Why addressing the diversity gap in the data centre industry isn’t enough

Why addressing the diversity gap in the data centre industry isn’t enough

Aashna Puri – Project Development and Sustainability Director, aims to inspire and encourage more women to take up a career in data centres by sharing some of her own experiences and observations, as well as addressing the misperceptions that many believe. 

As a woman working in the data centre industry, International Women’s Day offered the opportunity to reflect on representation in our sector and what we need to do to address these shortcomings. According to the Uptime Institute, more than three-quarters of operators (77%) report that they employ around 10% women or less, unchanged since 2018. What’s more, one-fifth of respondents (20%) still do not employ any women at all in their design and operations teams. These figures are particularly striking in light of the skills shortage that the data centre industry is currently experiencing. It goes without saying that this is a massive limitation on the potential scale of who could be qualified to work in the sector.

As we collectively work towards improving these stats through targeted recruitment efforts, as well as university partnerships – such as CyrusOne’s partnership with UTC Heathrow – what is also crucial is to improve overall understanding, perception and awareness of the data centre industry. This will ensure that we’re reaching people wherever they may be in their educational or employment journey and that the sector is among those that these potential recruits consider as they explore career options and opportunities.

As evidence, when I look around at my colleagues at CyrusOne, one of the things that we have in common is that we all stumbled upon a career in this industry by accident. Personally, the reason that this was the case was due to my inaccurate perception of this industry being traditional and conservative – when in fact it is extremely multi-faceted, addressing important societal issues. I am now so thankful that I ended up in this sector as I truly would not want to work anywhere else. I am supported and challenged in equal measure, with opportunities to grow and pursue what I’m passionate about, while truly making an impact on my teams and wider society.

With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my own findings and observations from the industry to address these misperceptions with the hope that more women will consider this as a valuable and fulfilling career option.

  • The data centre industry is often discussed in relation to real estate or engineering, when in reality it touches upon a wide array of areas. This resonated with me as I have diverse interests and a varied background that spans environmentalism, sociology, economics and logistics. This industry has allowed me to draw upon all my passion areas and more. What’s more, this narrow definition of the data centre industry has meant that many women in particular don’t see relevant opportunities for themselves. The true scope that a career in this sector provides is so much bigger and so much more meaningful, making it relevant for myriad backgrounds and demographics.

  • Following on from this, something that really surprised me upon entering the industry is the sheer range of transferable skills found across other sectors that can be applied here, both for those early on in their careers and those who may be looking for a career change later on. Everything from engineering to aerospace, all the way through to project management and admin-based roles, there is a diverse range of industries and experiences the industry can benefit from and that new recruits can bring to a data centre-based role. This speaks to the importance of diversifying our talent pools and looking in non-traditional places as we continue to expand the sector and proves there really is something for everyone in our industry.

  • Data centres are the backbone of how we live and work today, with the ongoing reliance and growing demand for data and technology set to see this increase continue. Data centres enable the functioning of our modern societies – from online shopping, entertainment and remote working, to more critical services across healthcare, finance and education. They are also important enablers of efficiency across multiple sectors; as an example, if banks decide to reduce their carbon footprint by outsourcing their servers, this would be supported by data centres. It’s critical that we have a diverse workforce to address these ongoing priorities, bringing different perspectives and understanding to the ever-evolving world of data and technology.
  • This industry presents the perfect opportunity for anyone who is mission-driven. Data is growing at an unprecedented rate as we become increasingly reliant on technology to live, entertain, communicate and work. This industry is committed to meeting this demand to allow everyone to live their best lives, while doing so in a way that is sustainable and additive to communities where data centres are located. These are real societal challenges and opportunities that we are addressing and as a result, it is a career in which you can make a difference. In order to ensure that we are being as innovative and creative in solving these challenges, it’s essential that we have diverse minds and perspectives – and this includes a better representation of women.

As we look ahead, it’s important that we continue to battle these misperceptions head-on. It’s clear that the untapped potential of the female workforce is staggering and we must do more to inspire all students to pursue related subjects, encourage women entering the workforce to consider a career in data centres, and connect with those already in the workforce to understand what’s on offer for them should they want to change careers. The industry has acknowledged this diversity gap and understood how a lack of woman representation and senior female leaders to aspire to can impact the future of the industry, which is an important step. Now, we must come together to address it.

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