Women in Data Analytics – Adelaide Matsika

The abundance of wisdom and talent in Africa constantly overwhelms us! Welcome with me the exceptional Adelaide as she talks about her journey in data analytics

It is wonderful to finally speak with you, Adelaide! I am happy to have you with us today
Yeah, finally, haha. I am excited to be here. Thank you for your patience in inviting me for this. I know it has been a busy period, but here we are.

Briefly tell us about yourself, please
Thank you! My name is Adelaide Matsika and I am originally from Zimbabwe. I am based in South Africa but currently working as the Global Marketing Analytics Lead for an international NGO called International Rescue Committee which is headquartered in New York. I will get to travel back and forth between South Africa and the global locations to which I provide leadership of their analytics teams.

My job mainly focuses on making sure that we provide good insights and uncover new patterns of our donors’ and funders’ behavior through data. It’s marketing analytics; how do we market ourselves out there both offline and through digital media! My job deals with people and impacts people’s lives, especially those affected by crises.

I lead a team of analysts who look at various media that we provide for us to get known and put good branding around our name. We also use this avenue to show how much work we are doing so that we make a good mark and attract the donations and funding required for our work to go on. Through data, we help the organization know where to direct the best effort and resources to get the best return.

So, in summary, I analyze lots of data and arrange it in such a way that it informs something. Then also communicate that back to stakeholders in a way that they understand; a way that enables them to make their key decisions.

Before this, I had done very similar work in the corporate and consulting sectors. Similar in the sense that the job requirements are the same. They might be different fields, but the job requirements for analytics still hold. The drive and passion to acquire a customer or convince a donor to provide the funding are the same. So, the approach to data and decision-making is the same across various sectors.

Wow, your work sounds interesting to me! Walk us through your journey into Marketing Analytics
In high school, I was deeply science-oriented. I took all subjects that my school offered but there was an inclination towards sciences. It was naturally Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biology. I went with my instincts about the subjects and did very well in them.

I joined the university for a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. It wasn’t my first choice for a career, but it ended up being a bright path that I chose. I think sometimes nature just lines up things and we end up taking paths that are best for us.

It was a hard course but started paying off when I joined the job market and looked at the kind of impact and decision-making that happens based on my work. That’s what’s satisfying about this job; the world we are in right now is immensely dependent on data.

I started with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Support first for a year or two before discovering the analytics side. By the time I joined the analytics field it was in its early stages when not many companies were embracing the idea of data usage. I learned the foundations and building blocks and later trained my team and the executives in that company. Immediately, their precision of data analytics grew very fast!

That’s how my career started growing; I moved to other companies, and then into consultancy. Consulting exposes you to so much more in terms of sectors and industry dynamics. It stretched me and gave me so much growth, especially in understanding what stakeholders and businesses want out there. No matter how good you technically are, if your product can’t make sense, and be consumed by the end-user, then you haven’t done a good job.

I then got back into corporate and worked in media and entertainment for eight years as a head of analytics and insights. I moved from working with the data quietly and getting instructions from the analysts as a developer, to interfacing with businesses, getting their requirements, brainstorming on their solutions, building that solution end-to-end, and then providing back the front-end solution so that they can start using it. So, such is the transition and evolution of my career.

The specific and core passion for marketing analytics that I have now was established during my years in media and entertainment. One thing I have realized is that whatever industry you join if you are going to work with data and analytics, the type of deep-diving you do, the level of insights you produce, and how useful they are to business are pretty much the same.

Let’s about the challenges you have faced while on this analytics path
The challenges in this field start from the schooling and home environments because that’s where a lot of the cultivation of talent starts.

In school, our very own tutors and teachers are sometimes not very encouraging for the girl-child! Most of the time, they bring out those stereotypes which indicate that STEM should be a male-dominated field. When they see girls in a STEM class, they conclude that the girls must be very bright! While it’s wonderful to compliment someone about their IQ, in this context it’s not! It is demeaning because what you are saying is that under normal circumstances girls are not bright enough to be in such a class.

Some challenges were about moments when you feel discouraged yourself and look for encouragement but don’t get it. I had experiences where some of the tutors will say, “perhaps this is too difficult for you!”, or “you look scared of this subject”, you know! They sometimes advised me to consider something else. These are some of the reasons why we find high drop-out rates in STEM courses. We start classes off with high numbers of girls but graduate with a big difference. There are microaggressions said in daily conversations in classrooms, and tutors simply get away with them.

I think a lot of education needs to happen with the tutors themselves. If you started a class with 15 girls and are graduating with 2 of them, always investigate the cause of the dropout. How did you contribute to this situation as an educator? Conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion need to happen at the school level as much as they happen in work environments.

Now, for me, I received full support from my parents at home but I have mentored and worked with many girls whose challenges extend to their homes as well.  Some parents do not fully appreciate the benefits of educating a girl! Career guidance sessions at schools need to invite parents to attend for the benefit of their children. When schools say they are building a laboratory and there are able parents, please contribute. This is benefiting the school as much as it does your child.

That is my take, that supporting the girl-child in STEM needs to happen before joining the work environment. But going into that, my challenges here were about being surrounded by men with the microaggressions I mentioned earlier. Your contributions can sometimes be disregarded because they don’t believe that you deserve to be acknowledged. They feel like someone did them a favor to be in that position or field.

It is simple things like – are you including every key person in the decisions you are making for the team, regardless of who they are? Do you involve everyone all the way or do you drop some off along the way, especially females? Is it a boys club type of situation where a woman joins, and they must do everything the men do to fit in?

There’s this narrative that says for you to progress in an organization, you need to join in on the extracurricular activities that they do, and “they” most probably means senior male colleagues because they hold most of the top positions. So, naturally, the activities could be very male-orientated. They may go for a golf game or for drinks boys-style! They may not want to talk about family, yet you are a mother. You are going to find yourself joining most of their activities and much less of what you enjoy doing, just for you to fit in! If you don’t, you might not get that promotion or recognition.

With fewer women in top positions, what is regarded as fitting in and being present are activities that are not always for women. These are big disadvantages where we must rewire the whole system and revisit all these team-building, peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing, or social interactions to make them more inclusive.

How do you think we can overcome these challenges? Because they are common across all STEM fields!
But you see, Winnie, at the end of the day, even though we have challenges, the question to ask ourselves is, “what’s the solution?”. For myself, I realized that the solution is inside me. It always narrows down to your conviction, willpower, and passion. None of these should affect you especially if you are grown up enough to make your own decisions. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case for people still in high school and university.

While we could all tap into our internal tenacity, what’s external is also quite hectic a lot of times and it does influence us. I cannot even pretend that it doesn’t. One of the things I have done externally is surrounding myself with women that challenge me. This pushes me to move on whenever I am faced with a challenge. I have this mindset of, “if this woman made it, I could make it too”. It’s very important to surround yourself with people who inspire you and pick you up when you are falling.

I commend all women who are outspoken about their success in STEM. Because that’s the only way you can encourage someone. If you succeed and stay silent it may not help much because it is not about having some magic of sorts that you can’t share with anyone! Maybe some successful women fear sharing their success stories! But I don’t think we need to apologize for where we are and how much we have achieved! If you have made it to any stage that you believe other people would want to reach, the best thing you can do is tell them what worked for you.

So, what has mainly kept me moving is looking up to fellow women in STEM, but also fellow women outside STEM for general life advice. They have faced challenges but how have they maneuvered through them to stay strong? That’s what I look out for. It’s the main reason why I make it a point to build my library about people’s biographies.

I am sure you have had prestigious moments of recognition and achievements along your journey. Can you tell us about those?
I do have awards, they just don’t come in form of badges, haha. My most rewarding recognitions were in high school. You know, getting all those prizes because of your good performance was very encouraging to me!

At work, my biggest achievements have come in form of promotions. For me to get to where I am right now, has been the fruit of my hard work. When I became head of analytics and insights within Multichoice, it was mainly recognition for the work I had put in.

The other one is recognition of my voice; it makes me happy to know that people hear me when I start up conversations about data. I appreciate the recognition I receive from the Data Science Zimbabwe Community.

Who is Adelaide outside work?
I am a wife and mother of 2 – that already tells you how full my plate is, haha. I enjoy spending time with my children and husband over the weekend. As I have already mentioned, I love reading a lot! My library is full of non-fictional books and biographies. I also enjoy watching documentaries and news about current affairs on TV.

I love traveling, either with family or friends. Lastly, I enjoy my morning fitness routine – I take that quite seriously, together with my meditation and prayer to help me build my inner happy place.

What is your favorite quote?
It is a quote on personal development that I found to be very useful. It is from Janice Bryant Howroyd, one of the richest black women in America. She says, “Be where you say you are going to be, when you say you are going to be, how you say you are going to be – be prepared, be ready!”. She is not just telling us to show up – come, no! What she is saying is to show up on time, be prepared, and make sure that you are at the right place. Do not turn up in situations late or half-prepared, you never know where that encounter or interaction will lead to. This applies every day, in everything, more so in your work professional settings. Let people take you seriously.

How would you encourage a young girl who is passionate about STEM but can’t find their place in the field?
I would tell them to look at the fact that where the world is heading, STEM is expanding. In the world, there is abundance! The mindset of having to take stuff from each other for one person to succeed is all about poverty. It’s a mindset that assumes that there’s not enough for all of us!

There are enough opportunities in and outside formal employment, for everyone who wants to get into any field of STEM, especially with the upcoming 4th round of the industrial revolution. Build onto what you have and continue learning! If no one hires you, start your own thing and offer the same services you would have offered underemployment. You can start small but with a big mindset. You don’t have to compare yourself with anyone else because people have different paths in life.

Thank you very much, Adelaide! You are so full of wisdom! I wish more people can get the opportunity to listen to you.

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