Women in Data: Meet Classification Guru Susan Walsh

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re kicking off a new Q&A series with women leaders in data. Our first installment features Susan Walsh, aka the Classification Guru. 

Susan Walsh, the Classification Guru

Susan Walsh didn’t always aspire to be a data classification expert. But after spending a decade honing her data skills – cleaning and classifying erroneous data – she founded her consultancy, The Classification Guru, in 2017. Her book “Between the Spreadsheets: Classifying and Fixing Dirty Data” highlights the importance of data classification and introduces her COAT framework, a methodology for maintaining consistent, organized, accurate, trustworthy data to avoid costly business mistakes. (Gartner estimates that poor data quality costs organizations an average of $12.9 million annually.) An industry thought leader and global speaker, Walsh has been listed in the DataIQ100 for the past two years and won the DataIQ Data Champion award in 2022 and 2023. Her entertaining videos on LinkedIn are also big hits with the data-driven crowd. We chatted with her about what it takes to succeed as a woman in data management.

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

It found me. I spent my early career working for large global corporations. I realized that wasn’t for me and decided to set up my first business – a women’s clothes shop. Unfortunately, it did not end well, I was so broke that I couldn’t even afford to pay for bankruptcy, and I needed a job fast. I found one via an online ad to classify spend data for a spend analytics company, where I found my love for data, and the rest, as they say, is history. As for my leadership position, when you own your own business, you have no choice but to be a leader.

Do you have a female role model who encouraged you to persevere?

My gran. She didn’t get married until she was 39. This was in the 1950s. She lived as an independent woman at a time when that was considered inappropriate.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

Being told no. We know what I say about no: We say no to no! You can hear more about that in my TEDx Talk about resilience, “Say NO to NO.”

Fun fact about yourself?

I have an obsession with Robbie Williams. I have a life-sized cut-out living in my house and have seen him more than 20 times.

What’s your best advice for other women aspiring to be data leaders?

Don’t take any BS. Believe in yourself and prove yourself through your work. But don’t be afraid to fail – it’s the best way to learn.

Have you heard? We’re producing our first Women in Data Management and Governance half-day conference this month at Enterprise Data World 2024. Even if you can’t attend, you can join the community by signing up for our Women in Data Management and Governance newsletter.