FOXBOROUGH — You could almost feel the breeze from all the heads nodding.
Jessica Gelman had just asked a group of 20 undergraduate women if they happened to notice that sports is a male-dominated industry.
The resounding, if rueful, response set the tone for the first “Koding with KAGR” event held recently at Kraft Analytics Group headquarters at Gillette Stadium.
With a focus on shrinking the wide gender imbalance in STEM-related data and analytics jobs in sports, Gelman, CEO of the data management, analytics, and consulting company, and a group of mostly female KAGR executives and employees spent a recent evening showing the young cohort how to join a journey toward both a job and equity.
“They’re combining the idea of two male-dominated fields — sports and STEM — and they’re bringing them together and making sure women have a platform within those two fields in that one domain,” said Meghan Phat, a junior majoring in sports management at UMass-Boston.
“It was super important for them to tell us, ‘Hey, we have these opportunities, this is what we do, this is how we work, this is how we all work together,’ and get into it.”
There’s a lot to get into.
According to a National Girls Collaborative Project survey from March, women make up just 34 percent of the STEM workforce. The numbers are even lower in computer and mathematical sciences (26 percent) and engineering (16 percent), which are foundational to the sports analytical field.
The numbers are worse for Latina, Black, and indigenous women, who represent less than 10 percent of the STEM workforce.
Besides the gender and racial gap, there’s a wage gap, too.
According to 2019 US Census Bureau data, women make 16 percent less overall than their male counterparts in all STEM-related fields.
There’s a glimmer of progress on the educational front: Forbes cited data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System showing that women represented 45 percent of students majoring in STEM fields two years ago, an increase from 40 percent in 2010 and 34 percent in 1994.
Overall, though, there’s considerable ground to make up.
The students saw, in one breakout group at the event, a slide from The Gist’s Twitter feed that showed Reese Witherspoon striking a commanding courtroom pose in “Legally Blonde,” and captured the attitude that will be needed: “Women in sports should have the same confidence as Elle Woods did in that courtroom. We’re badass and we know it.”
“This was not about, ‘Oh, you’re a woman, here’s work,’ ” said Gelman, who co-founded the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference with Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey. “This is, ‘Here’s the work that we do, here’s the skills that would be valuable for you to gain as you progress or are thinking about when going into the space.’ Will you face challenges? For sure. But analytics and technology and data can be an equalizer.”
Students split into groups for breakout sessions in three KAGR areas: consulting, business intelligence and data science, and enterprise solutions in engineering. A handful of KAGR’s 62 employees explained the lay of the land, along with case studies and time for questions.
Prior to that, Gelman and two other KAGR executives, Erin Kelly and Kathryn Hodel, delivered opening remarks about their respective career paths.
“I truly believe that STEM does level the playing field,” said Kelly, a senior vice president for enterprise solutions and strategy. “There’s just an aspect with data and being able to prove our hypotheses, perspectives, and opinions with facts and information and to use your analytical thinking about how do you apply something? How do you think about this new technology that could make an impact in a positive way?
“I think people who continue to figure that out and think analytically and think about that are really going to excel.”
Robert Kraft, owner of the Kraft Group, which also owns the Patriots and Revolution, offered his own pep talk.
“I think women basically are stronger than men,” said Kraft. “I hope all of you women here don’t see any ceilings in what you want to do in this field. The sky’s the limit.”
The message of empowerment and encouragement reached Cait Feest, Phat’s classmate.
“This was really cool and really insightful,” said Feest. “I especially liked how much they touched on how, in the sports industry, it’s important for women to really step forward and make a path for themselves.
“It was really nice to feel included and encouraged to be a part of it, especially with the STEM focus. That’s something that is a difficult subject in itself, and having people encouraging me to take part in it meant a lot.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.