Women in the data centre industry: Getting girls into STEM

Women in the data centre industry: Getting girls into STEM
Data Centre Magazine speaks with leading industry women to talk about their experiences and to highlight what more can be done to improve DE&I sector-wide

According to the Uptime Institute, almost half the data centre workforce today has 20 years of experience or more, and by 2025 half of existing engineering staff will retire despite the number of staff needed to run the world's data centres predicted to grow from around two million to nearly 2.3 million by 2025. 

The global digital infrastructure authority also stated in 2021, more than three-quarters of data centre operators surveyed said less than 10% of their staff members were women, unchanged since 2018. And just two years before, in 2019, a report on privately owned enterprise data centres found that 25% of managers surveyed had no women among their design or operational staff, with just five percent of the respondents saying women made up 50% or more of their workforce.

With calls to fill the skills gap with a diverse workforce made up of all races, sexes and backgrounds, it is more important than ever to ensure that the workforce is as resilient and future-proof as possible, while ensuring the industry can put its best foot forward with the top tiers of talent.

And this is not just as part of a tick box exercise. There are countless benefits to having women in the workforce, and in the data centre workforce specifically.

Bringing in different perspectives

“Women think differently than men, and that in and of itself, is important,” Dr Kelley Mullick,  Vice President of Technology Advancement and Alliances explains.

Dr Mullick, who joined Iceotope earlier this year following more than a decade at Intel, feels as a female engineer, she can look at a project from both a detailed and big picture perspective - an added benefit which complements the skill set of her male counterparts. 

She adds: “I also think women are more collaborative in general. Research shows that diverse teams with diverse thinking creates higher performing teams with better business results.”

This sentiment is echoed by Sophia Flucker, Technical Director at MiCiM Ltd and Managing Director at IT consulting firm Operational Intelligence Ltd. 

“It’s difficult to make generalisations about half of the population,” she starts, “however it has been demonstrated that a diverse workforce is more effective as different experiences mean that people bring different perspectives which can help avoid blind spots and groupthink.

“Evolving away from a macho environment can certainly contribute to a healthier workplace.”

How these data centre leaders were drawn to work in the industry

Both Mullick and Flucker acknowledge that their paths into the data centre industry were far from purposeful.

Fluker jokes: “I fell into the data centre industry by accident when looking for a job as a mechanical engineering graduate. I stayed in it because the pace of change and challenges mean the work is interesting.”

Dr Mullick’s engineering-focused background also led her to work in the data centre space, but like Flucker, it was far from purposeful. Once she had completed her PhD in chemical engineering, she was recruited by Intel.

“I was excited at the prospect of working for a technology rich company with a deep history and strong engineering background,” she explains. And although the first five years of her tenure were more manufacturing focused, she was eager to learn of the impacts of the products - chips - she was creating. “Through that experience I realised that a systems engineering role that combined both business and technology is ideally suited for my skills and my passions.”

Improvements to diversity in the data centre industry

Statistics show there are still only roughly 20% of women in engineering, and as low as 10% in some disciplines, Dr Mullick details, highlighting how improvements have been made around gender diversity and inclusion programmes - something close to her heart.

“I’ve been involved with developing programmes and training to help women progress in their careers. I've partnered with other executives and led various technical societies on outreach as the research shows these types of programs make a difference. As a hiring manager, I've also ensured I had a diverse pool of candidates for any role I was hiring for.”

Flucker’s attitude is that overall awareness of DE&I in general has improved, with measures in place to support the female workforce that she sees first hand at MiCiM.

“I have at times encountered some outdated attitudes during my career, however I have always felt the problem lies with these people not myself,” she admits. “It can be intimidating when you’re young and inexperienced to be the only woman in a meeting again and again, but this is something you get used to. On the positive side, people tend to remember who you are.”

Keeping it positive, Dr Mullick adds how despite some initial struggle to have her voice heard as a young, female engineer, she always works to ensure she has support to ensure her voice - or that of her female colleagues - is not censored.

A lot gained, but still a long way to go

“There is still a long way to go but at least the journey has started,” Flucker details. “Sadly many girls rule out engineering as a career choice at a young age, so one of the areas we plan to look at is outreach in primary schools. With the chronic skills shortage, ongoing growth of the industry and ageing workforce, we need applicants from all backgrounds.”

Dr Mullick agrees. She feels that in the short term, there is still a long way to go. “I don't think we're going to see huge progress until we start to see the pipeline of candidates get bigger when our graduates coming out of colleges and universities are better than 20% of the workforce. 

“In the long term, I do think the diversity and inclusion programs are going to continue to be very important. Despite the charged political climate in the US around these types of programs, the research does show that promoting gender equity and inclusion is a business benefit and an overall indication of success. So, I’m optimistic that in the end, this important work will prevail.” 

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