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Diversity and Inclusion in the Data Sector

by Xcede

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Diversity and inclusion has become a top priority for businesses and measuring the success of diversity hiring initiatives is more important than ever to monitor progress. Utilising data and talent analytics is key to ensuring success when it comes to hiring for diversity.

There are many steps that can be taken to improve the success of diversity hiring initiatives, from removing barriers to entry, to increasing awareness of roles.

At present, many STEM industries such as technology and data are still male dominated. As Dr. Zeinab Bakhtiarinoodeh, Senior Data Scientist at TomTom notes, “there is no doubt that computer science is a male-dominated environment and there is no doubt that it can be intimidating. When doing my PhD studies in computer science and logic, I was the only female in a majority of settings I found myself in”.

So, how can managers leading data teams hire for diversity in the current market? Zach Binge — Xcede's Senior Recruitment Consultant working across Big Data Engineering roles —  spoke to Silky Vaidya, Director of R&D at SIRV Ltd. and Interim Chief Technology and Product Officer, independent board advisor and mentor to find out more. Read her thoughts below.

Silky – Co-Director of the Women in Big Data Programme

With over 20 years of experience in the tech space, Silky is currently the Global Director of R&D at SIRV Ltd. working across engineering and product innovation. Right from the early years in her career, Silky spent a lot of time scaling up innovative tech start-ups. As she started leading global engineering and product organisations, she became more passionate about helping other women in tech.

Silky is also a board member and the Co-Director of the Women in Big Data programme, as well as being a mentor on various tech leadership mentoring programmes. She is also the Board Advisor and Head of Innovation at We and AI, a non-profit organisation raising awareness of the risks and rewards of AI.

Can you talk to us about your interest and passion in improving Diversity in the Data world, and how much you think businesses put words into action?

At present, we are at a point in time where the businesses are taking a lot of interest in D&I for enabling innovation. It is to do with bringing new voices to the table. So, the situation is kind of changing. However, we are just scratching the surface because it is a very multi-dimensional and interesting problem to solve.

If you look back to around 5 years ago, I felt that businesses were not properly thinking in terms of creating specific metrics and OKRs. They are now investing in creating multi-dimensional metrics to truly understand the diversity in their organisations, and to track progress. It is about creating some targets internally, but also to track those targets.

Why do you think Diversity is important in the Data space?

There is a need for data science to have more diverse opinions and have different thinking backgrounds and different racial backgrounds. Unless you have different ways of thinking and diverse points of views, you cannot have a complete proposition. When I am in a group of very diverse people who have different viewpoints, I know for a fact that they are much more productive.

Today we have created the innovation systems in data science and data engineering. We not only need diverse people from different constituencies and different demographics, but we also need individuals who come from different walks of life, bringing different sorts of mindsets with them to solve problems.

What are the next steps to improve Diversity in the Data space?

We must create external metrics. For example, if you’re trying to create a metric for retention for a diverse group of individuals, we'll have to look at the external metrics of what is the employment status in those constituencies of individuals coming from those backgrounds. So for tracking retention, you'll have to have a multi-dimensional metrics system of tracking flexible working options: it is about looking at ‘the overall’ picture.

What tools, organisations, or publications would you encourage people to seek out or follow when trying to break into the tech world? Is there anything you are reading that you find particularly inspiring?

I read books which have an intersection with psychology and leadership. I'm currently reading The Chief Data Officer's Playbook.

I would also like to say to look at programmes such as Women in Big Data and be part of the events which are focused on championing the careers of women. However, it is not just women in this programme; there are also allies. Allyship is something which I believe in as it brings in men as allies to the program.

We have a lot of partners from Intel to Amazon AWS, and that gives you a lot of contexts and understanding as to what they are doing internally to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. It also helps us to see what initiatives they are running to upskill and train their female colleagues with a mentor or coach.

Are there any institutions that you would like to highlight that are doing good work in this area and can be said to be putting words into action when it comes to promoting diversity in the workplace?

I believe a couple of years back Google invested a significant amount of money just to understand what makes a more effective team. Amongst other things, they concluded it by talking about psychological safety and how introducing a diverse set of people in the team can affect this, and so on and so forth.

I want to try to develop programmes which catch talent early, to create a pipeline early. This can be done by creating programmes and working with schools and universities.

The future of D&I looks positive, but we must remember not to consider this as tokenistic and it is not just at the point of hiring pipeline and planning for it, that we should only focus. We need to look across the board for how we can better support individuals from diverse backgrounds to really get the best chances to become part of tech organisations.

Data specialists can explore our latest data job opportunities on our site, and if you would like to more about building a diverse data team from the ground up, contact our data team today.