Women in Big Data Global



International Women’s Day – Naomi Molefe

Women in Big Data

By Naomi Molefe,

March 8, 2020

Naomi dp (2)
Naomi Molefe

Women in Big Data is spotlighting 8 amazing women on March 8th, International Women’s Day.
Naomi Molefe is WiBD South African Chapter Lead.

Big Data from My Professional Point of View and Barriers

I recently joined the group talent team at Discovery Holdings, an insurance business headquarted in Johannesburg with 7000 employees, operating in 19 countries with a revenue of just under $700 million (F18). My role is to assist the business to build, source and attract talent pipelines in support of business strategy and talent requirements. I work with the head of Talent Acquisition in executing strategic recruitment for senior and scarce skills.

I cut my teeth as an executive talent acquisition consultant (Exco and Board levels), assisting businesses to attract senior talent. These enterprises span the African continent in various sectors, including financial services, mining, telecommunications, and media entertainment. One clear trend is that women leaders are scarce at the upper echelons of businesses in Africa. Like many economies around world undergoing digital and talent transformation, South Africa is not an exception. Unlike in European markets, African people make up 15% of top management, despite accounting for 79% of the economically active population.

We share similarities with other markets in that our talent transformation efforts are marred with social, economic and digital layers. Women occupy less than 10% of the senior roles in businesses listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The average African person is 19.5 years old and the average political leader on the continent is 65.5 years old. Major tech firms have announced plans to expand to the continent, stating that the next billion internet users will come from Africa. The talent landscape in South Africa/Africa is a dynamic one. We have a young population of digital natives that have certain expectations about the organisations they work in or have a desire of joining.

South Africa’s economy is constricting, with many businesses undergoing massive retrenchments and lay-offs of labour. On the one hand, businesses need to remain competitive and prepare for a climate where Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be at the core of how businesses operate. However, this places the job market under pressure as the social and economic repercussions of the retrenchments put strain on the already overloaded fiscus.

Establishing WiBDSA

Being a part of the talent transformation efforts, including contributing my knowledge and skills to learning communities like WiBD and the Deep Learning Indaba, is important to me because I get to be a part of the change.

Working and studying in Dublin, Ireland, where I interned as a business analyst in an Analytics and Innovation centre, a subsidiary of the global insurer Aon, presented opportunities in Big Data that I wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of. I got to experience how analytics can help inform decision making, assist business in expanding into new markets through product development and enhance operational efficiency. How we collect data and use it to derive insights for all functions of the business is the new currency in an organisation.

When I came back to South African at the start of 2018, the industry was not yet having wide-spread conversations around how to prepare the economy for the digital revolution. The President launched the 4IR commission in April 2019, which became the catalyst of industry engagements and thought leadership on how to assist the nation of South Africa to prepare its citizens and business community for a digital industrial revolution.

I grew up in a mining town, Rustenburg, about an hour and half from Johannesburg; the life and blood of the community flowed from Mining activities. When I reached out to Nahia Orduna (Chapter lead for Germany) wanting to join the WiBD community, I was yearning for a belonging where I would learn, connect and develop data-related skills. We decided that I should establish the South African community. We launched the South African chapter in November, 2018, with the assistance of SAP Africa.

In keeping to the purpose of WiBD to inspire, connect and expand the inclusion of women in big data, we have successfully established the WiBDSA brand. We took the strategy of partnering with enterprises that are South African-born, with African operations including the global partners that have committed to supporting the efforts of the WiBD community. Some of our key milestones thus far include registering the forum as a non-profit organisation, creating links and partnerships with South Africa’s top rated organisations, and establishing working relationships with other learning communities who aim to capacitate women and the youth with digital skills.


The core team of WiBDSA is made up of highly motivated and award-winning women who care deeply about the development of other women, particularly in the technology sector. I have been nominated by the EMEA leadership team to assist in the establishment of the African chapters, and we look forward to launching a chapter in Nigeria and Kenya during 2020.

I would like to say to African women that, as Miss Universe directed, its time to take up space in all spheres and spaces you enter. You belong there. There will be instances and moments where your sense of belonging is questioned, with people assuming you don’t know what you’re talking about, but the tech sector needs you. Your authenticity is the differentiator. Communities such as WiBD are there for your benefit, to connect and learn. We are living in time where you can connect with anyone, anywhere in the world; WiBD is a 15000 (and counting) strong global community; we look forward to connecting with you.


Naomi is the Chair for the South African chapter of Women in Big Data, a global non-profit organisation with a community of 15000 women that aims to connect, inspire and increase the inclusion of women in Big Data fields. She’s part of the organising committee of the Deep Learning IndabaX 2020, an academic community of African researchers and practitioners in machine learning and artificial intelligence. She considers herself a community builder and diversity talent specialist with extensive experience in Executive Talent acquisition and management across sectors in Mining, Telecommunications, Financial Services and Media Entertainment. Naomi holds a Master of Science degree in Strategic Management and Planning from triple-accredited UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, in Dublin, Ireland.

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