Data needs women, it’s 100% true

In 2000, as many females had data roles as men in the UK  

In 2005, this fell to 41% 

In 2009, this fell even further to 34% 

And now, only 27% of the data industry is occupied by women

[Source: The Telegraph]


I love numbers, but these aren’t the kind of percentages I want to be seeing.

Ever since I can remember, maths has been my ‘thing’. Not because it’s clear-cut and straight-forward; in fact, my areas of specialism, data and analytics, is my favourite vertical of mathematics because it isn’t straight forward. It’s more grayscale, with a mixture of logic and interpretation; it’s not one size fits all and there’s always a story behind the numbers. And that’s the best bit of the challenge; its variation and its ability to evolve means that the data produced is only as good as the analyst makes it.

Adding to this, not only is data enjoyable, for me anyway, it’s simply integral to any company or agency. Contrary to popular belief, analytics isn’t a separate part of business; it’s a glue that holds it all together. It’s involved in the whole journey, from strategy and planning to campaigns and results.

I know not everyone will have the same appreciation for numbers as I do but, what I can assume is that most people will agree with me that the decline in women entering the industry is a real worry.

But why does it matter so much if women aren’t part of the data world?

Speaking from my own experience, I’ve been lucky enough not to have witnessed a severe gender imbalance within the marketing analysis side of the industry; it has mostly been a great 50/50 split. However, speaking to female friends and colleagues within the more ‘hardcore’ sides of data, programming, code and AI, this is where the biggest gender disparity lies and unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle. It’s a male dominated environment which in turn makes it a hard environment for women to want to enter and stay in, therefore it continues to be male heavy. Round and round we go.

As with anything, if there’s an imbalance of gender, ethnicities and experiences, the results simply won’t be reflective of our society. We hear a lot about AI bias at the moment and the dangers this could present. But the truth is that this is the case for all areas of data. The whole point of analysis and insight is to be able to understand behaviours, to empathise with and understand them and, no matter how hard we tried, men won’t ever 100% ‘get’ women and vice versa.

41% women in data roles in the UK in 2005
34% women in data roles in the UK in 2009
27% women in data roles in the UK in 2019

Family ≠ the end

In 1962, Dame Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Shirley set up one of the most influential IT and data businesses this world has ever seen. Not only because she retired a billionaire and made 70 of her employees millionaires. But because it was one of the first female-led companies in the industry that offered flexible working for professionals.

Ironically, to be taken seriously by her male counterparts, Stephanie had to change her name to Stevie on all written correspondence. Whilst times have certainly moved on from here, being a woman can still mean you’re worse-off, especially when it comes to having a family.

Data roles require constant learning. Keeping up with trends and changes is crucial and when a woman leaves for six months or more, it can be hard to plough your way back in. I know that when I made the choice to take a few years out with my children, my biggest worry was about whether I would ever be able to find work again, especially part-time. But I was incredibly lucky to find an agency that championed flexible working, even in an always-on industry.

Nevertheless, it’s not all doom and gloom for the data world; things are starting to change slowly but surely. In the past few years, the industry has begun to follow widespread societal changes. It understands that women aren’t the only child-rearing gender; men also want to have a part to play in family life, they want to take time off when the baby is born, and they want to get home for bedtime. On the flip side, the industry is waking up to the fact that women can work flexibly and still be damn good at their jobs. Us leaving at 3pm instead of 5:30pm doesn’t mean we can’t do what men do. It’s getting there but it’s still got a fair way to go.

The only way the data industry can truly thrive is through equality. Maths isn’t a male subject and the arts aren’t only for women. We need to banish stereotypes and celebrate all industries for their diversity, equality and balance.  


This article first appeared on CreativeBrief BITE on 2 March 2020.