The educational mantra of the last few years has focused on STEM, and increasingly on the need for more STEM degrees. The narrative peaks in the desperate call for data scientists in every corner of the business world. While more data experts and more STEM graduates are excellent goals, they focus the discussion on only the highly data literate. What’s being missed in this conversation is the basic data literacy of so many professionals who are not analysts or data scientists.

Business leaders around the world are in the position to make many data-driven decisions, but to listen to the course of common discussion you might think that each great business leader requires at least one highly trained data professional on hand. In fact analytics professionals will be needed for actual analysis but the decision-making will continue to lie with the business professionals.

We can continue to work at transforming our education system to increase data literacy for every non-analyst, but the latest STEM push can’t plaster over the immediate need for leaders who can make data-guided decisions. Today’s business leaders must be able to operate in a data rich environment, and those without even cursory data skills will struggle with the decisions they will face regarding their organization’s data.

Core data literacy is what makes some go all in while others will have the skills to navigate successfully through the noise of vendors, journalists, and everyone else. The data-literate leaders will be better able to navigate the decisions that will face their industry while others struggle. These aren’t the hard skills that take years to master, but without consideration of the numbers the costs could be considerable.