change in this rapidly developing field.

Are there any stereotypes that women studying statistics might face? 

An inclusive environment is essential for motivation and engagement. Unfortunately, women still face many stereotypes while studying statistics, mathematics degrees, or other quantitative fields. It all starts at a young age when we all have maths in school. Rather than being a path to learning, every little mistake we make leads to comments about “women’s logic”, or an “absence of maths logic”, or that “maths is for men”. These stereotypes are particularly harmful to young girls who, without them, could have been more motivated to study STEM and mathematically heavy subjects such as statistics.

These stereotypes continue into adulthood, where women face biases about misspending money, as well as about not being capable of managing finances or doing any kind of calculations. Such prejudices not only impact women’s desire to go into finance, but also fields like statistics, which are closely connected with maths, logic, and calculations. 

We can observe the impact of such stereotypes through the number of women engaged in statistics. According to the World Economic Forum, around 35% of STEM students are women. In addition, women make up around 25% of the STEM workforce and only 15-22% of data science professionals. 

Inspiring women statisticians 

The number of male professors and specialists is usually higher; however, this does not have to discourage any of us, as the history of statistics is full of strong and inspiring women statisticians. 

The first woman who comes to mind while speaking about statistics role models is definitely the “First Lady of Statistics”, Gertrude Mary Cox, who is well-known for her research, and for her contributions to the development of statistics. Gertrude went through a lot of ups and downs on her way to becoming a statistician. She was majoring in mathematics during her Bachelor’s, as maths was easy for her, and she also chose psychology and social science courses because of her desire to help people. During her studies, she financed herself by working in a computing laboratory. Such a job was very uncommon for women in her time (she was born in 1900), and she was often told that she was less professional than men. Despite that, the experience drove her interest in statistics and she decided to continue her postgraduate studies in this field. Doing a statistics assistantship was a major challenge for women, as the Maths Department of her university did not issue any assistantships to women. Nevertheless, she completed her postgraduate studies in Experimental Statistics and became a professor at North California University, where she also founded a Department of Experimental Statistics. Not only that, but also she was the first woman to get elected to the International Statistic Institute, as well as the president of the American Statistics Association. 

If you are looking for inspiration from Ukraine, then it is hard to not mention Maryna Vyiazovska, who is the second woman in history to win the most prestigious award for mathematics in the world – the Fields Medal. Despite the fact that Maryna is a mathematician, she is also a huge inspiration for all STEM students, including statisticians who are highly connected to mathematics. Maryna is originally from Kyiv, and she did her bachelor’s at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, followed by a master’s from the University of Kaiserslautern. She then finished her PhD and did a doctorate at the University of Bonn. Now she works as a professor in Switzerland and she was awarded a prize for her brilliant work on sphere packing problems. 

The growing relevance of statistics 

Being a statistics specialist, it is possible to work in a variety of fields, as data analysis is required all over. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 25.2% of women choose a computer and mathematical occupations. 

Looking at the achievements of women in statistics, one of three current laureates of the International Prize in Statistics is a woman – Nan Laird. The prize is considered to be one of the two highest honours in the field of statistics and is awarded once in two years for major achievements in statistics. Nan Laird received the prize for her work on methods of analysing data from longitudinal studies that allowed researchers to write detailed information from large studies. The second highest prize is the COPSS Presidents’ Award, given to young statisticians in recognition of outstanding contributions. However, since 1981, only 12% of laureates have been women, which is not very high. Although this number is not high, the number of women winning the prize has increased in recent years.

Statistics is often not a separate degree but is often included in mathematics. Nevertheless, each year, statistics become more attractive to people. The first reason is that data analytics within IT is becoming more and more interesting, and people are beginning to understand the importance of statistics. As the interest in IT rises, the possibilities to learn data analytics also rise, so that more courses and education are available for future DA specialists. 

Secondly, statistics is often a part of a minor of a degree, sometimes even a non-STEM one. As a result, more students get to know about statistics, and sometimes they might consider majoring in it afterwards. For example, a degree in International Relations might include modules in Introduction to Statistics, Inferential Statistics, and Quantitative Methods of Research, which encourage future professionals to use statistics in analysing politics and foreign affairs. Such an approach gives a brighter perspective and the possibility to study an issue from different angles: not only a classical qualitative one but also using quantitative data. 

The participation of women in statistics is crucial, as statisticians play a significant role in shaping our understanding of the world. Diversity in the field is essential to ensure a more comprehensive and inclusive perspective of using data.

In the EU, STEM studies are considered to be key for developing innovations. Innovation helps us to address major concerns, such as climate change, energy transition, sustainable transport, and environmental protection. Male-dominated STEM might make new technologies and innovation less accessible and less inclusive. The popularisation of STEM among girls and women is fundamental for achieving impactful social changes. 

Maybe statistics is your future degree? 

Statistics might be a perfect fit for you if you are passionate about maths and you would like to apply it in different areas. The areas of further work can be incredibly varied, from climate change and environmental protection to government affairs, finance, and business. 

One of the most exciting aspects of statistics is the valuable data that statisticians work with. This data can be used to make conclusions and predictions about the world and leads to informed decision-making.

You might question whether statistics is for you and how to start exploring it. There are some sources and advice that you can use for getting the basics to start your journey. 

Try to explore some basic concepts and apply them to some examples. For instance, you can study the box plot with five elements (median, first and third quarters, lower and upper inner fences, maximum and minimum values) and think of some examples. By this, you will be able to do your first data organisation and be able to identify the extreme values. Then you can move to explore an essential part of statistics – probabilities, which sometimes can be helpful in your daily decision-making. 

For getting to know more about statistics and data analytics you can follow a variety of openly accessible materials. For example, Coursera offers free courses that you can take without earning a certificate. 

  1. If you are very unsure about your choice, then you could try to take a look at a short, basic, and simple course on YouTube – Crash Course Statistics.
  2. Introduction to Statistics by Stanford: this course gives solid basics for those who are only starting their journey in statistics. Completing such a course might help you understand your interests, difficulties and strong sides before specialising in this field. 
  3. Data Analytics offered by Google is a great option if you are considering specialising in DA or working as a data analyst. The course is quite large, so it might take some time to complete. 
  4. If you are already familiar with some of the basics, then try to take a look at Hypothesis Testing. You will get to know different types of hypotheses, approaches to testing hypotheses, and mathematical ways of showing them. A good explanation of these topics can be found in YouTube videos by the Khan Academy.

Lastly, never think that you cannot study statistics because you do not have a talent in maths, you cannot do complex mental calculations, you did not have advanced maths classes in school or any other background circumstances. These are the insecurities that we can get from society, friends, or school teachers, but they actually obscure your real possibilities. Statistics and data analytics are all about passion and constant personal development, so do not be afraid to try them. Success in such fields requires a lot of practice, but it also is a colourful journey with a variety of different experiences and magically beautiful calculations. 

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