Diversity and inclusion issues plague the data industry

data 31The data industry may be one of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy – and seemingly bullet-proof from the coronavirus pandemic – but it is lagging behind the national average across many areas of diversity and inclusion, making it vulnerable to a depleted talent pool which could hit productivity, innovation and creativity.

That is the stark conclusion of the third annual State of Diversity in Data & Analytics Report, published by recruitment firm Harnham, which looks at the industry’s record in a range of areas, from gender and ethnicity to disability and age.

This year’s report does, however, highlight the success the industry has had in terms of improving gender balance but it also reveals areas where the data and analytics sector must up its game.

Gender divide
As a traditionally male dominated sector, the report shows signs of progress when it comes to the gender divide, with the industry edging closer to a more balanced workforce with 30% of UK roles within data and analytics now being held by women.

Even so, most of these jobs are held by entry or mid-level employees which, while closing the overall gender divide, does create pay issues.

Gender pay gap
An influx of women entering the industry this year, has unfortunately widened the pay gap by 3.2%, leading to an overall gap of 10.5%. While the report notes that it is promising to see this number is lower than it was in 2018 (13.3 per cent), it is still higher than the national average of 8.9%.

The pay gap means that for every £1 men earn, women earn at 89p. This issue derives from the influx of women entering the industry at junior level, who are not only skewing the pay bias of the overall sector but are also underpaid compared to their male colleagues.

Worryingly, the gender pay gap opens from the moment a woman breaks into the industry and will rarely close as women climb the ranks next to their male counterparts. This needs to change swiftly if data is to continue seeing a more equal gender balance, Harnham stresses.

On the surface, the data sector is trailblazing in this area, with 26% of professionals coming from a BAME background, compared to the national average of 14%. But when this is analysed, it becomes clear that the data cannot be taken at face value and the industry still has a way to go to support fair and equal ethnic representation.

Firstly, three quarters of the industry is made up of white professionals, a strong imbalance in comparison to non-white professionals. Additionally, it was found that there are certain ethnic groups that over-represented in the industry, while others are disproportionately low.

For example, 15% of data professionals are from an Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Arab ethnicity but only 3% are black, Caribbean and African and just 4% are from a Chinese ethnicity.

The report will not be a great read for those in their 40s, 50s and 60s looking for a new career. The fact is that the industry now attracts a much younger demographic, with 63% of professionals aged under 35. Harnham explains the key reason for this is that a high concentration of this group represents the newer, more cutting-edge specialisms, such as marketing and insight, and data science.

Another area of concern is the sector’s record on disability. The latest Government figures reveal that 7.7 million people of working age (16-64) reported that they were disabled in April-June 2020, which is 19% of the working age population, yet disabled people account for just 3.3% of the data workforce.

There is a consensus, however, from many within the industry that the flexibility necessitated by Covid-19 will create more opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The break away from the nine to five and the option to work from home or a more accessible environment will open a world of new and disability-friendly opportunities, Harnham reckons.

There is another clear gender divide when it comes to employee benefits, with more men than women seeking out financial benefits, and more women than men opting for more future-proofing measures, such as pensions, health insurance, and learning and development. For example, men put company shares as number four on their list of importance, a benefit completely missing from the women’s list.

Yet despite men and women being poles apart in terms of the benefits they seek, both genders put working from home very high on their lists (first for women, second for men), suggesting that they are at least in agreement in their desire for flexibility.

Harnham founding partner David Farmer said: “The industry is one that thrives on innovation and a dynamic, diverse nature, but it’s clear that there is still a lot of work to be done.

“We can’t sit here and say that there’s a ‘2+2=4’ system to solving these issues either, each company will have its own pain points and challenges which need to be examined on a very case by case basis.

“However, celebrating diversity, ensuring transparency and honesty from the top down and actively encouraging an inclusive and accepting culture, are examples of sure-fire ways to get your firm on the right track.”

A full copy of the free report is available from the Harnham website>

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