Why Data Science degrees are unattractive for STEM students?

According to the Boston Consulting Group and BCG GAMMA report “What’s Keeping Women out of Data Science?“, almost 50% of STEM students believe that data science is excessively theoretical and that work in companies in this discipline still has little impact. Furthermore, there is a feeling that data science is more competitive than other fields. A significant proportion of STEM women worldwide say that they do not have a good understanding of how a “career in Data Science” is structured and, above all, what the day-to-day work of a data scientist consists of in the workplace. This negative perception and lack of transparency converge to increase the gender gap: only 15-22% of Data Science professionals are women.

Perception reflects reality

Students around the world are focusing on an unfortunate reality: many companies are still trying to create real impact with artificial intelligence, and still lack a collaborative culture on their analysis teams. The study reveals that almost 75% of Data Science students are looking for the complete opposite of what they perceive working in this field to be right now, i.e. applied, tangible, high-impact work, in their future jobs. As long as companies approach and promote data science and artificial intelligence as theoretical efforts without a concrete and measurable value, STEM students will continue to consider access to this discipline uninteresting.

Finding the gaps in the approach to Data Science

BCG surveyed over 9,000 STEM men and women in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, with between 700 and 1,000 responses from each country and a homogeneous distribution between men and women in each case.

Regarding transparency, the study revealed that only about 63% of men and 55% of women are well informed about the various opportunities in relation to Data Science. Even among data science and computer science students themselves, almost half (47%) referred to the lack of clarity regarding career options within the field. Australia, France and Spain achieved high rankings in this field, while students in China, Japan and Germany reported low understanding of their options in this discipline. In terms of perceptions of impact and purpose, China and Japan ranked last, while students in the UK, USA and France reflected better opinions.

Companies must act

Despite these variations between countries, the problem is fundamentally global and affects gender diversity in this rapidly growing field. “Companies are letting the media take the lead and drive the excitement around Ariel Intelligence, in the hope that this will be enough to spark interest in Data Science among students,” says Llorenç Mitjavila, Partner & Managing Director of BCG and head of BCG GAMMA in Iberia. “But in view of the results, something else is needed. Creating a culture within Data Science teams that celebrates impact and rewards teamwork will be critical to providing tangible and engaging career opportunities for students of both genders”.

What can companies do better?

While companies already have recruitment strategies in place to attract talent interested in AI, they can encourage diversity more directly by being much more specific in their communication with students by directly addressing the concerns that women highlight as critical: the role of Data Science in business, how data scientists collaborate on case studies, and how a career in this field involves much more than simply programming.

They should approach students with real-life examples communicated by data science professionals that make their day-to-day lives tangible and directly confront negative perceptions about the work culture.

Spain, a country that perceives with less fear the competitiveness in Data Science

Of the ten countries included in the sample, Spanish STEM students are the ones with the lowest percentage regarding the perception that Data Science is a field with a high level of competence both in access and in work. In our country, 67% of students perceive the sector as highly competitive, compared to 84% and 83% respectively in China and Australia. Activities such as programming competitions or hackathons contribute decisively to generating this halo of competitiveness.

Companies can play an active role in promoting the knowledge of the Data Science discipline and make known its transformative impact not only in the different economic sectors but also in society and contribute to the search for a solution to the gender gap in this field.  “We need the female perspective to ensure that what we build for our society represents our society,” says BCG GAMMA partner Andrea Gallego, who adds that “the problem extends to other fields. She adds, “If we start building models with biased teams, we will find a number of longer-term effects, including ethical issues and models that propagate a bias that we are trying to stop.

You can access to the report’s press release through this link