Breaking the Code 

Essex is a county of diversity, from diverse people to diverse environments. And, in our experience as members of the Data and Analytics, and Research and Citizen Insight teams, Essex County Council is an employer that celebrates diversity and promotes equality.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for every woman in every workplace, and we’re only too aware that the gender gap in data and research still exists. 

Google image search the word “coder” and you will find a sea of images of men staring at computer screens, possibly interspersed with sparse and occasional pictures of women doing the same. Let’s also take a minute to search the most common stereotypes of a career in Data Analysis: 

  1. It’s a dull job 
  1. Analysts are antisocial 
  1. It’s a man’s job! 

We’re bored with small boxes!  

Historically, traditional gender roles limited women’s access to data and research roles. This means there is now an underrepresentation of women in coding and data related jobs, with gender stereotypes reinforcing the perception that data careers are more suited to men. That’s disappointing considering that the first computer programmer was a woman, Ada Lovelace, and she was breaking the mould in the mid-1840s, before the first computer was even built!  

Here at Essex County Council women are at the core of, and in fact make up the majority of, the data and research teams. Promoting women in data and research is not only about breaking these traditional gender roles but also about ensuring everyone is able to shape a culture of data driven decision making.  

Stereotypes stop you doing stuff!

Women in Data and Research  

In 2022, our data and research teams launched a new group called "Women in Data and Research." Our mission is simple, to connect with one another to ensure that more women feel comfortable in the world of data and research. 

The team started off by talking about some of the challenges we all experience (imposter syndrome anyone?!) and identifying what would be most helpful for the group to get stuck in to. Confidence, public speaking and communication were mentioned by lots of us as something we wanted to focus on. 

With this in mind, the group arranged the opportunity to take part in ‘She Said’, a learning programme focused on supporting women to speak up and be heard. The course covered the history behind the barriers women face when public speaking, the impact of unconscious bias, and practical steps we can take to speak with confidence and leave an impact. Fired up by the course, in 2023, we really started to get organised and held an in person (!) workshop where we split our areas of focus into four main activity areas:  

  • Culture – creating an inclusive Policy Unit for all,  
  • External Influence – helping more women aspire to careers in data and research,  
  • Career Progression at ECC – supporting and empowering women to pursue their career goals at ECC, and  
  • Group uses for members – making this group work for all and stay fun!  

Since then, we have all been squirrelling away in our respective themes to try and get various projects off the ground. Throughout this year we have been meeting regularly, developing our network, sharing ideas, co-working, again actually meeting each other face-to-face. Something perhaps a little less regular when Teams meetings are now the norm.  

One exciting project in the pipeline is the potential for members of women in data and research to attend local schools to promote what a career as a researcher or analyst looks like – breaking down these gendered stereotypes. Other future projects are also set to involve volunteering, fundraising, and we have started planning for International Women’s Day on the 8th March. The theme this year is inspiring inclusion. Every year Essex County Council holds a series of talks and events centred on women, and this year our group hopes to get involved.

While the Women in Data and Research group at ECC is still in its infancy, it is growing and working towards empowering women in data and research roles across Essex to provide mentorship, networking opportunities, and act as a platform for sharing experiences and insights. This will mean we can look forward to more inclusive, data-driven decision-making processes. This means that our communities will benefit from a diversity of perspectives. 

The Women in Data and Research group are acting to help each other within ECC to empower women in data and research roles. By closing the gender gap in data and research, Essex County Council is not only advancing gender equality but also enhancing the quality of services provided to the community. 

If you would like to launch your own women in data and research group, please feel free to contact us and we will be more than happy to share our experience of creating a more inclusive and data-driven community. 

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