Women Data Scientists Leading A Digital Revolution
What was previously considered a male-dominated arena has become an attractive career path for women in South Africa – two Telkom based women data scientists testify to this, both of whom left their previous vocations in pursuit of their passion in science and IT.
Telkom’s ongoing innovation focus has seen the organisation training and hiring dozens of data scientists across its operations, applying the power of data to solve organisational and societal problems – revolutionising efficiencies at the telco, and boosting the services it can offer clients.
Women data scientists are in the vanguard of this drive, bringing their skills to bear on the diversified company’s innovative, digital-first focus.
The data science revolution has also been an opportunity to drive Telkom’s Female Leadership Development Programme (FLDP), creating opportunities for dozens of women across the organisation with wide experience across adjacent sectors.
Ops specialist: data science Tsholo Madi has been part of the FLDP, having changed careers to become a data scientist after working as a cost and management accountant and an events entrepreneur.
“While I was running my events company, I read that data science was likely to be the sexiest profession of the 21st century,” says Madi. “I knew I had to be part of that. My husband works in the IT space, and he encouraged me to study coding. That was my first step towards a data-science career.”
“Data science can help companies to maximise revenues, build business strategies and communicate to their stakeholders by visualising data in clear, compelling ways,” says Madi. “Our role as data scientists is to add value; to help find data-driven solutions and process improvements.”
Madi’s colleague and fellow data scientist Jess Ferguson is also part of the Telkom women’s leadership programme.
A Strong Foundation For Development
“Telkom has shown a great commitment to growing women leaders through the programme,” says Ferguson. “Women leaders are empowered and it provides a strong foundation for ongoing development.”
Ferguson became a data scientist after a successful career as an occupational therapist.
“Data science allows me to make a difference for vast numbers of people – not just individuals,” she says. “My goal is to use occupational science within my data science role to work at a societal level, to improve how people live, work and play.
“Technology is a more male-dominated industry,” says Ferguson. “That's not a secret, but we do have several strong women in our team. The FLDP is a leading initiative by the Telkom Group to develop women leaders. It's a fantastic, year-long intensive programme run by the UCT Graduate School of Business.
“I feel really empowered seeing this desire to grow female leaders,” says Ferguson. “My voice is heard. That speaks to the culture of our team, and the broader organisation. I am also inspired by the work we do.
“We use data to support school-subject programmes, digital skills, as well as learner wellness,” says Ferguson. “Data helps us identify trends, spot learners who may have learning challenges, and to find top learners we can use for modelling new approaches.”
Through the Telkom Foundation, the company is also helping to develop the next generation of data scientists, by encouraging learners – girls and young women as well as male learners – to follow careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields. Data science is also used to optimise the programme’s effectiveness.
Madi says discipline is about asking the right questions in order to be able to solve society’s problems.
“I even tell my own children that we ask questions to be clear on what the problem is, so that we can all work together to solve it,” says Madi. “I encourage children to actively listen; as listening is another form of gathering data.
“When we listen carefully, and we ask the right questions, we get to understand where we are as a country,” she says. “Then we can gather data to address our challenges. Data science can help with that too.”