Ahead of the Women in Digital & Data Johannesburg, we caught up with Jeanine Norden, Head of Data Management at MMI Holdings to discuss women in data.
How did you become interested in data?
I landed in it accidentally. Life just took me on the path. In varsity the one subject that I just understood really well was all my data related subjects. Then in consulting it just happened to land on my desk every time. I simply get it, and that way it just kept on landing on my desk… so it just happened for me.
What are some of the biggest challenges that women who want to venture into the world of data analytics face today?
I don’t think that it is a challenge with woman in data – I personally believe that it is woman in the working environment in general (Specifically men ruled environments). You need to be tough and claim your place at the table. It should not be a gender, geography or race argument – it is an insight and knowledge argument. Woman has not selected to be involved, hence the knowledge is limited.
Data analytics/data science is perceived as a male-dominated field. What steps should be taken to attract more women to the field?
Firstly, people in general need to understand more about data to become interested in data. I think legislation and regulation is starting to make it more important to know, and it raises the hot topic a bit. Very little people know about data as a profession in general. The general work environment and education environment must get more aware to raise it as a subject of interest. You will not survive in the data world if you are not passionate about what you do and a person who can think out of the box, as it is never a one size fits all solution. Without education, the elevation into bringing it to woman will not happen.
Can you pinpoint one moment or person that was instrumental in your decision to pick this career path?
Suppose it was with my work at Old Mutual in general, but not a person specifically.
Do you think that data can help build a more diverse and equal workplace? How so?
Diversity is part of an individual decision. Data can show many things, but it doesn’t mean people will execute based on the indications of data. Look at passion first. Skill can be taught…
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the data analytics industry?
I’m in data management - but in general it is still very much a growing industry – so getting in now, means less of a gap to fill later. Be part of the learnings.
How do you think individuals can use data to advance their ideas or careers?
Use data to see what there is and what has been done… and just twist it in a weird way, think innovative, be out of the box. Look beyond the borders. Data is the enabler of anything we do – even going to a restaurant and deciding what to eat. It is how you use it and slice it and combine it to come up with new ideas and innovations. Innovation is not creating something that doesn’t exist. It is taking something that exists and doing it different, smarter, better…..
What are some of the best and worst workplace initiatives you have seen/heard of to help promote diversity?
I assume worst is probably doing nothing… or going extreme and appointing people who are not qualified for the job. Mostly getting someone to fill a position is a rush. Or getting ‘diversity’ is done in a rush, and not with a strategic thinking in mind. It is a tick-box effort. Take your time and do the right thing. Find the RIGHT person for the RIGHT job. Also, don’t just find a job for a person or squeeze a person into a wrong position. This is very typical of SA today especially given the various labour requirements.
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in data/data science? What do you wish you had known?
First google till you’re blue in the face. Understand what it is about and if it something that you can be passionate about and do for the rest of your life. Secondly, determine if you are willing to go into an industry with tough fights and a GREAT deal of resistance all the time. If your passion for data is bigger than the resistance, then go for it. There’s plenty of opportunities. Start getting involved in your own company/department. You also need to understand the difference between a strategic thinker and a tactical approach. Often tactical approaches are required to get to a strategic outcome. Google google google!!! Never go to someone with a blank page. Always do your research first, so you have insight before approaching an expert. There is nothing as frustrating as someone with an opinion who has no background or knowledge (or even attempted to have).
Any reading/website you would recommend to stay updated?
Google, Google, Google, Google. Never stop googling!
Fun fact about you?
I was part of the team that taught the first blind person in Africa to Scuba Dive