In this blog series to commemorate National Mentoring Month, we are celebrating some of our incredible mentors in the Data Science for All program.  

Nkem Oghedo is Chief of Staff at Care/of, and a mentor for DS4A / Empowerment.  She answered a few questions for us about her experience, career advice and creating more inclusive workplaces.

Tell us about a pivotal moment in your career: what was the backdrop, what did you do, what did you learn?

One pivotal moment was realizing that I no longer wanted to work in professional services, specifically management consulting. The realization was promoted by a combination of the poor work/life balance, feeling like I wasn’t learning anything new, and recognizing that I was 0% interested - and in some instances, morally against - the work I was doing.

I left my first management consulting job after only 13 months, leaving on the table upcoming promotions and hefty bonuses. I learned that knowing what you DON’T want is equally as important as knowing what you DO want. It’s easy to fall into certain cookie-cutter career paths, particularly if that’s what your peers are doing. But having the courage to pave your own way and trust your intuition will always work out in your favor.

Who were your mentors and role models when you were starting out?  What’s the best professional advice you received?

My mother will always be one of my role models - she exemplifies tenacity, powerful presence and grace. I definitely learned how to lead from her!

A business school professor, Paula Price, once said to me: “It’s ok if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing next. But as long as every step you take brings you one step closer to the bright light that is your purpose, then you’re on the right track”

Another quote that I live by is from Solange Knowles - “Do nothing without intention”. I very much believe in embedding purpose in everything that you do. When you have a raison d’etre, doors open for you and tough times are manageable.

What have you gained from mentoring and coaching - both professionally and personally? Did anything surprise you when you started mentoring?

Sometimes when mentoring, you realize that the advice you’re giving is the same advice you need to take yourself! For me, mentoring has been a consistent reminder of what I am supposed to be doing and what energy I want to bring to the world.

Can you give us an example of how data skills are increasingly needed in your role and business?

Forget about cash -- data rules everything around me! At Care/of, we use data to make all levels of decisions - from what color should our homepage be, to which new wellness category we should launch. Being able to decipher both big and small data sets is crucial to knowing what to do next.

You’ll be mentoring a group of Fellows in our inaugural cohort in the Data Science for All/ Empowerment program, an initiative to create equal opportunities to access the data-driven jobs of tomorrow.  What can individuals and organizations do to help create more diverse and inclusive workplaces?

It starts with individual behaviors. As an organization, ask yourselves: How can you create a culture that incentivizes and rewards inclusive behavior? How are you training your managers? How are folks compensated? Who is promoted and why?

And at the corporate level, it’s about being intentional and specific about your goals. Are you trying to build a diverse team? Are you intentionally combating anti-blackness? Are you trying to become an ant-racist organization? These are all distinct goals that should be tied to distinct strategies, metrics & roadmaps. And organizations need to create recurring cadences to check-in on progress for those roadmaps & metrics -- accountability is crucial!