Think your love of math and science only translates into a career in engineering? Think again! There’s a lot you can do with those interests, and if you’re particularly good with numbers and technology, there’s a whole new field worth exploring.
It’s called business analytics, and it combines statistics, data mining, optimization, and simulation to provide data-driven solutions to business problems. You might determine the best mix of audio, video, and print advertising to maximize product revenues for a laptop computer; the appropriate product attributes to maximize market share for a brand new shoe; the proper customer base for a targeted coupon campaign for a fashion retailer; the number of checkout lanes to open to ensure an average wait time no longer than 30 seconds; or the projected lift from an advertising push or in-store display of cell phone covers.
Why is it worth highlighting this field for women specifically? First of all, women are still woefully underrepresented amongst many STEM fields and in STEM-related college majors—comprising 25% of STEM jobs and 20% of engineering, computer science, and physics majors (Kamla Modi, Ph.D.; Judy Schoenberg, Ed. M.; Kimberlee Salmond, M.P.P. Girl Scout Research Institute. 2012. “Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.”) This is despite the fact that both male and female high school students perform equally as well in STEM classes, with females even outperforming males in some metrics, such as GPA (Catherine Hill, Ph.D.; Christianne Corbett; Andresse St. Rose, Ed.D. American Association of University Women. 2010. “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”). In subtle ways throughout young adulthood, women are discouraged from entering these fields, largely driven by social factors such as perceived gender barriers.
Second, we’ve found that of those women that do choose to pursue their interest in math and science, it seems that they are often encouraged by their parents, high school teachers, and guidance counselors to pursue careers in engineering, according to a recent survey of the female students in the Master of Business Analytics (M.S.B.A.) program at my institution, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. This is not so surprising, since all engineering disciplines are built on a foundation of mathematics with a focus on new technology. And, certainly, engineering is a challenging, exciting field. But not everyone who loves math and technology is destined to be an engineer.
After expressing their disinclination for engineering to their parents, teachers, and guidance counselors, many of the female M.S.B.A. students were then advised to become math teachers. Math education is another rewarding and admirable career path but also not for everyone. Why did no one advise these young women to pursue a career in other STEM disciplines? For no other reason than the fact that they were, and likely still are, unaware of alternatives. And that must change. Business analytics, a fast-paced, exciting, and rapidly growing field, is one such alternative and a great place to start.