Woman in data industry

The proportion of female data professionals in entry-level roles has more than halved in the UK and the US, and declined in the EU data industry in 2023, according to research by Harnham Group, the global leaders in data recruitment.

Amy Foster, Director of Talent and Partner at Harnham Group’s graduate development division Rockborne, dives into the findings.

At Harnham Group we have been surveying the state of diversity in the data industry for over six years now. It gives us unparalleled access into the inner workings of our sector, including how fairly pay is distributed, how diversity within leadership levels is faring and what professional benefits are most appealing to different demographics.

Information like this is crucial to identifying areas that have demonstrated positive progress, but also to shedding light on our weak spots and informing how we go about resolving them.

Our annual Diversity in Data report surveys more than 6,500 professionals across the data industry in the UK, US, France and the Netherlands. This year’s edition has revealed a worrying drop in female representation in entry-level positions, across the board.

In the UK, the proportion of female professionals joining the industry at entry-level has fallen by more than half, from 35% last year to 11% this year. Meanwhile, in the US, women accounted for 12% of entry-level positions in the data industry in 2023, down from 36%.

The EU also saw an overall decline of female representation at entry-level, albeit less severe – experiencing a fall from 37% to 34% this year. The notable exception is the Netherlands, where entry-level positions in data are dominated by female professionals, accounting for 60% of roles.

Female representation at a junior level has been on a steady incline over recent years, and entry-level roles have historically been the most gender diverse section of the workforce, so these statistics present a disappointing move in the wrong direction. Particularly because we know first-hand the work that organisations have been doing to improve gender diversity.

The most concerning aspect is what this means for the diversity of the industry’s talent pipeline going forwards. After all, this section of the workforce is representative of the sector’s future.

The data industry’s ability to operate as an innovative, forward-thinking field is reliant on a constant stream of high-quality talent, and if, as employers, we’re failing to reach or retain any section of the population, our growth and success will ultimately hit a ceiling.

Improvement at mid-level positions

That said, we have also seen pockets of positivity emerge, particularly in mid-level positions, where progress is evident. In the UK, percentages nudged closer to gender parity in mid-level, with women making up 37% of these roles and 35% of technical lead/manager positions, indicating that the higher numbers of female entry-level candidates from last year may have been retained and have progressed.

In the US, females occupy 39% of mid-level positions and in the EU female representation at director level has increased from 11% to 15% over the past 12 months. Clearly, progress is possible.

Why is this happening and what can we do about it?

There are likely to be several contributing factors to the reduction of female representation at entry-level. For one, we know that younger generations were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 hiring cutbacks. For businesses that were forced to downsize junior levels were often the hardest hit and, for others, new hires into entry-positions were frozen.

Make data an appealing career choice

However, the findings may also be symptomatic of the fact that we are simply not doing enough to appeal to female candidates. To ensure that diverse junior talent continues to flow into the industry, we need to ensure that a career in data is viewed as worthwhile and appealing to all, but also that we are making a sustained industry-wide commitment to removing any barriers to entry.

Areas in need of improvement include the persisting gender pay gap, which we saw widen in the UK and the US this year. This was the most significant in the UK where it has increased to 16% in favour of men, up from 6% last year. Whilst, the Netherlands has managed to narrow its gap from 23% to 10%.

Employ from a bigger talent pool

Employers also need to ensure that the talent pool that they are recruiting from is kept as wide as possible. In tech, hiring is frequently heavily weighted towards those of a certain educational ‘ilk’ – typically STEM graduates from top universities – without consideration as to whether this background is actually necessary to carry out the role effectively.

We see certain tech companies making hiring decisions based on the outdated belief that only these individuals can be good tech professionals. When in fact, our own experience has proved that those from non-STEM degrees and lower socio-economic backgrounds can offer new perspectives and ideas, and still be trained to become just as technically capable as their STEM counterparts.

Where possible, hiring managers should approach their search with an open mind, granting access to other disciplines and taking a fresh look at how to attract those who might not otherwise have considered this career path.

Review benefits offerings

The choice and allocation of benefits is also key. For instance, we often see flexible working hours afforded to staff unequally, such as only permitting those of a certain level of seniority to work in a hybrid manner. Whilst young candidates may be less likely to have young children to look after, they could have other dependents such as elderly parents which require them to keep flexible working hours. To be effective, policies like this must be open to everyone.

This year’s report also analysed which benefits packages different demographics valued most. Female professionals consistently ranked benefits that granted them more time, higher than benefits that granted more money. For example, in the UK women considered flexible working to be a more valuable benefit than men, who favoured bonusses. Similarly, in the EU, women value holiday allowance higher than men, who prefer shares.

Ultimately employment offerings need to be reflective of the talent that we are trying to reach, and until we eradicate issues such as the lingering gender pay gap, we will never be able to realise our potential for equity, and more importantly, we will be failing to attract the best talent.

Download the full report here, or to find out more about what Harnham Group are doing to support organisations in improving the diversity of their workforces, visit the website.

About the author

Amy FosterAmy Foster, Director of Talent and Partner at Rockborne:

Amy has over 14 years’ experience in recruitment, specialising in early talent, working for some of the biggest names across multiple industries.

This mix of industries has allowed for a variety of projects including coaching executive teams and the opportunity to work with different people from diverse backgrounds. Amy has combined this wide-ranging experience into her current role at Rockborne, as Director of Talent and Partner. The role involves creating campaigns and strategies to bring the very best and brightest talent into Rockborne, supporting their career journey and helping change the makeup of the data industry.

Everywhere she has worked, Amy has been laser-focused on her passion of improving diversity of thought and thrives on considering how to get the best out of individuals and fostering a warm, welcoming and open culture. Her over-riding philosophy is that D&I isn’t an exact science, but rather comes from communication and embracing new challenges.