Skills crisis: ‘No better time to be a woman in data’

20-1The proportion of women holding jobs in data science may be at its lowest level in two decades, but females are now highly sought after and there is “no better time to be a woman in data”.

So says a new study carried out by Datatech Analytics for Women in Data, which found that in the year 2000 there had been an equal split between males and females joining the data and tech industry. However, out of the overall number of people entering the industry, the percentage of women taking on data science roles has fallen to 27% of the total this year.

The report suggests this is due to the fact there has been a 400% rise in men choosing careers in fields such as artificial intelligence over the past two decades, compared to a 68% uplift in women taking on these roles during the same period.

Payal Jain, who chairs Women in Data, admitted that the results this could appear “fairly bleak reading” but insisted that the opposite was true and that women are now some of the most sought after talent in the UK. She added: “There is no better time to be a woman in data.”

Even so, the study also shows that half of data science leaders believe skills shortages are posing the greatest challenge to delivering value within their organisation, with four out of five (86%) reporting that it is difficult to hire talent in the sector.

When asked how they were planning to plug this skills gap, upskilling was the number one strategy being deployed, with over two thirds (69%) planning to go down this route.

However, when data scientists were asked what prevents them from learning a new skill, time was cited as the key barrier by 70% of respondents. Additionally, not knowing where to start (32%), and funding (25%), were cited as issues preventing upskilling in the next year.

Mango co-founder and chief data scientist Rich Pugh said: “Due to the dynamic and growing nature of data science, creating a data science team with the optimum blend of analytic and ‘soft’ business skills is costly and complex. There is a scarcity of resources and a lack of common understanding around existing analytic skillsets and job descriptions.

“As more organisations embrace data-driven transformation, there has never been a more urgent need to upskill and resource data science teams across a wide range of sectors and departments. Data science should be considered a team sport, with the combined skills of each member contributing to success.

“If organisations cannot hire people with all the skills required, I would urge them to look at what skills are in existence internally and create a team of people with complementary skillsets. That way, as a collective team, firms can create a solid foundation for driving data-driven transformation.”

The research comes as data professionals from Rolls-Royce, Marks & Spencer, Nestlé, HSBC and Deliveroo have been named as leading industry figures in this year’s “20 in Data & Technology”.

Launched in 2017, through a partnership between The Female Lead and Women in Data UK (WiD UK), the initiative is designed to showcase outstanding stories of female achievement in data science across the UK.

To read the individual portraits and in-depth interviews with each of the “20 in Data & Technology”, visit the Women in Data website>:

Dizem Ozalp Sari, senior manager of data and machine learning services, HSBC

Sarah Moore, data intelligence director, Now TV Sky

Dr Helen O’Neill, lecturer in genetics and CEO, Hertility Health

Louise Maynard-Atem, innovation specialist, data exchange, Experian

Sarah Rench, director of data, AI & industry solutions, Avanade

Ela Osterberger, director of data science, Deliveroo

Leyre Murillo-Villar, CDO data control lead, BNP Paribas

Bhagya Reddy, principal (Jr) data engineer, QuantumBlack , a McKinsey company

Inderjit Birak, managing security consultant, Fujitsu

Caroline Bellamy, chief data officer, Ordnance Survey

Kriti Sharma, founder, AI for Good UK

Lyndsay Weir, global data and analytics manager, Nestlé

Janet Snedden, founder, Customer Kind

Angela Lillis, insight lead, Marks & Spencer

Jillian Kowalchuk, founder, Safe & The City

Anita Fernqvist, chief data officer, Zurich Insurance

Lynette Kebirungi, turbine aerothermal engineer, Rolls-Royce

Chrissie Fletcher, executive director biostatistics, Amgen

Dr Laura Bonnett, medical statistician, University of Liverpool

Claire Thompson, head of data and analytics for commercial and private Banking, RBS

WiD co-founder Roisin McCarthy said: “We are asking our members, and the wider business community, to help us to demystify perceptions around data science as a way to address the skills gap and appeal to a wider ranging section of professionals. Data-driven organisations have a massive opportunity to attract and recruit the right talent, growing a data science community that is thriving, challenging and lucrative.”

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