Carlyn Foster, Head Of Marketing at 4D Data Centres

The importance of female representation in the data centre sector

Carlyn Foster, Head Of Marketing at 4D Data Centres, looks at how we can encourage more women to pursue jobs in the data industry and the positive effects diversity can have on the sector.

There’s been talk of a skill shortage in IT of late, but that has long been the case for female professionals in this industry. With only a fraction of the UK’s female workforce operating in IT, this is a massive limitation on the potential scale of who could be qualified to work in the sector. In 2019 the proportion of female staff in tech in the UK, sat at just 16% – incredibly, this equates to the same figure as a decade before. Another eye opening statistic is that only 5% of leadership positions in the UK tech sector are held by women.

While in society we are starting to see more women in prominent roles, within the tech sector there is still much to do. This is also true of the data centre industry. In 2019, Uptime Institute published a report on privately owned enterprise data centres, which found that 25% of managers surveyed had no women among their design or operational staff. Furthermore, just 5% of the respondents said women made up 50% or more of their workforce.

These figures underline the challenge that the sector faces when it comes to inclusivity or equal opportunities and, while it is not insurmountable, there is no doubt that it is a large-scale task with no one-size-fits-all solution.

One of the areas we can encourage more diversity, particularly for getting women into tech and data-related roles, is at grassroots level. This includes placing a greater emphasis on a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

According to a WISE report, from 2019-20 just 24% of the UK STEM workforce was made up of women. A 2019 survey, which asked 176 women studying STEM subjects across the UK and Ireland about diversity initiatives, revealed 74% said they were either very or extremely important.

A similar survey in 2020 saw this figure rise by 9%, which shows how important a diverse workforce is to young women. Additionally, it shows the benefits of diversity initiatives are becoming more universally accepted by students each year.

According to WISE, in 2018 women made up just 16% of IT professionals and 17% IT technicians. While this percentage is and continues to remain low, recent data has shown female STEM students are looking to the future with a positive outlook – and believe the imbalance will change for the better in the next decade. This includes the introduction of initiatives like Girls in Data and Women In Data Centres, which represent progress in moving towards a more representative industry.

Educational institutions have a responsibility to ensure opportunities to learn STEM subjects and make sure they are delivered in a way that is appealing and motivating to students from different backgrounds and genders. Diversity isn’t a tick box exercise that can be fixed by simply imposing quotas; it’s an opportunity to learn and make meaningful changes.

A key part of meeting demand for data centres, not just this year but in the long term, is acknowledging the importance of improving gender diversity in the workforce. There is often a lack of understanding about what the data centre sector is and the career opportunities it presents.

The broader tech sector, as well as the Data Centre sector in particular needs to ensure sufficient representation of underrepresented groups, which is arguably more vital than ever as the development of digital technologies across both business and society is escalated by circumstances facilitated by the pandemic.

A lack of diversity can stifle substantive innovation, not only in terms of technical development but in business structures and organisational development. An increasingly diverse workforce is more creative and innovative and as technological developments grow at unprecedented rates and the data centre industry continues to play a key role in the nation’s infrastructure, it could certainly benefit from innovation.

According to research from Uptime, the data centre industry globally will need to find 300,000 more staff by 2025. This shortage of staff and the creation of new job roles provides a perfect opportunity to boost diversity and the initiatives that have been created. However, we must do more to make wholesale change and create the representation the sector needs to see.

There is certainly not a fool-proof way to address the lack of female representation within the data centre sector, however the initiatives in place represent a start and place a greater emphasis on grassroots that will help to encourage larger takeup levels at an earlier age. Acknowledging the problem is certainly a stepping stone in tackling the issue, but there are many steps we can still take to ensure this isn’t a conversation the sector and broader tech industry needs to keep having.

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