Women in Data: Meet Dr. Christina Sandema-Sombe

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Christina Sandema-Sombe

The latest installment in our Q&A series with women leaders in data features Dr. Christina Sandema-Sombe, chief data steward of Nike, Inc. (Read our previous Q&A here.) 

Dr. Christina Sandema-Sombe first learned the joys – and challenges – of working with data as the global impact measurement lead at a humanitarian aid organization. Over a decade later, Sandema-Sombe now serves as the chief data steward for Nike, Inc., as well as the co-founder and chief data officer of Datum Cafe, a minority-owned advisory services company for data leaders. She has been featured in the DataIQ 100 and Global Data Power Women lists and recognized by Orbition Group as one of the top 10 innovators of 2024. We asked her about who and what inspired her to succeed as a woman in data management. You can follow Sandema-Sombe on LinkedIn and read more about her here.

What inspired you to choose a career in data and become a leader in the field?

I accidentally started my career in a role that had the arduous task of trying to connect the story of the impact the non-profit organization was having across the globe. Very quickly, I learned the challenges of connecting data in meaningful ways from disparate sources – and how easy it was to tell an inaccurate story to donors about how their dollars were being used to create ladders of opportunity and reduce poverty around the world. I then saw the same types of issues in my next role in financial services, where there was a desire to advance services provided to clients and leverage organization knowledge to win more bids and increase revenue. The ability to connect knowledge, people, and business data to drive increases in revenue solidified for me how much opportunity there was in the data space. 

What has been your biggest challenge as a woman in data?

Often being the only one at the table can make it hard to be heard and included – especially when the work that you do is agnostic to the technology and focuses on behavior, culture, literacy, change, and connections. These are often overlooked skills but are necessary to drive alignment and engagement in successful data initiatives across stakeholders.  

How can we encourage more women to pursue careers in data?

I think we need to not only emphasize technical skill sets when we talk about careers in data. The field of data is extremely broad and has needs for skill sets that are non-technical and can be transferred from areas where there is greater representation of women in the workforce. Starting to promote and hire for those valuable non-technical skills – especially in the areas of change, literacy, knowledge management, communication, and storytelling, to name a few – will do a lot to bring more women into this field.

Our voices are needed more than ever in the data space. History has shown that a lack of inclusivity results in myopic choices that mostly negatively impact the excluded group. As rapid advances are being made it is imperative to be engaged in the system to advocate for underrepresented groups on topics like privacy and ethical uses of AI.

Fun fact about yourself?

When I’m not working on data, I’m following my husband or children to sports meets around the country. It’s allowed me to travel quite a bit and stay close to my family’s passions in sports. 

Did you know? We produced our first Women in Data Management and Governance half-day conference at Enterprise Data World 2024. Hear the live recording and join the community by signing up for our Women in Data Management and Governance newsletter.