Inspiring the next generation of data experts

GUEST BLOG: In this contributed blog post Steph Cullen, head of manufacturers at IRI and former gold medallist rower for team GB, shares her views on how schools and the fast-moving, consumer goods (FMCG) industry can take action to help more young women navigate a successful course into a data-led career, and highlights her top three transferable skills from education to the workplace.

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the number of women working in the tech sector grew in 2021, with technology representing the third top sector in terms of job creation for women. Of the 58,000 jobs created in the information and communication sector during Q3 2021, more than 71% of these were taken up by women. This is certainly encouraging and represents a positive step in the right direction towards addressing the gender imbalance traditionally associated within the tech sector.

The start of any new year is often when we’ve had time to take stock and reassess our careers. Never has this been more so than in the last couple of Covid years as the ‘Great Resignation’ (or as some are calling it, the ‘Great Churn’) trend bites and employees re-evaluate their futures.

For some, a new year may represent a brand-new start. However, a job in data and technology might not be the first choice for many young people, particularly women, looking for their first step on the career ladder.

Could do better

I believe those schools and colleges that manage to find time within an extremely busy curriculum timetable are now doing a much better job at providing careers advice for young girls. But when it comes to areas such as data and technology, there’s still a perception that these jobs are ‘geeky’ and heavily focussed on pure data science.

Education establishments could do a better job at explaining that there’s an important need for people with varied skill sets. This is particularly true in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) data and technology sector I work in.
Young people at every level of education should be encouraged to cultivate an interest in science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) subjects; particularly girls given their under-representation in these subjects. To do this schools must demonstrate how STEM can empower girls, women and gender diverse individuals to be agents of change.

Data insights provide us with a wide range of information that can impact and improve our lives. It touches everybody and it’s relevant to everyone. For example, it’s quite mind-blowing when you think of just how much data and technology goes in to determining which products are displayed on our supermarket shelves. Millions more people are now familiar with online shopping due to enforced pandemic lockdowns. The fact we can order just about anything and have it delivered to our doors within 24 hours is all down to how data and technology work together.

Transferable skills

Schools, colleges and universities equip young people with a whole range of transferable skills. For women considering a career in data and technology, here are my top three.

1. Self-belief – Knowing that if you put your mind to something and consistently show up every day with that goal in mind, you can pretty much achieve anything. It’s not about being at your best every single day or never making mistakes. Do I walk into board meetings feeling 100% confident all the time? No, I don’t. But what I do have is self-belief. This enables me to feel grounded, reminds me of what I’m capable of and that I have a voice that is worth listening to.

2. Resilience – From an early age we’re taught that we don’t always win in life and can’t always get our own way. It’s the same in business and in sport it can be brutal. As a former elite athlete and GB rower, having resilience was essential. Performance at this level entails constant knock backs, failures and losing by the slimmest of margins. Having the resilience to accept failure as an everyday part of life and learning how to bounce back from it is an important skill worth having.

3. Teamwork – As in sport, teamwork is essential in any business. A crucial part of putting together a successful team is recognising that we all have different strengths and weaknesses and that everybody has a different role to play. A team of people that can offer different experiences, views, opinions and ways of doing things are ultimately more likely to win.

Women have a role to play in all areas of data and technology and the current under-representation of women risks losing the experiences and perspectives of over half the population to the detriment of our industry.

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