assorted numbers on a board, women in data

Working with numbers | Women in Data

assorted numbers on a board, women in data

When Lyndsey Swann needed a career reboot, she studied for an HND in computing at night school and this led to her first role in data. Lyndsey now heads up ‘customer excellence’ for Gazprom Energy - a role all about maximising and monetising data and insight across the organisation. Lyndsey tells us why she thinks women are underrepresented in the data sector and what can be done about it.

The percentage of roles linked to data science being taken by women has dropped from 41 per cent in 2005, to 34 per cent in 2009, and to 27 per cent in 2019.

Despite millions of pounds being spent to encourage greater diversity in STEM careers, worryingly, jobs involving data are neither attracting, nor being secured by, female candidates.

I love working with data because it enables better business decisions. It often takes the emotion or guesswork out of decision making and will ultimately improve an organisation’s performance by enhancing service to the customer and increasing revenue to the business. It’s fantastic to create a compelling story through data that makes people think differently and introduces them to new ideas. Data can surprise, prove wrong or validate original thought – you never know what you are going to find.

The unconscious message

But clearly data isn’t the career choice for many women. I think this is due to the choices young girls make at school, as well as the unconscious messages they are given. For a large part, data analytics and data science doesn’t inspire young girls. While many enjoy maths and sciences at primary school, interest wanes when they move into senior school and become teenagers - where many conform with ‘the norm’.

The way data science is ‘sold’ in many schools is also partly to blame. Even today people assume that girls’ minds are less technical and not as logical. Although this is unconscious in many cases, it puts girls off studying these subjects due to the fear of failure. This perpetuates the vicious cycle of lacking female role models that could then inspire the female data scientists of the future.

So how can we improve the situation? Firstly, we must engage young girls when they are in high school and making those crucial GCSE choices. It needs to be made clear that a career in data is a rewarding, achievable and sustainable career choice. Bringing women in data into high schools to inspire others would help.

Secondly, a clearer career roadmap would be useful. Data science is not the only role available to those who are inspired by analytics. There are also areas like customer insight, or research and marketing roles that all utilise data and would benefit hugely from greater diversity.

Broadening the spectrum

This diversity would bring tangible benefits and improvements to industry; for example, a broader spectrum of views and different approaches to solving business problems. Women tend to excel in problem solving, agility of thought, and communications – all crucial attributes in my line of work.

I also think women are generally strong at logical decision making, are highly action-orientated and active listeners. These are essential attributes in data analytics & data science, especially when it comes to asking the right questions of the data and insight to monetise the outcomes as constantly demanded in business today.

However, we should be aiming for a place where gender is irrelevant and the most talented people should grow and thrive equally in the data sector, regardless of this. As in many areas, this requires substantial effort to remove unconscious bias.

Making a difference

Another way the sector can nurture more talent, including women, is by demonstrating the connected worlds that data science is part of. My career transcends two very different but connected worlds – deep data insights and customer experience. Connections like these are important because they highlight the wider impact that working with data has. It’s not just about being into numbers. It’s what you learn from them and how you can make a difference.

These ‘data connections’ should encourage more people who are data literate but also enjoy creative thinking and problem solving, to look further at data analytics & data science as a rewarding career path. The industry needs the right combination of technical data science and programming skills but also the ability to utilise that insight for commercial gain.

Now that so many customer interactions are digital, there are new opportunities for younger candidates to shine earlier. They can quickly dominate the field in new data areas such as web analytics, social media listening, sentiment analysis, and AI.

My own journey

I’m both proud and lucky to work for a business today that takes diversity seriously. It’s this attitude and the people within Gazprom Energy that sets it apart from other B2B utilities suppliers. Within the UK we have a balanced senior team in terms of outlook, gender, and specialism, which makes for fair leadership and a strong foundation for the business.

The skillset I need in my customer excellence team is widespread, from research professionals and process specialists, to customer insight analysts and CRM experts. This should ensure diversity. First and foremost, I want to recruit people that are passionate about creating best in class customer experience using data, insight, research, and technology, so we are continually able to grow and innovate.

Gender will not be the primary factor in choice of recruits; however, I strongly hope that I can build a diverse team that benefits from great female candidates in the mix.

Lyndsey SwannAbout the author

Lyndsey Swann is Head of Customer Excellence at Gazprom Energy.

With over 15 years’ experience in in customer insight and analytics, research, strategy development, segmentation, customer experience, CRM and customer services, Swann works to put the customer at the heart of decision making whether that be B2C or B2B.

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We need more women to power the energy sector

Article by Grace Rothery, Head of UK Retail, Gazprom Energy

Energy, Energy sector, STEMGazprom Energy is the leading business gas supplier in Great Britain; we supply more gas to non-domestic customers than any other supplier in the market – a position we’ve held since 2017.

One of the most significant challenges that the wider energy sector is facing today is the growing skills gap in STEM areas – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  This is based on an increasing body of evidence showing a long-term decline of scientists and engineers to support industry and academia. In order for the energy industry to progress and meet the changing demands of consumers and wider societal issues such as the green agenda, continuous technological innovation is needed and will only be achieved if there is a steady influx of highly skilled and committed scientists, mathematicians and engineers moving through our education system.

The energy industry’s lack of gender diversity has surely played an instrumental part in this blockage of skilled workers. Currently, just 5% of executive board seats in UK-based energy companies are filled by women, according to research conducted by PWC, while 61% of UK-based energy companies have no women on their board at all. As a woman working in the energy industry, I see first-hand the lack of female peers and role models within the sector. This becomes increasingly apparent when visiting industry events such as trade shows and seminars. We are clearly lagging behind other sectors, so we need to see leading energy companies and industry experts acting now to push female professionals into the spotlight to help ensure that  the energy industry does not remain a man’s world.

Greater gender equality can start with children and education. Schools, supported by relevant industries including energy, need to actively encourage girls to study STEM subjects and consider STEM career paths, by offering guidance and information on how and why students should take up interest in the sector. Female speakers need to be placed in the classroom to share their experiences on how they have benefitted from working within the sector. As a school governor and by supporting the charity State Talking Manchester, I have seen first-hand how we can enlighten young girls on the careers that exist in the energy sector. STEM programmes should also be established through schools, with the support of energy companies, to ensure the relevant education is reaching a more diverse range of students.

Beyond education, companies should be looking at themselves to understand how they can appeal to and maintain employment of female professionals. With so many engineers and data experts currently choosing different sectors, energy companies should be looking to make sure that their offerings can compete with other sectors, such fintech. This is not necessarily just about financial compensation; several other factors can play a part, such as supporting flexible working arrangements which we know can bring huge benefits to both employers and employees.

In recent years, we have seen some positive steps to encourage women to work in the energy industry, for example companies have launched STEM ambassador programmes and implemented diversity targets, but more still needs to be done.

One thing is clear, this is not an issue of skills in women, it’s an issue of skills within the industry. Highly skilled and talented women are available, but the industry needs to be playing its part in attracting and retaining them. CEOs should lead by example and ensure that they are really supporting diversity at all levels of their organisations, including in their executive teams, and considering diversity targets at a strategic level.  HR professionals should be demanding diverse applicant shortlists and producing reports on gender diversity. Senior management needs to be looking at their talent pipelines, spotting and supporting talented female workers and encouraging them to put themselves forward for roles that will benefit their career progression.

Not only is there an obvious ethical case for encouraging a more diverse workforce, we simply cannot afford to ignore the blatant business case that there is for it as well. Imagine having an industry that is calling out for more skilled workers but that drains 50% of its talent pool, due to women not feeling included and young girls believing that the industry is predominantly for men. Diversity in staff is crucial when it comes to solving the problems that the industry is facing today and closing the loop on our skills gap. We need innovative approaches to problem solving and a broad understanding of data and technology, something that we can only fully gain if we are open to everyone.

Grace RotheryAbout the author

Grace Rothery has been working for Gazprom Energy since 2011 when she joined as a legal counsel. Previous to her work at Gazprom Energy, Grace worked for the law firm Addleshaw Goddard, where she completed her legal training contract and qualified as a solicitor, specialising in commercial law. After four years as Head of Legal & Regulation at Gazprom Energy, Grace took on a new role as Head of UK Retail in January 2018 which sees her leading 120 people across sales, marketing and operations.