assorted numbers on a board, women in data

Article by Carlyn Foster, Head Of Marketing, 4D Data Centres

The skills gap is something that appears frequently in the news, with a lack of trained workers on the horizon for upcoming technology-focused jobs raising concerns in many industries.

There’s been talk of a skill shortage in IT, but even more worrying is the lack of female professionals in the sector, and what is being done to encourage more women into technical roles.

With only a small percentage of the UK’s female workforce employed in IT jobs, this is presenting many recruitment challenges, especially as a very limited number of those who could be qualified to work in the sector are actually working in it. In 2019, the proportion of female staff in tech in the UK sat at just 16%, which staggeringly is the same as it was back in 2009. This is reflected in another eye-opening statistic, which states only 5% of leadership positions in the UK tech sector are held by women.

Challenges within the sector

While we are starting to see more women in prominent roles, the tech sector still has much to do, which is also true of the data centre industry. In 2019, Uptime Institute issued a report on privately-owned enterprise data centres, which revealed  25% of the managers it spoke to had no women among their design or operational staff. This was followed up with the revelation that just 5% of the survey’s respondents have women making up 50% or more of their workforce.

These figures provide an overview of the challenges the sector faces when it comes to inclusivity or equal opportunities, showing there is not a one-size-fits-all solution which can resolve the disconnect on a large scale.

One area to help address greater diversity is targeting girls at the grassroots level and enticing them through education to consider tech and data-related roles. This includes placing a greater emphasis on careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

The future looks brighter for STEM roles

According to a WISE report, from 2019-20, as little as 24% of the UK STEM workforce was made up of women. And according to a 2019 survey, of the 176 women studying STEM subjects in the UK and Ireland, 74% answered that diversity initiatives were either very or extremely important to them.

Similar research in 2020 saw this figure rise by 9%, which shows there is a drive in creating more diverse workforces. Additionally, it brings to light the benefits diversity initiatives are having and how they are becoming more universally accepted by students every year.

According to WISE, in 2018 women made up just 16% of IT professionals and 17% IT technicians, and while this percentage is still low, recent data has shown that female STEM students are positive about the future and believe the imbalance will change for the better within the next decade. This way of thinking comes from the introduction of initiatives like Girls in Data and Women In Data Centres, which highlights progress in the move towards a more representative industry.

Making career opportunities known

Educational institutions have a responsibility to make sure there is an opportunity to study STEM subjects and have them delivered in a way that is appealing and motivating to students from all backgrounds and genders. Diversity isn’t a tick box exercise and can’t be fixed by simply instilling measures. It needs to be seen as a way to learn and make impactful changes.

When it comes to data centres, a key part of meeting demands in the long term is acknowledging the importance of improving gender diversity in the workplace. There is often a lack of understanding about what the data centre sector is and the career opportunities it offers, which is why it needs to be made more accessible.

Within the broader tech sector, a push is needed to ensure there is sufficient representation of under-represented groups, which is arguably now more vital than ever as the development of digital technologies has escalated by circumstances facilitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Benefiting from innovation

A lack of diversity can stifle large scale innovation, not only in technical development but in business structures and organisational development. An increasingly diverse workforce is proven to be more creative and innovative, and as technological developments continue to advance at a much faster pace than before COVID-19, the data centre industry’s key role in the nation’s infrastructure could benefit from even more innovation.

According to research from Uptime, the global data centre industry has the mammoth task of needing to take on 300,000 new staff by 2025. This shortage in recruitment and the creation of new job roles provides a perfect opportunity for the sector to boost diversity and drive the initiatives that have been created. However, we must do more to make wholesale change and ensure the representation the sector needs to provide is prioritised.

There is no fool-proof way to address the lack of female representation within the data centre industry. The initiatives being implemented are already making steps towards emphasising grassroots level education that will help encourage larger takeup levels at an earlier age. Acknowledging the problem is already helping to tackle the issue, but there is more work to be done to ensure this is a conversation the sector and broader tech industry keeps having.

Carlyn FosterAbout the author

Carlyn Foster is a senior level strategic marketing professional with over 15 years’ experience in delivering excellent results within global consumer goods brands (FMCG) and digital and in-bound marketing communications within a UK B2B Information Technology environment.