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Why men need to step up on gender equality in data science

PhD Sociology student, Poppy Gerrard-Abbott reports from the Data-Driven Innovation initiative’s Women in Data Science event:

The University of Edinburgh Informatics forum hosted an event by the Centre for Data, Culture and Society, with participants from the City Region Deal and University of Edinburgh’s Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative on Women in Data, on Tuesday 11 June. The session was hosted by Professor Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice Principal, and Jarmo Eskelinen, DDI Executive Director, exploring themes past, present and future relating to gender equality and women’s participation in data and data science.

A cross-section of women academics, researchers and DDI staff (and some men – we are hoping for more next time!) came together to discuss women’s important historical relationship with data in Edinburgh, progress in policies and professional practices at the university and contemporary challenges for women in the data sector. This includes talks on women data scientists uncovered in the university’s archives from Rachel Hosker, Deputy Head of Special Collections and Archives Manager, and on gender equality as good for business, by Director of EDINA Janet Roberts.

As project lead for the DDI’s Women in Data Science project, I previewed insights being gathered from women from academia, industry and politics across the city region. The project launched in January 2019 and aims to shed light on women’s historical and current contributions to data science and innovation. (Look out for more on that in the autumn!) I also discussed wider work on gender equality within the DDI team, such as commitments from staff members, a Women and Data event at the Data Innovation conference in September 2019 and the creation of an inclusive events-planning framework for DDI going forward. Professor Judy Robertson, academic supervisor for the project, finished the event on a thoughtful talk, ‘Would you want your daughter to work in the data sector’?

Group discussion that followed at the end of the event and in the catered networking session confronted fundamental questions around where institutional sexism in data science comes from and how we tackle gendered discrimination – including poor representation and retainment of women in senior roles, the gender pay gap and fostering workplaces designed for women’s participation and success. The barriers women face from data science and STEM more widely are socially, culturally and institutionally deep-rooted and complex to tackle – although, women are still thriving in the sectors, which the Women in Data project will be addressing. Institutions and employers need better and more meaningful, long-term and collaborative action on gender inequality, with the support of male colleagues. This needs to take place at the University of Edinburgh and in DDI – as a collective responsibility that benefits us all in our work.

A big thank you to the speakers, organisers Charlie Jeffery, CDCS Director Professor Melissa Terras,  Melissa Highton, and administrator, Cathy Naughton, for this exciting event!

Institutions and employers need to do better and more meaningful, long-term and collaborative action on gender inequality, with the support of male colleagues