Seizing opportunities for women in data

We recently sat down with Qbase Operations Director, Tracy Barker, to discuss her journey into data and how the industry can work towards striking a better gender balance.

Tracey Barker finding time to do some holiday sightseeing outside of her senior role as Operations Director at Qbase. 

Tell me about your career highlights and how you broke into the world of data?

“Like many people my career path wasn’t what I had planned. I left school and ended up in a number of different admin positions. During my time in one of these roles, I was tasked with creating a marketing database which I built from scratch, adding and cleansing the data to be used for marketing. I found that I really enjoyed the process – it was exciting to have created something that had real value in marketing. It also allowed me to touch on SQL which spurred me on to wanting to learn more. I did some research and signed myself up for a Microsoft Certified Profession course within SQL server. I spent some time going to night school doing a HNC in business and finance along with my daytime job as an administrator at a recycling company. As I worked more with databases, I signed myself up for another SQL course which led me to begin looking for roles in this area and this was when I came across Qbase – 19 years ago!

It was an interesting time for Qbase as they were at the beginning of their journey with SQL and were still only working with Access. This meant it was the ideal time to come in and develop my own skills as the company was moving in the same direction. I started off as a marketing database analyst – building and maintaining prospect and customer databases for our clients. From there I moved into a team leader role, then a data processing manager role and finally into my current role of Operations Director.”

What benefits do you think greater diversity and inclusion would bring to data and analytics as a profession and what is Qbase doing to lead by example?

“I feel that Qbase has a diverse culture and good equality standards, although there is always the need for improvement at any company. We’ve carried out a lot of work over the past few years to make improvements such as introducing new policies, encouraging flexible working, ensuring diversity and inclusion in our recruitment processes and adding more benefits around maternity and paternity leave and pay. We’re currently focusing on creating a learning culture, this involves making sure we have formal personal development plans in place for everyone across the organisation and making it easier for everyone to go on training courses, develop their skills in all areas and basically continue to grow their career paths.

Prioritising diversity and inclusion opens up a broader range of skills and talent, as well promoting innovation and creativity amongst the team. In turn, this leads to new business opportunities and better outcomes for the company. Data is ultimately about people, so having a range of different people from different walks of life is advantageous because everyone views things differently.” 

What should be done from a grassroots level and upwards to encourage more women to consider data, analytical and broader STEM career paths?

“There are many ways that the industry can have a hand in leading more women into male dominated careers, such as STEM. Qbase conducted some research that looked into job specs for predominantly female roles to understand the language with a view of adapting our own. While this was a useful step forward, it’s still not enough.

I think there is a lack of understanding at schools and colleges about the opportunities involved in working in data and analytics and the qualifications needed to get into these roles. The industry needs to work with education to fix this problem. Qbase has worked closely with local schools and colleges, attending recruitment fairs to reach out to more students. It would be great to see more female spokespeople going into schools to speak about the opportunities available in data and to change perceptions. There seems to be a view that data is a ‘nerdy’ career path instead of people realising how fun it can be. I think there can also be a fear that it’s a competitive industry, something that may deter women from joining, so it’s important to make clear that it’s actually really collaborative, both within the teams and with customers.”

What’s a typical day in the life of Operations Manager at Qbase? 

“Every day is different! My role these days is all about leadership and working with my teams to make sure they understand customer requirements and have everything they need to get the job done. I do work directly with customers at times but I’m mainly there to support the teams, to make sure that they are delivering the best work that they can.”

Why are you passionate about working with data and what advice would you give to other women thinking about it?

“It’s rewarding to see our customers getting the best out of their data, from reducing costs to improving turnover and ultimately helping them to grow their business. At the end of a project it’s great to see the improvements that have been made, whether it’s been a case of cleansing data or a project that involves insight work and recommendations. Seeing that end point where changes can start to be made internally is extremely satisfying.

In terms of advice, I think it’s important to go in with an open mind. There are so many opportunities and you can find yourself going down a completely different path than what you originally planned – I started off in coding and now I’m people and project managing. I think it’s important for women to understand that traditional ‘female skills’ such as collaboration and relationship building are heavily involved in data, it’s not just about sitting in front of a computer and coding all day.”

What’s the most impressive application of data that you’ve seen? Either first-hand or in the headlines.

“I think personalisation has been a really interesting application of AI and data that has transformed so many industries. Everyone has probably experienced searching for something on Google and then seeing it pop up on your social media and it’s amazing to see how all of this is stitched together. Even with suggested products that come up when you’re making a purchase, the accuracy around personalisation is so impressive. Sometimes you’re only talking about something and then an advert will pop up!”

While the benefits of attracting more women into data roles are clear – broadening talent, promoting innovation and attracting new business – the industry still has a long way to go. According to Women in Data, male analysts and scientists outnumber females four to one. We hope that by women like Tracey sharing their stories, we can inspire young women and girls to see the immense opportunities this industry can bring to them.