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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