Ahead of the Women of Digital & Data Johannesburg, we caught up with Pamela Mkhize, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa Digital Satellite at Enel to discuss women in digital.Can you tell us a bit about your background and how it lead to a career in digital?
I studied Electrical Engineering, with a focus on Telecommunication Systems. My first job was in one of the large banks in Durban, where I worked as a Business Advisor. Shortly after that, I worked for heavy manufacturing industries, where I did programming, control systems, and automation. During that period, I was seconded to a German technology company. Moving from Hulamin, I worked for Rio Tinto for a few years, until I was headhunted by Enel Green Power as they started their operations in South Africa.
Since I studied electronic engineering, being in a career in “digital” was by default for me. Even when I worked for a bank as a business advisor at a young age, I started an initiative whose aim was to assist communities in starting up businesses whose focus was on ICT, which at that time was not very common. Today, about 15 years into my career, I consider it a blessing to work for an organisation whose focus is on making a difference in communities, the African continent, and the world at large through technology. Not only am I still passionate about ICT and digitisation, but I’m also passionate about what we can achieve as businesses, governments, and communities through digital technology.
Women in the field of technology are definitely in the minority, so why did you decide to pursue a career in digital?
In my early teenage years, most people, especially my teachers whom I looked up to, had an expectation that I would study Medicine, and I ended up believing that it was what I was meant to being doing. This was until my older brothers enrolled for Civil Engineering and Electrical Engineering (Heavy Current) respectively. When I would mention that I want to study towards Electronic Engineering, the responses I would get were always in the line of “You’re a girl, why do you want to do that?” My family on the other hand would always say I should do what I love. This changed my understanding of careers from “You’re a girl, you can’t do that”, but to “You’re human, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Why a career in digital in particular?
Because this is the main field that will shape our future, it is already determining how we live, and I want to be part that group of people who shape how the next generations will live in this planet.
What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in a male-dominated environment?
Plenty, I don’t even know where to start …to sum it all up, working in a male-dominated environment has a tendency of making women feel as if they are not good enough, as if they could do better if they were male, or even worse, that their thinking and reasoning capacity is of a lower form than that of a male – All of this is untrue. It is unfortunate that it is such stigmas that lead women to believe that they are not good enough, no matter how smart they are, and how hard they work.
What has been the biggest surprise in your career?
The biggest surprise in my career was coming across women who had (and still have) a belief that males are more intelligent than females. It is still a surprise that there are women who have more respect for male technologists/engineers than female technologists/engineers. This unfortunately leads to organisations only recognising and rewarding males more than their female counterparts. This leads to females getting less pay than their male counterpart who is doing the same job. This still surprises me. Let’s face it, the “compensation” unit in most organisations is led by females.
What are some of the skills we should be learning to be successful digital ambassadors?
Although this may be a surprise – learning. I believe that learning itself is a skill. If it weren’t, all of us would have the same knowledge, and make the same use of that knowledge to achieve results. However, this is not the case. There is so much information that is available for us to make better decisions, but not all of us have learnt this. One of the challenges that we have with so much Data that is at our disposal is, how do we process this data, and how do we derive the best decisions out of that data. This is where machine learning comes in; but, we would still not reach the best decisions if we do not acknowledge that we need to implement systems that will facilitate better decision-making processes for us.
What can women in the workplace do today to help build the foundation for successful careers?
Excel in what they do. It is best to build a foundation of excellence. We can’t expect to be respected in our careers, whether we are female or male, if we don’t excel in what we do. Excellence is a reputation that we need to build for ourselves and strive towards, if we want to be taken seriously.
Digital transformation is something companies have been talking about for decades now. How to be part of the digital age? With the world growing and evolving as quickly as it does today, and new technology being made available daily, how does a business keep up with the ‘transformation’?
It is important for businesses to understand that they exist to provide a solution to a problem. Customers are willing to pay for a solution that is provided with the quality and speed that surpasses their expectations. It happens that technology is the best enabler for businesses to be able to achieve this. In order for businesses to keep up, they must know what technologies are out there for them to use as leverage in a continuous digital evolution.
What are three key pieces of advice that you would give to women in digital struggling with digital transformation?
Learn. Learn. Learn. You won’t be able to provide digital solutions if you don’t have the knowledge that supports your decision-making process. You need to learn in order to know what solutions are available for you to implement solutions that will support the ever-evolving digital transformation of your business and the industry that it operates in.
What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a similar career path to yours?
Be confident in your abilities. There is nothing that is designed “for a selected few”, only you have the power to apply limitations on yourself.
In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?
Trust. I believe that trustis an important aspect for anyone whether they are sure or unsure about what they are doing. Some women give up on their dreams because everyone around them doesn’t believe that they can succeed. Although some women have more confidence than others, as a manager, you wouldn’t want to be the one that leads a person out of their career because of your lack of trust in them, after having appointed them to that position.
Any reading/website you would recommend to stay updated?
Other than subscribing to a number of tech magazines, including Brainstorm; I follow a number of South African and international tech sites and companies.
Fun fact about you?
According to human standards, I’m a boring individual actually