Best part of being a woman in technology is really about other young women seeing me and believing that they too can apply themselves in the tech space and achieve great things
This is an exclusive interview conducted by the Editor Team of CIO News with Toyosi Odukoya, Head of Business Intelligence at Mastercard Foundation
Can you share a bit about what you do and what a typical day for you is like?
I am a data and analytics business leader with over 15 years of experience, enabling insights and business strategies to ensure organizations leverage their competitive advantage for growth and impact.
As Mastercard Foundation’s first Head of Business Intelligence, I designed and now lead the execution of data strategy. I manage the foundation’s data strategy, governance, reporting infrastructure (including self-service capabilities), and data analytics capabilities, while collaborating with key stakeholders to respond to established and emerging needs in service to our vision.
I usually start my day with meditation, and then I go for some physical activities like workouts or morning walks, and then I return and get ready for work. I have been working from home for over two years. I walk into my home office and look through my goals and priorities for the day, which I must have made the night before, and then I respond to my emails.
After that, I concentrate on high-impact, high-priority tasks, and deliverables. I have most of my meetings from midday to the close of business. I take a few breaks here and there in between meetings, and I finish my day by planning for the following day. I identify the major goals and priorities for the next day.
My evenings are mostly devoted to personal and family activities.
Did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do?
I took science classes in high school, so studying a college course in the sciences was an obvious choice for me. I had never been interested in any biological sciences such as pharmacy, medicine, biochemistry, or microbiology. I was more interested in technology and engineering and wanted to study Electrical and Electronics Engineering. Many people discouraged me from studying that, so I studied Computer Science at the university instead, and I have no regrets. It all worked out in the end.
When I was in my fourth year of college, I was thinking about how I would position myself in the workplace, given that I only had one year left after my internship. I then began taking Oracle Database Administration certification courses and took a lot of classes in SQL programming, and this paved the way for my very first job after graduation at a tech start-up.
Have you ever been in a situation when gender has affected the way you have been perceived or treated in the technology industry? How did you handle the situation?
Yes. I have been in situations where my gender impacted how I was perceived and treated. I believe it was more obvious in the early stages of my career. I recall two specific examples that stand out to me. I was turned down for a job as a Telecoms Engineer as an early graduate because the hiring manager thought I did not have the capacity or capability to do the job because of my gender. After passing the tests and interviews, I reached the final stage which was meeting with the hiring manager and he said that if he had known I was a woman, he would not have allowed me to come this far because he assumed I wouldn’t always be available to fulfil the job requirements being a woman.
Another time when my gender felt like a barrier was when I applied for a job in banking. Earlier in my career, I was rejected because I was married, and I was told that they preferred single ladies being a sales & commercial role.
I appreciate the opportunities for growth that have come my way. I must say that the amount of hard work and diligence that has been required cannot be overstated. I am sincerely grateful to all my managers, as well as everyone who has believed in me and provided me with opportunities for advancement. This level of support has inspired me to pay it forward by giving others the opportunity to learn, grow, and flourish.
What do you think is the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
I think it is really about people (especially other young women) seeing me and believing that they too can apply themselves in data analytics and in the tech space and achieve great things. These days, seeing young African women and other women of colour who aspire to be like me inspires and motivates me to do more for others. This makes me happy because it means that many more young women interested in data analytics will be motivated enough to pursue a successful career in this field.
Do you notice a lack of women in technology? If so, why do you think that’s the case?
According to statistical information, there is clearly not an equal representation of women in technology. I read recently that women hold less than 30% of all tech jobs in the United States. Some would even argue that the proportion of women in technology has decreased significantly. Other sources claim that women in technology earn less than men, while others claim that women make up only about 18% of recent computer science graduates in terms of first degrees. It is entirely dependent on the statistics and studies under consideration. However, there is sufficient evidence and research to show that women are under-represented in the tech industry.
Having said that, I believe there are a few reasons for this:
The first is stereotyping, conscious & unconscious biases, which occur when people believe that being a woman, may have a negative impact on performance, level of intelligence or aptitude. I believe it began when women were not encouraged to pursue STEM courses – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Nowadays, there are concerted efforts and interventions to encourage women to pursue STEM degrees.
Secondly, there aren’t enough role models, advocates, and people who are challenging the status quo. Although overall, things have improved significantly in recent years. I do not recall knowing any Nigerian woman in Data Analytics or Business Intelligence when I started my career. I never met them or heard about them. I seriously doubt they existed at the time, which says a lot. The lack of role models at the time was a major factor, but I am glad things are improving now.
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known before starting your career in the technology industry?
For me, the most important thing is to understand that gender is not a barrier. Your gender has no bearing on your abilities, your aptitude, your intellectual capacity, your resilience, and so on and so forth. Gender has no bearing on your abilities in the field of data analytics and the tech industry at large. Just keep in mind that it is all about you and all you hope to accomplish, whether you are male or female. There is no study to suggest that as a woman, you would struggle more with technology or with data.
Any limiting opportunity you encounter is the result of other people’s preconceptions. It is only a facade that’s most likely due to a lack of knowledge.
At the start of my career, I should have prioritized being committed to people just as much as I was committed to working. Making time for professionals in the tech industry is vital, both personally and professionally. At the same time, it is vital to be courageous enough to express yourself and accept mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes; all you need do is accept them and learn from them. Your attitude towards failure shows your strength as a leader!
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