Tech to Wed: Meet Zenobia Dada

Sometimes it takes a pandemic to realise that we need to shake things up a little. This month, I realised that whilst The STEM Moms Club is a great place for featuring Moms in STEM, it may also exclude the talents of women in STEM who have chosen to forego the idea of starting a family and who have instead focused on other aspects of their lives and careers to gain fulfilment.

We all know this is a raging debate in the mom community – the moms who choose a career over “spending quality time with their offspring”, the moms who choose to stay home are judged for choosing to forego a career to “simply be a housewife”…damned if you do, damned if you don’t…I’m pretty sure either discussion is more of a reflection of those doing the judgement rather than those making things work the best way they know how…

I’ve had the chance to feature 2 STEM women (Natasha Subbiah and Reyghana Hoosen) recently who have left their core careers to explore other avenues to use their STEM skills in a way they may not have initially envisioned for themselves. Here’s another spectacular transition from the world of Tech to Wedding Planning! – Who would’ve thought it could be done?...Definitely Zenobia Dada 😉 I’ve been so intrigued by her story and the journey she’s currently on…I know you will be too!

Bio

Name:       Zenobia Davids

Age:          37

Location:   Lanseria, South Africa

Job title:    Wedding Planner

Company:  Blue Olive Events

From Tech to being a Wedding Planner - Meet Zenobia Davids

Interview with a fellow Women in STEM

1. What does your everyday work entail?

Before Covid19 it went like this:

Wake up at around 5:15, go onto Instagram, check out the posts and push through the first post of the day. Lay in bed till 5:50, get up to put the kettle on make coffee for my husband and I and we’d sit in bed and watch the sunrise. Once the coffee is done and the sun is up (winter we wake up a bit later for the sunrise ) I’ll shower, get dressed and check the schedule for the day. If I have any meetings, I’d prep for those and go through the first round of emails for the day.

Other days would be an earlier start, as I plan weddings in Cape Town too. It’s a 3:30 wake up call to be at the airport by 5am for flight at 6am. (I’ve often taken for granted that I am 5min away from the airport, so I narrowly make it to the airport on some days 😊) Thursdays – Monday’s can be different in the life of a wedding planner, especially if there’s a wedding scheduled that weekend. Thursdays, I would arrange to collect any décor items ordered for the wedding and Mondays would be delivery. All larger items are delivered on Fridays directly to the venue. Fridays, I’d be at the venue receiving deliveries and ensuring the venue is ready for the setup. Saturdays are an early start too, I’m usually out the house by 6am to begin the setup and depending on how the day goes I’m either home by 12am or 2am.

Sundays I rest to start all over again on Monday.

The schedule could also change depending on the type of setup required, for instance marquee weddings is a whole different setup and begins either the Monday or Wednesday for the wedding to take place the Saturday.

Flexibility is key.

2. What career path led you to your current work?

Well, I started out in Information Technology (IT). I completed my Diploma in IT at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). I specialised in Information Management, I had the options of being a business analyst, data analyst, process analyst or project manager. Today, the roles of a business, process and data analyst have blurred lines. As I could not and still cannot program very well, programming was dropped as soon as I could 🙂.

I worked for various corporates, banks, telecoms, consulting firms (small and large). This went on for 10 years. I eventually got tired of corporate life and decided to change careers. 2012 was my breaking point, when I decided I need a change. It was in 2013 that I officially registered for the Advanced Wedding Planning course through the SA school of weddings. I officially registered my business in 2015 and have been in business ever since. My exit from corporate only happened in 2016.

3. If you were to think back on your decision to move into a Tech career, what initiated it all?

Short answer, my mom. It started in high school, when you had to choose your subjects for standard 8 (grade 10). We also had a guidance counsellor sit with us to identify what your career path should be. For me it was IT or Accounting. I thought I could be an accountant, but then there was the concept of ‘depreciation’ which was introduced in our matric year!…I was then convinced accounting was not my desired career path. The alternative – IT. And that’s what I did 😊

4. What has your experience been like being a women in STEM?

I can’t say it’s been all bad. There were some rough periods, but for the most part it taught me to be resilient, assertive, and how to handle the different types of personalities. It also provided me with the skills to do what I do today. Without that, I doubt I would be here today.

5. You’ve changed career paths from where you started, what convinced you to do so?

Remember I spoke about the rough patches… Those tough times made me realise that I needed to do something else. Something other than sitting in meetings all day and being undermined for being a woman. Let’s be honest, IT is still a male-dominated field - I was constantly the only woman in the meetings. When I eventually worked with other women in the field, it wasn’t pleasant either.

2012 was the breaking point, I had a female Project Manager, she undermined me more that any man ever did and that broke me. You know that scene in the movie where the actor has reached boiling point and breaks down and starts telling everyone about all their faults and how stupid they think they are? -That was me! Told the PM off, told my boss he was a hypocrite and few months later I resigned - They were surprised and I never understood that… It wasn’t all bad, I had great times too and learnt a lot and it made me who I am today.

There are women out there made for STEM, they just have more hair on their teeth than I did. I don’t want any women to be discouraged about being or pursuing a career in STEM. Go for it, we actually need more women in STEM. To encourage other women to pursue the career and help them grow and be successful.

6. Give us a brief description of a normal/extraordinary 24hours in your life. (You can choose one 😋)

An extraordinary 24 hours would be getting up 2am, being at the venue by 3am to begin setup and working throughout the day and night and starting all over the next day.

7. Name the one thing which excites you about your current field of work compared to your previous?

The pure joy on the Bride and Groom’s face when they see each other on the day and when they walk into the reception and see their vision come to life.

8. Do you feel like having experience in a STEM career allowed you to adapt to your new career path?

Definitely. It’s made me the person I am today.

9. How do you think organisational spaces could be improved upon in order to better support women in STEM?

If we can get people to change their attitude towards women in STEM: to be open to understanding that women can be anything and do anything they want; that would be game-changer. I know we’ve come a long way since the 50’s but there’s plenty to improve upon, especially our behaviour and way of thinking.

10. What do you hope to achieve within your current career, whether in the short/long term?

I have so many plans for business, but for now, it’s to focus on doing more weddings in Italy and France.

11. Based on your own experiences in STEM, what advice would you give to women currently in these careers on how to navigate the challenges within these fields

Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams. Stand up for yourself even when one else will and don’t give up.