Ahead of the Women in Digital & Data Johannesburg, we caught up with Louise Pinto, Big Data, Analytics & Insights at Barclays Africa Group Limited to discuss her career in data
How did you become interested in data?
It was by chance that I stumbled into it when I was looking for a career change in 2015. We were building out the Big Data & Analytics capability in the Corporate Investment Bank and they needed people to help with a Data Product linked to my background which is Finance. Everything else sort of fell into place after that and I have never looked back!
What are some of the biggest challenges that women who want to venture into the world of data analytics face today?
I would say absolutely nothing! I feel that the field as a whole does not get enough encouragement or attention at a school/university level which limits entrants overall but this is not gender specific. In fact, I would say that given women in general have more solid relationships and networks, they should use that to get into the field if it is new to them. They are also faster learners so the sky is the limit!
Data analytics/data science is perceived as a male-dominated field. What steps should be taken to attract more women to the field?
I find this perception interesting and it is probably linked with technology which is often viewed as a male-dominated field. Data analytics and data science are quite analysis and “coding” heavy which is sometimes viewed as unemotional and cold. This is really not the case though and is extremely interactive.
To attract more women to the field, we should get more women in the field to get out to schools and universities to talk about what it is really like in the industry to change this perception.
Can you pinpoint one moment or person that was instrumental in your decision to pick this career path?
Absolutely, my ex-boss Pieter Vorster who was head of Big Data, Analytics & Insights for CIB and then become CAO & CDO for the Group. Most of what I know about the field I learnt from him.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in a career in data analytics/data science?
Speak to people in the industry from different entity types. The world is quite different between a start-up and a large Corporate so know what you are getting into before making a choice. Get honest opinions about the different types of roles across the data analytics spectrum from people performing those roles on a daily basis and do what is best suited for your skills and career goals.
Do you think that data can help build a more diverse and equal workplace? How so?
Data is the future, if you ask any large organisations how they intend to grow and expand their business, data is always in the answer somewhere. Given the profile it has and its importance in almost every business, it is the perfect platform to get women into the spotlight and involved in the most strategic projects.
Apart from that, there is the obvious data analysis of employee stats and pay that can be constantly put in front of the right people to make the problem more publicised.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the data analytics industry?
I love surprising people so when going to a client meeting or speaking to vendors (where often I am the only female in the room), I can tell from about 5 minutes in that they are usually taken aback by my in-depth knowledge of data and the environment. It is almost that they expect to be able to talk me into any idea or concept they have and when I start challenging back, they are always shocked!
How do you think individuals can use data to advance their ideas or careers?
The most obvious use case is job profiling and matching skills to job on platforms such as LinkedIn (there are a range of others as well) but data can also be used for things like salary benchmarking across roles and industries. Data will be changing the way businesses operate in future so it is critical to keep your skill set up to date. There is so much training available online though so even if not wanting to look for a career change, it is worth doing some training around the basics of the field.
What are some of the best and worst workplace initiatives you have seen/heard of to help promote diversity?
There is a programme at Absa called the Masedi programme which is excellent. This programme covers .......... Basically, any programmes that cover building skills around using female strengths to further your career are usually very successful!
Some of the less successful ones seem to centre on working mothers as these types of initiatives only cater for those with children. Nowadays a lot of working mothers have their lives sorted and don’t need assistance with this to drive their careers.
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in data/data science? What do you wish you had known?
For some reason, there is a preconception that men are generally more technical than women which is not the case at all, we just do better in the non-technical jobs which is why we are put in those roles! I would have loved to have learnt how to code before I joined so that I have a better base technical knowledge. That being said, you can have a wealth of technical knowledge without knowing how to code!
Any reading/website you would recommend to stay updated?
There are so many, it is easy to get inundated with floods of e-mails every day so choose wisely. It really depends on what you want to stay updated on. Businesstech is a good tech website, Biznews for business, DataSine for data related topics, Mindbullets for futurism, Everywoman for woman specific topics, .... there are so many you need to find what provides you with the best type of news you are looking for and then subscribe.
Fun fact about you?
I have a strong life philosophy of work hard play hard and what I love is that the boys can never seem to keep up with me in either!