We need more women in data. It’s simple, really. There’s a lot of talent out there, and it we should be embracing it and encouraging it. That’s how we feel at Red Olive, where we’re building an open, inclusive and opportunity-driven culture that welcomes anyone who has the talent and skill to help us deliver results to our clients.

Today, on International Women’s Day, it’s important to focus on how we’re doing in this area. We spoke to Rae Ellingham, one of our senior consultants here at Red Olive, about how we can all encourage more girls and women into IT and into data in particular.

“I’ve always been interested in computing since I was little,” says Rae. “I’ve been coding since I was six or seven. I had a Commodore 64 and got the programming magazines and spent hours programming and editing. It was what I loved to do, and so it’s no surprise to anyone that knows me that I’ve ended up in IT!”

After studying for a BTEC in computer science and then taking a degree in Electronic Imaging and Media Communications, Computer Science, Rae worked in software development before moving into database development and realising that data was the place to be.

“Data is the foundation for everything,” she says. “It’s like building a house. You’ve got to have those good, strong foundations. You can’t see those foundations and most people don’t appreciate how fundamental they are, but if they’re not there, the house on top will be useless.”

What’s it like to be a woman in data?

So, what kind of experience has Rae had in a sector that’s traditionally very male-dominated? “I think my experiences are similar to many women in ‘male’ industries,” she says. “There are a lot of nice people, and I’ve worked with some great teams. But I’ve often been the only woman working on the technical team, and that leads to all sorts of unthinking behaviour – like assuming I’ll make the tea, or take the meeting notes, or do ‘reception’ type duties. That in itself is undermining and tiring to deal with – and of course, if you call it out, you’re making a fuss.”

“What I want to see is not just women being encouraged to come into the sector, but also understanding that it’s absolutely fine – and actually preferable – to be a woman. Much of the advice I see to people like me is to ‘be more man’. In order to get on, you need to behave more like a man. I think that’s rubbish. Women have amazing skills and talents and a diverse team is a more productive and more successful team. So instead of trying to make everyone the same, we should be embracing and encouraging different outlooks, approaches and ways of working – that’s the route to cultural and commercial success.”

Data is a great career choice!

As part of the Red Olive team – a team that is 50-50 gender balanced – Rae is keen to do more to mentor and encourage girls to choose STEM subjects and women to pursue a career in IT.

“I want to talk to the women who are me 20 years ago,” Rae says. “I want to say to them ‘you can do this!’ IT is a great career – there’s good money in it, it tests your skills and your intelligence and your teamwork, and there are women here who want you to join them and have the career you really want.”

And on a wider level, Rae says it’s more about awareness than institutionalised sexism. “All we need is a bit of understanding and perspective,” she says. “For example, desks are built for the average man. So as a woman, you either have to choose an uncomfortable position where the desk is too high, or raise your chair so your feet are dangling off the floor like a child. That’s not on, but it’s just one of the many ways that the office environment is taken for granted. Similarly, everyone needs to understand more about women’s health, caring roles at home and other influences that mean women don’t always fit seamlessly into a world that’s designed for men. Get that right, and you’ll find women will work hard, add real value to your teams and be a significant part of your success.”

Our plans for 2023 and beyond

So, what are we doing at Red Olive? We’re planning both to take part in and run events over the coming year to share our experiences, encourage young women into the data industry and demonstrate just what a great career options data and IT are.

“We’re very aware that IT and data are male-dominated areas,” says David Searro, COO at Red Olive. “We want to play a key role in changing that – not just in our own business but in the wider industry. Developing a culture that welcomes talent, and makes it easy for people to give of their best, with an emphasis on work-life balance is very important to us. Keep an eye out for more from Red Olive on women in data this year!”

And if you are interested in finding out more about us or joining our team, please get in touch at [email protected]

#IWD2023 #EmbraceEquity.