The Longterm Impact of Not Addressing Data Literacy

The more involved I am with data literacy, and the more I talk about it, whether from a public speaking perspective or to generate awareness, the more I realize how urgent this topic is. Yet, how can I effectively convey that seriousness? Yes, it’s an issue for organizations to create a strategy around data literacy, but should it start with a strategy? Yes, it’s a skills gap, and people are creating classes, but are we genuinely teaching the people who need these skills?

Perhaps, it’s my forays into the news and research that have given me this overwhelming sense. Honestly, how do you cross this chasm? How do you get people to see that data literacy isn’t just about people who already know data? Or have a job? Or, how it’s not just a trendy buzzword, no matter how many times you hear it repeated? It’s a real-world problem with real-life implications. We see the results of it every day.

We see it in people who are struggling to pay off student loans for an outdated education.

We see it in the people who are losing jobs due to automation.

We see it in aging populations who are struggling to find a place in the digital world.

How can we share that message? How can we share the news that this isn’t just about a single person, a single corporation, or a single industry, country region, whatnot?

It’s, quite literally, global. The skills gap isn’t just one country, yet some countries may have better access to education than others. It’s not just about access to education because many people don’t even have access to computers.

Did you know that majority of the world accesses the internet by their phone? And this number continues to rise year over year.

During Covid, in the US, we know distance learning is a struggle for many students, especially those without internet or a computer. Access to the internet is a real-life issue in a world defined by technology; A barrier to entry we rarely acknowledge. That barrier lowers significantly the more money you make.

1 in 10 of the poorest children in the U.S. has little or no access to technology for learning.

The Brookings Institution,

And yes, race does play an issue as well. Suppose we look at top metropolitan areas in the US. Black respondents reported rarely or never having access to a device for learning.

Figure 3. Device is rarely or never available for learning, by race for three selected metro areas and US

Today, we talk about the impact of having a diverse employee population on business. First, personally, why we should have to prove that diversity makes us better will forever confound me. None of us are experts in everything, and we are better for inclusion and creating a sense of belonging for everyone. Since many of us need numbers to prove this, here you go:

[Cloverpop].. found that diverse teams have a 60 percent improvement in decision-making. In particular, gender-diverse teams outperformed individual decision makers 73 percent of the time, and teams diverse in geography, gender, and age made better business decisions than individuals 87 percent of the time.

Again, here’s the long-term problem we’re going to continue to encounter if we don’t create a sense of urgency around data literacy – our talent pipeline will be smaller and less diverse with time. Just as Moore’s law states that computing power will become faster and more efficient over time – perhaps we can call this Nell’s law. If our talent pipelines continue to struggle with access to a broad range of backgrounds and talent? Our diversity, which is proven to increase success and innovation at organizations, will diminish.

We cannot disconnect the topics we hear about in the news from the growing data literacy gap; they have a symbiotic relationship. We have to figure out ways to work together, not only to keep a healthy economy but a diverse workforce.

What are your ideas for doing so?

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