New approaches to finding and recruiting diverse data talent

Last month our Innovation Lab collaborated with one of our data engineering teams to conduct a research project which discovers the most effective ways to find and recruit diverse data talent.

The team uncovered five key findings and created a tool which allows organisations to benchmark their workforce against UK diversity metrics. We will be posting the detailed findings from the study here over the next six weeks. 

1. It's not all about STEM
We began with a study to test a presumption that data professionals are best sourced from within the traditional STEM disciplines. We wanted to view the pathways for the UK’s active data professionals. We utilised web scraping tools to analyse the academic backgrounds of 320,000 early to mid-career data professionals and assess whether they graduated in a STEM or other academic field.
Our results revealed that more than 30% of these data professionals have a non-STEM background. Instead they come from subjects which we have termed ‘data-aligned’. These data aligned subjects consist of social sciences and non-traditional subjects like business administration.
What links them is a familiarity with the use and practical application of data. As the labour market for data talent continues to be competitive, those who wish to succeed in recruiting the best talent should look more widely and consider aptitude for a career in data which can then be developed through technical training. 
2. There are other options
Having analysed the academic backgrounds of current data professionals in the UK we found that over one third of them studied data aligned, rather than STEM subjects. We went on to explore the supply and demand in the current job market for data roles. We analysed over 10,000 UK data professional job postings and their degree requirements to understand what employers were requiring from applicants. We then compared these results to the academic backgrounds of the 125,000 UK graduates from 2018.
We found that over 70% of job adverts were requiring a STEM degree from a potential applicant however STEM graduates accounted for only 24% of the 2018 graduate talent pool. Given we have seen that over a third of data professionals currently working in the UK don’t have STEM degrees, it appears that employers are unnecessarily limiting their options for finding and recruiting the best data talent by requiring a STEM subject so early in the application process. By appealing to a wider pool of high-quality graduates, employers are more likely to source the talent they need to build their data teams. 

Visualisation: pool of STEM/data-aligned graduates vs degrees required in job ads (click on image to enlarge) 

Next week we will discuss the third of our insights from this study – assessing the skills requirements for the data family of professions. 

3. Expand your skills search

In the next part of our study, we looked at over 10,000 job posts for UK data professionals with job titles ranging from data analysts to software engineers to understand what blend of hard and soft skills employers were recruiting for. We noticed something interesting.

We found the top five most required soft skills listed in the 10,000 job adverts were: communication, partnership, passion, flexibility and analytical. Both the top five, and wider soft skills required, were largely consistent across each of the role types in the data job family. In contrast, the technical skills varied substantially between job role, as you would expect. Notably, SQL, Excel, C, Python and Git remained core to each of the technical skills requirements.

Visualisation: top soft skills vs top hard skills (click on image to enlarge) 

Industry commentary and feedback from our clients continues to highlight the importance of soft skills in data professionals and the ability to work effectively within a business unit. We believe the right approach is to hire for these attributes which are consistently sought after and where required, train the technical skills as the needs of the market evolve. Technical excellence in data can only be fully harnessed when it’s fully integrated into an organisation. 

4. Attract more women to data roles

In our first post we revealed that over 30% of data professionals working in the UK didn’t study a traditional STEM subject at university, choosing instead a ‘data-aligned’ subject such as economics. We wanted to discover what impact this insight would have on the data talent pipeline and improving gender diversity.

We analysed the data talent pipeline through the education pathway of 173,000 UK graduates from 2018. We were particularly interested in the gender balance as students began to select their academic specialisms and understand how this presented challenges to recruiting more women into data.

It is widely reported that too few women are choosing to study STEM subjects in the UK, and the subsequent implications this has on the talent pipeline for UK industry, including data. We wanted to quantify this pipeline and understand how making changes to job application requirements can help unlock the potential data talent of the future who are studying data-aligned subjects.

We built a tool (see visualisations 1 & 2 below) to visualise the education pathway of UK graduates to then filter on different requirements: top universities, degree classification, STEM vs. Data-aligned etc. Our study found that by retaining a focus on high calibre graduates from both STEM and ‘data-aligned’ academic disciplines it is possible to almost triple the size of your applicant pool (24,000 to 62,000) and more than double the proportion of women within that pool (28% female to 57% female). This remarkable increase in both the size of the applicant pool and the huge increase in the proportion of women is a result of negating the gender imbalance in STEM subjects at undergraduate level by widening the search for talent.

Visualisation #1 STEM subjects, 1st & 2:1 degree classifications (click on image to enlarge) 


Visualisation #2 STEM and data aligned subjects, 1st & 2:1 degree classifications (click on image to enlarge) 

Our study has shown that by recognising the potential for data talent beyond STEM it is possible to overcome this structural gender imbalance in higher education. By recruiting more women into data, as an industry, we will pave the way for future generations of young women to follow.

5. Watch your language when searching for data talent

Having explored the challenges and potential solutions to recruiting more women into data, we turned our study to examine the way recruiters were describing data roles in over 10,000 active job posts.

We built a natural language processing tool to review the 10,000 job posts and analyse the types of words used to describe six of the most common data roles. Drawing on published social science research, we tailored the tool to look for words which are characterised as ‘masculine-coded’. These words often constitute language which are assessed to discourage women from applying to roles due to their subtext.

Having analysed the adverts for data architect, data scientist, data analyst, data engineer, developer and software engineer, we found that over 70% of the adverts in our study contained masculine-coded language, as high as 81% for data architects job roles. What became clear from this part of our study was firstly, how masculine the descriptions of data roles tend to be, and secondly, how this is an easy win for organisations seeking to create the broadest appeal to job applicants.

Visualisation: Proportion of job posts with male gendered language by role  (click on image to enlarge) 

It is worth noting that the social science research, which formed the basis of the natural language processing analysis, found that a shift to more neutral or even ‘feminine-coded’ language had no discernible impact on the number of male applicants for roles while increasing the number of female applicants.

6. Summary

Over the last five weeks we have shared some insights from recent data led research we have conducted into the UK data talent market and some of the common challenges faced by the industry. From challenging the assumption that STEM graduates should be regarded as the main source of data talent to identifying the most common skills required when recruiting data talent, our research has provided some foundational insights to support talent teams in their efforts to recruit data professionals.

Our research project has produced the following insights:

  1. Talent teams should look beyond traditional STEM backgrounds or data professionals.
  2. Over three quarters of current job adverts for data role require a STEM degree which excludes three quarters of the available annual UK graduate pool.
  3. While the technical data (‘hard’) skills required vary greatly between different professions, the soft business skills remain largely consistent, irrespective of the role being recruited for.
  4. The overwhelming majority of data job adverts analysed in the research project contained language which is reported to be discouraging to female applicants (in an industry struggling to achieve a gender balanced workforce).
  5. An organisation’s diversity, both ethnic and gender, is more accurately assessed when benchmarked against both national and regional demographic views. Organisations operating in different geographic areas will face different and specific recruitment challenges.

These insights are the product of an intensive period of research conducted by Kubrick’s data engineers who used their skills and ingenuity to create tools and data sets necessary for the project. These tools are available to use with our clients to help deliver tailored insights and solutions to help them meet their own workforce challenges via Kubrick’s Innovation Lab. Using our highly trained team of consultants and senior technical trainers we can offer clients AI-powered, data led workforce solutions in addition to building bespoke data sets and developing insights to support your objectives.

Here at Kubrick, we are constantly seeking to develop our methods for identifying aptitude and ensuring our training design and delivery is optimised to help our people fulfil their potential for a career in data.
To speak to us about workforce solutions, please contact Dan Tomlinson, Head of Innovation Lab at Kubrick Group.

by Shainaz Stewart

Posted on August 20, 2019