International Women’s Day: Why women should consider a role in data science

By Ella Cockerell

I’ve been working in the technology sector for 20 years, and in that time I’ve had some amazing experiences and countless fantastic opportunities. Recently, I found myself reflecting on the tech jobs I’ve had over the past two decades. I thought about how much had changed, in terms of the world, the industry and myself.

Personally, I don’t listen to TLC’s music anymore (OK, sometimes they sneak onto my Spotify), I no longer need a special password to access the internet, and I am usually not the only woman in a room anymore.

The shift in gender balance within the industry and the companies I have worked for has been gradual but steady, and momentum has gathered pace in recent years. As someone who works for a very inclusive company, I realise I am in a privileged position. Microsoft has a well-established programme to deliver gender equality across all areas. I also work in business development, which tends to have a more equal gender balance than other sectors of the technology industry.

However, in other areas, and for other women, the story is not so simple. When we think about being inclusive and diverse, we can’t forget about intersectionality, and that means making sure we foster an environment which is fair and open to all.

This year, International Women’s Day (IWD) is all about #balanceforbetter. Diversity and inclusion create a more innovative, happy workforce, and that’s why our campaign for IWD 2019 ensures we create opportunities for women from a range of backgrounds and geographical locations.

My role in our independent software vendor (ISV) business means I get to work with some amazing software developers, cloud architects and data scientists across a range of industries, as well as collaborate with other channel partners. When I attend meetings, there are often discussions around the challenge of finding and building digital skills, particularly in data science. There seems to be a groundswell of concern across our ecosystem. Hiring data scientists is hard, because there is a shortage. According to Forbes, only 26% of data jobs in the US are held by women, with that number halving for the UK.

Given that 93% of data scientists earn more than the average UK wage, and knowing the importance of having gender balance across all roles, I want to encourage more women to become data scientists.

We have so many fantastic people working at Microsoft, and our talented staff want to go out into the community to support those who are considering a career in the technology sector. We know there are many women leaving other industries, we know there are not enough women in tech, and we know there are not enough data scientists in the UK. We also know our partners are finding it difficult to hire data scientists, too. Could we, perhaps, make a small change to take us a step closer to solving these problems?

two you women holding SUrface devices and laughing

To help address the gender skills gap, we’ve launched a plan to run nine data science bootcamps across the UK on May 2. Facilitated by our channel partners Amido, ANS Group, BJSS, DevOps Group, DSP, Grey Matter, Kainos and Incremental, our aim is to host 100 women and support them through their first module of our Microsoft Professional Programme qualification in Data Science. They will then go on to study online from home over the next six months, before returning to their host partner site for a recruitment day.

We aim to help at least half these women gain their qualification within six months of the bootcamp, with as many as possible securing their first data science role shortly thereafter. We’re excited to launch this for IWD and hope it will be something that we can repeat.

I’ve been lucky enough to be supported by some amazing women throughout my career, and I want to pay that forward by offering other women the opportunity to explore the wonder of tech. We are also encouraging those women to pay it forward to others who are less fortunate. The training course and first certificate will be provided free of charge, but we are asking for a nominal £10 donation from each delegate, which will be donated to SmartWorks. Best of all, Microsoft will match each donation pound for pound.

To support our outreach and promotion of these bootcamps, we’ve profiled five amazing data scientists here at Microsoft to share their experiences and tips for becoming a data scientist.

Of course, we’re not just focusing our efforts on addressing the gender skills gap for today only. We need to continuously work to inspire the next generation of girls to pursue a career in the tech sector. That’s why we’re running our #makerchampion projects at schools across the UK to change perceptions and inspire girls to pursue STEAM subjects. For more information on that initiative, read this blog from my colleague Sarah Hedley – our UK Digital Skills Lead.

To get involved, visit

To find out more, visit Inspiring young girls to pursue STEM careers and Eight tips for changing career and moving into data science

Ella Cockerell is the UK ISV (Independent Software Vendor) Lead at Microsoft and Vice-Chair of the Women @ Microsoft board. Working in technology, Ella spent a lot of time in the early part of her career being the only woman in the room. Determined to re-address the balance in any way she can, Ella is passionate about creating inclusive environments, harnessing the power of both genders, and inspiring the next generation into technology. She is a STEM Ambassador and a Modern Muse.