This article appeared originally on the Women in Big Data website, and has been altered and republished here with permission.
The College of Engineering and Computer Science is proud to announce that enrolments in our postgraduate data analytics programs have exceeded gender parity, and now have more women than men.
“It was a pleasant surprise, but my Dean [Professor Elanor Huntington] said she knew we could do it all along,” said Dr Kerry Taylor, Associate Professor at the ANU and the applied data analytics course convener.
“The Graduate Diploma in Applied Data Analytics has achieved 50/50, but in the Master of Applied Data Analytics, which is the bigger program and at the higher level, we actually have more female students than males.”
Dr Taylor is excited to see the increased participation of women in a traditionally male-dominated field.
“Women are growing in confidence, are aware of the value they bring to government and other sectors, and are willing to invest in their skills. This will bring significant long-term value to the Australian economy,” she said.
Dr Taylor is part of the Women in Big Data (WiBD) Canberra executive, and is often asked how her postgraduate program at ANU achieved gender parity.
“I want to emphasise that there is no gender-based selection criteria in play here, and we admit all qualified applicants. I wonder whether the admission requirement for work experience, as well as the organisation of the course delivery to suit part-timers, makes a difference. A good portion of our students are public servants, and we do know that the public service has been working to achieve gender equity for a long time now, so we are piggybacking off that success to some extent,” she said.
Another contributing factor is WiBD Canberra’s activities, which include a mentoring program, as well as networking nights featuring presentations by women working in industry, academia, or territorial or national government. The presenters, who are at differing stages in their careers, share their work or research projects and stories in a friendly, supportive environment.
“It serves to give confidence to people wondering whether data analytics is something they could take on, and to show them how interesting and important it can be,” Dr Taylor says.
“It is often said that the absence of female role-models keeps females away from male-dominated disciplines, but WiBD demonstrates that there are plenty of amazing female role models working in this space!”
Current ANU student Charmaine McGowan adores numbers and problem solving. She knew she’d found her people when she attended her first WiBD Canberra event and says it’s great to feel like she’s bringing value to the table.
“After spending just shy of 10 years in the public service as a data analyst, and working with men aged 50 and over, the event was a breath of fresh air”.
“Professor Elanor Huntington was the speaker who really inspired me to pursue my academic goals and progress my career. I have since enrolled in the ANU Master of Data Analytics, and the computer science courses I have completed have enabled me to bring my A game to the ‘boys club’ type meetings at work,” Charmaine said.
Dr Taylor has been at ANU since 2016. She has more than two decades of experience in roles such as a United Nations big data analyst with the national statistics agency, the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Before that, she spent 20 years with Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, as a principal research scientist in the polyonymous IT research division. However, her enjoyment of data science and computing stretches much further.
“For me, the attraction has always been about turning the elegant beauty of mathematics into a living, working beast. So much of computer science is about creative problem solving, and a lot of that is building on a mathematical approach, or at least needing abstract mathematical thinking. I get to turn my abstract thoughts into a dynamic near-physical form that actually does something,” she said.
What does she hope students will gain from their new qualifications? “A good job that rewards them for their creative and critical thinking, a toolkit of techniques to help them solve problems with evidence, and an urge to find the problems that really need solving,” said Dr Taylor.
WiBD region/chapter lead Jane Alexander says that extremely capable women in analytics and data are too often get overlooked in the male-dominated industry.
“Women largely represent an under-utilised resource and the ramification of discrimination against women comes at an economic burden to government and industry. Higher levels of education for women will partly solve these issues. Industry and government need to recognise the economic force women represent and provide opportunities, commensurate with our male peers, inclusive of pay scales and promotional prospects”.
This is one of goals of the Women in Big Data Forum, which seeks to strengthen diversity in the big data field.
“As part of this initiative, we would like to encourage and attract more female talent to the big data and analytics field and help them connect, engage and grow” says Jane Alexander.
Some of that talent might come from the ANU applied data analytics undergraduate program, which Dr Kerry Taylor also convenes.
“Like our postgraduate program, it is firmly inter-disciplinary,” Dr Taylor says. “Mums, consider sending your sons and daughters along!”
Photograph of Kerry Taylor and Jane Alexander by Ibidolapo Adekoya