Technology

Introducing talented female mathematics learners to a career in data and analytics

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Young black girl with a fun afro hairstyle sitting at a table at home browsing the internet on a tablet computer with bright sun flare through the window alongside her

SAS has partnered with the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to support a Women in Analytics programme designed to introduce Analytics and Data Science as an exciting career choice for top-performing young female Grade 11 Mathematics students.

Globally, research indicates that only about 15 to 22% of data scientists are women. Data science, like most STEM fields, has a significant gender diversity problem, and this exists at all levels of education and research. Girls and women drop STEM subjects at every point of the education system from high school onwards, so it’s vitally important to make careers in STEM subjects accessible and appealing.  For many high-performing STEM girl learners, Analytics and Data Science is not a widely discussed career choice, but the truth is that this cutting-edge and rapidly changing field is an ideal career path for young women, and is one of the top local scarce skills areas currently.

With funding assistance from SAS, the UWC Women in Analytics programme hosted an in-person event for the first-time last year, aimed at introducing Grade 11 learners and their mathematics teachers to the world of analytics. Talented young Grade 11 girls were given an insight into Analytics and Data Science as a career.

With the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 ruling out an in-person event, the Women in Analytics team were forced to think creatively about how to reach top-performing learners from previously disadvantaged schools in the Western Cape. A digital event was quickly ruled out, as many of the schools involved lack the facilities and computer equipment to successfully host a digital engagement.

Instead, UWC partnered with SAS to produce gift bags for 100 top-performing female maths students at selected schools across Cape Town metropole. A competition flyer was included in the gift bag, and the students were encouraged to enter a competition to write a short paragraph describing what a Data Scientist does. Three winners were selected from the entries received, and each winner is the proud recipient of a Takealot e-voucher courtesy of SAS. Two of the winners were from the Centre of Science and Technology, while the third is a student from Rylands High.

“While the competition doesn’t replace the immediacy of an in-person engagement, we had a good response from the schools involved, and we are pleased to have been able to maintain our outreach with talented young female learners,” says Professor Renette Blignaut, professor of Statistics at UWC. The Department of Statistics and Population Studies has had links with SAS for more than 20 years, and SAS has been instrumental in supporting their industry-directed Masters Programme specialising in Data Science. “Since we have started with these [Women in Analytics] initiatives, we are actually attracting more girls to the programmes. It’s been a very positive experience working with SAS to reach out to girl students and encourage a passion for Analytics and Data Science,” says Professor Blignaut.

“SAS is committed to promoting and advancing women in Analytics and Data Science careers. We have global initiatives to promote Women in Analytics and we are proud to partner with UWC to promote careers in Analytics and Data Science to South African girl learners,” says Andre Zitzke, SAS Manager: Global Academic Programmes.

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