Opope Tshivuila Matala

As a young African woman, my greatest challenge has been fear and a lack of confidence - imposter syndrome and the feeling that I didn't know enough to contribute to the discussion or the solution. I overcame this by speaking up and sharing my thoughts and ideas, even when I was afraid or anxious.

Country of origin

South Africa of Congolese origins

Which company do you work for?

The World Bank

What is your specific area of specialisation?

Women and reproductive health/Public health

How long have you been in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields?

10 years

As a woman in a male dominated industry, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

As a young African woman, my greatest challenge has been fear and a lack of confidence – imposter syndrome and the feeling that I didn’t know enough to contribute to the discussion or the solution. I overcame this by speaking up and sharing my thoughts and ideas, even when I was afraid or anxious. My ideas were generally well received, and I learnt to trust myself and realized that we all bring value because we all have a different perspective on the problem and can thus provide unique perspectives on solutions. When my ideas or inputs were ignored or not well received, I would go back home and review how to strengthen my arguments/points and brainstorm with colleagues and friends so that it was clearer and sharper at the next meeting. I think it’s important to be bold and speak up, but also maintain a posture of reflection and learning with the aim to always be better and do better.

What inspired you to join this industry?

As a young African woman, my greatest challenge has been fear and a lack of confidence – imposter syndrome and the feeling that I didn’t know enough to contribute to the discussion or the solution. I overcame this by speaking up and sharing my thoughts and ideas, even when I was afraid or anxious. My ideas were generally well received, and I learnt to trust myself and realized that we all bring value because we all have a different perspective on the problem and can thus provide unique perspectives on solutions. When my ideas or inputs were ignored or not well received, I would go back home and review how to strengthen my arguments/points and brainstorm with colleagues and friends so that it was clearer and sharper at the next meeting. I think it’s important to be bold and speak up, but also maintain a posture of reflection and learning with the aim to always be better and do better.

What changes, if any, have you seen in your field with regards to women in your field?

There are definitely more women entering and remaining in the field. We still have too few women in leadership positions.

How can we attract more women to consider a career in the STEM fields?

I think it’s important to create opportunities for girls to be exposed to STEM fields as early as possible – high school is too late – primary school if possible. And show them role models who look like them and have achieved a certain level of success in these fields. This should be coupled with resources to increase access to these fields, including financial but also human resources in the form of mentorship, coaching, tutoring etc. We would also need to create awareness among parents and our societies to understand that girls and women can thrive in these fields, and that they should be encouraged as well as supported if they show an interest to move in this direction.

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If you were to advise other young women starting their careers in the tech or within the STEM fields, what is the one thing you would say to them?

Don’t give up when things get hard or when you fail. Instead, (i) take a moment to reflect, cry if you must – a good cry never hurt anyone, (ii) surround yourself with people who believe in you, people who will cheer you on, and (iii) believe in yourself (iv) then pick yourself up and keep moving forward until you reach the finish line. You can do anything you put your mind to.

When not working, what do you do for fun?

I spend time with my family, and playing with my one-year-old son :

Nominate yourself, a friend, colleague or inspiring women in the technology and STEM fields to have their story featured. Let’s collectively join and create a movement of women leaders in the industry. Nominate with a social media handle in the comments of our social post and we will get in touch so we can inspire more women.