For more diversity in data, start with the kids

Toni Sekinah, Research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

To Jennifer Major the traditional stereotype of the people working in data is either white, middle-class people or geeky nerds, but she is seeing this starting to change. With a broader recognition that people with a variety of skillsets are needed to work in this industry, Major said that the view of the people with those broad skillsets is shifting. “It’s already starting to happen.”

"A wider range of graduates joining has made us a lot more interesting."

In the last few years, Major, head of IoT at SAS, has seen a widening in the range of graduates joining the analytics business and she thinks it has had a positive effect. “It's just made it a lot more interesting. Analytics is about understanding customer behaviour and getting different perspectives on it. You need the people who are looking at that to have different perspectives. You don't want to just have it being interpreted by a bunch of white, middle-class people,” said Major.

However, getting that wider range of graduates through the door has taken effort. She said that it is difficult to have a diverse workforce if only people from a small section of society have the pre-requisites and desire to apply for jobs in data, so her company is engaging with students in schools and universities to get them interested in data and analytics early on. One example of this is the SAS Curriculum Pathways which provides online resources on a range of subjects including science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). “That is one way of trying to get the interest generated in kids early. We also support people at university, helping them understand how you can apply data analytics to business.”

Major is also a proponent of extra-curricular organisations such as Apps for Good that encourage young people to take part in tech projects. In addition, to a focus on the tech skills, Major thinks it is important for people to know that you do not need to have a degree in computer science to work in analytics. “With the analytics tools that are available now, you need to understand the basic principles of what you are doing but you don’t have to do the maths. The important thing is understanding the business issue that you’re trying to solve and being able to think creatively about how to get answers and make them into something actionable.”

"If organisations want to get more diversity, it starts young."

Diversity and inclusion have become almost buzzwords in recent times and a lot of companies might be saying all the right words but Major said there are specific actions they should taking so they are not just paying lip service to a current trend. “Organisations need to show commitment. If they do want to get more diversity, it starts young.”