Read the Room: The Increasing Importance of Data Literacy

Jon Finerty | 23 February, 2023

Topics: Data Analysis, Business Intelligence

It’s the Golden Age of data. It's in the news, it's in the decisions that businesses make, and it's even in the way we navigate our daily lives. With the increasing amount of data being generated and collected, it has become increasingly important to understand what data is and how to use it. This is where data literacy comes in.


Data literacy is the ability to read, comprehend, and use data in different ways. It involves asking the right questions to make decisions, building working knowledge, and communicating meaning and context to others. Data literacy is not about becoming a data scientist or learning programming languages. It’s about understanding the different types and sources of data, knowing how, where, and what to analyze, and ensuring that data is accurate, reliable, and useful.

Just as literacy involves the ability to read the written word and comprehend what you have read, data literacy involves the ability to source, interpret, and communicate data in context. Data literacy enables an organization to use data effectively to drive desired business outcomes.


Poor data literacy impedes an organization’s digital transformation and its ability to compete in an increasingly digital-first business environment. On the other hand, organizations that achieve data literacy reap significant rewards. According to research from Gartner, enterprises that have higher corporate data literacy scores can have $320-$534 million in higher enterprise value.



No longer a skill set solely required of analytics teams, basic data skills have increased in importance in nearly all departments—IT, marketing, product, HR, finance/accounting, and others—becoming the most important skill for success. For employees to succeed in their daily work, decision makers consider data skills as the most important skills, with 82% of leaders expecting employees to have basic data literacy.


While both decision makers and employees agree that data skills are important for workforce success, there is disagreement on whether or not employees are being adequately trained. And there are outstanding questions about how to determine whether an employee is truly “data-literate.” A recent survey revealed a gap between the need for data initiatives and implementation, with less than half of workers responding that they’ve been offered data training—which is harming organizations’ competitiveness.

  • 79% of leaders say they equip employees with the data skills they need, but only…
  • 40% of employees say they’re provided the data skills they’re expected to have

The research also found:

  • 93% of decision makers believe that data literacy is relevant to their industry
  • 63% of large businesses plan on increasing the data literacy of their employees
  • 69% of decision-makers say a lack of data skills stops employees from using data effectively
  • Only 47% of employees say they have been offered data training by their organization
  • Only 34% of firms currently provide data literacy training



Better decision-making

Running a business requires strategic planning all day, every day. Making the wrong call might be highly damaging to your ability to reach your goals, so it’s imperative to always have all the information you can before making important choices. By knowing more about how your market and consumers are behaving, as well as your product and service’s performance, you’re able to make smarter choices.


Better ROI understanding

Working with data literacy also allows you to make sure your strategic decisions are generating the expected returns on your business. Calculating your ROI is probably already part of your everyday life, but a deeper grasp of such data will help you see the often hidden truths that make the whole difference. By investing appropriately in understanding all your data, you can be more confident knowing what is working and what needs to be improved.


Better client knowledge

Knowing whom you’re trying to reach is decisive to the success of your strategies. Your business must have as much information as it can about its target audience so the correct approaches can be planned and executed. Obtaining a large amount of data on the motivations, needs, desires, and the science of emotion of your clients is essential to attract them. The next stage involves the comprehension of all this information by someone who’s data literate.


More productive employees 

Employers highly value data-skilled employees they see them as making better and faster decisions while being more productive and innovative. Employees agree, saying they make better decisions and faster decisions when they can use data. Moreover, data-skilled employees report feeling more competent, motivated, and productive in their daily work when compared to peers with low data satisfaction.

  • 85% of data literate people say they are performing very well at work, compared to 54 percent of the workforce in general

Happier employees 

Data training also plays a significant role in employee satisfaction and retnetion. Most employees say they’re more likely to stay at a company that sufficiently trains for the data skills they need. Employees with high data satisfaction are ten times more likely to voice high satisfaction with their team and department; and significantly more likely to stay at their organization.


Several barriers to data literacy can make it difficult for individuals and organizations to work with and understand data effectively. Some of these barriers include the following:

Workforce resistance

Large organizations are built on years of tradition. Raising awareness that the business is moving to a data-driven culture will be critical to success.


Lack of skills

While 99% of companies recognize that data is crucial for staying competitive, 1 in 3 companies have reservations about how well employees understand the data they work with. The lack of skilled resources to both manage and analyze data is a challenge for 38% of organizations.


No data champion

Because resistance may come from the top, data champions need a seat at the table such as a Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Chief Analytics Officer (CAO).


Lack of governance

Enterprises are experiencing unprecedented levels of data production and consumption, which is why leadership must be responsible for data governance to ensure insights are properly vetted.


Organizational silos

Data literate employees typically join IT or BI teams, and are often isolated from business decision makers. Establishing forums for these employees to share knowledge is critical to enhancing skills across the organization.


Employee confidence

According to Gartner, only 21% of employees surveyed felt confident in their data literacy skills. In fact, 74% of employees report feeling overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data, presenting a significant barrier to adopting a data-driven culture.



The key to realizing the opportunity of data is to unlock the potential of people within the organization. Here are some key steps to consider when planning a data literacy strategy.

  • Set your expectations. Define what you want your data to do and how it will deliver tangible value for your organization.
  • Create a roadmap. Understand the state of data and identify the investments needed to empower employees to fulfill business goals. Start with an objective evaluation of your employees’ data skills.
  • Arm your employees. Invest in solutions that reduce data cleansing and accelerate data analysis, monetization and productization.
  • Close the literacy gap. Improve employees’ self confidence to ask the right questions and assess the recommended insights through data literacy training.
  • Create a culture of co-evolution. Regularly assess data tools for all roles to ensure that they continue to deliver based on user requirements.



As businesses and organizations become more data-driven, the demand for professionals who demonstrate data literacy will continue to increase. As such, taking the time to develop your data literacy skills can be a smart investment.

With the Minitab Education Hub, you can access learning paths, resources, and training all in one place – with different topics and different levels – that can be deployed and tracked across your organization.  Flexible assessment capabilities, including instant feedback on quizzes and certificates of completion, provide feedback, and keep learners on track.

Minitab is also committed to supporting your employees’ growth by working closely with you, providing consulting, when necessary, and regularly updating learning materials to provide new training and learning paths that build on their skill sets.  Whether you want to learn on site, through a virtual classroom, or with self-paced courses, our experts make it easy to understand, analyze, and leverage the power of your data.



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Gartner Annual Chief Data Officer Survey, Gartner

A Data and Analytics Leader's Guide to Data Literacy, Gartner

Data Health Survey, Talend

Data Literacy Playbook, Gartner