Contributing to gender inclusivity: A glimpse into Pumla Bam's journey


In celebration of South Africa's Women's Month, SA-TIED is spotlighting women driving change in economics. Through the 'Breaking Barriers, Building Economies: Women in Economic Policy' campaign, we highlight their achievements, challenges, and invaluable contributions. Pumla Bam, Senior Specialist in Data Analytics at the South African Revenue Services (SARS), is one changemaker who embodies the essence of the campaign.


My professional journey unfolded in a dynamic field where data and economics intersect. Through diverse roles at SARS, including my current position as a senior specialist in data analytics, I've charted a trajectory to where I stand today. During this journey, a new endeavor emerged: my involvement in the SA-TIED programme since its inception in 2017. Serving as the liaison between SARS and the National Treasury, I facilitate the extraction and transfer of data for the SA-TIED programme, a secure data lab that has evolved into an essential conduit for transformative research findings.


This role has a steep learning curve, constantly pushing the boundaries of my expertise. The experience has reinforced my belief that excelling in technical proficiencies can undermine negative gender stereotypes. By demonstrating competence and resilience, I not only contributed to advancing the programme's data objectives but also played a part in promoting a more inclusive and diverse work environment.


My commitment to gender inclusivity finds its roots in values instilled by my father during my upbringing. These values underscored the importance of actions over words—a professional principle guiding me. I approach my work with determination because I sometimes encounter skepticism about my capabilities solely based on gender.


SA-TIED programme and gender diversity


SA-TIED is a testament to the power that intentional action and empowering people from different walks of life can have. The programme features skills exchange, academic alliances, and mentorship to both men and women. Through scholarship and enhancing training, emerging talent is nurtured to fortify the programme's impact. 


In a landscape with distinct challenges for women, I have needed to consistently advocate for my voice to be heard in professional spheres. Women in my field must be resolute when facing adversity to overcome constraints in a historically male-dominated space. I have learned that women's empowerment is best supported through tangible steps—mentorship, education, and provision of equitable opportunities. Women should be encouraged to speak up and have their voices carry the same weight as men. Women should be given the same opportunities and exposure as men.


In the field I operate in, data science, I coach and mentor women. I also advocate for equal treatment and recognition and encourage women not to shy away from sharing the stage with men. My recent experience at the Tax and Development Workshop, organized by UNU-WIDER and the Uganda Tax Revenue Authority, highlighted SA-TIED's commitment to gender inclusivity. A fellow woman colleague and I attended the event and had the opportunity to share insights on data labs and their role in shaping economic policies. Women's representation and active engagement in various capacities were striking testaments to the programme's commitment to gender equality. 


This commitment was not merely a token gesture but a tangible aspect throughout the workshop. It was evident that gender balance and diversity were not just checkboxes to tick but integral components shaping the discussions, collaborations, and information-sharing processes.


Looking ahead


There are opportunities for other women who are interested in data science. The economic and economic policy area is a fast-growing field. The demand for skilled individuals in this area is growing in leaps. Filling these roles requires more exposure and awareness of the field. As a SARS employee, I have the opportunity to explore the world of data and support SARS' vision for 2024, which aims to build a smart, modern SARS and increase the use of data. In celebration of Women's Month, my message for other women is to continue to work hard, come to the table, and not wait to be invited. Excel in your work and get mentors who have already traveled the road to guide and empower you.