Celebrating Black History Month, Sharing our Colleagues’ Stories: Meet Joanna Mata

Joanna Mata, Director, Financial Systems, IT.

Joanna Mata, Director, Financial Systems, IT.

From a very early age, Joanna Mata understood that an education provided a roadmap for how to approach life with the goal of self-improvement.

“Both of my parents grew up in poor countries,” said Joanna, Director, Financial Systems, IT. “My mother is from Haiti, and my father is from the Dominican Republic. They both left their homes to come to the United States seeking better opportunities. And they both worked very hard to seize those opportunities – holding down jobs while going to school, so they could eventually get better jobs.”

When Joanna was five, her mother enrolled her in boarding school in Lowell, Massachusetts.

“My mother had very high standards,” Joanna explained. “She didn’t love our neighborhood or the after-school programs; she worried that they weren’t good enough. While she grew up in poverty in Haiti, she was acutely aware that the families ‘who did well,’ sent their children to boarding school. So, that’s what she wanted to give me: a boarding school education.”

Joanna said that first experience offered a strong foundation for her academic career, and it placed her on a path to succeed.

“I learned very good habits during those early years that paved the way for future opportunities,” she said.

Those habits took her through a rigorous four years at high school in the Bronx, culminating in acceptances and scholarship offers from both New York University (NYU) and Columbia University. Joanna enrolled in NYU and maintained the grades she needed to keep her scholarship in place for all four years.

“I trace my drive – and my success – to my parents,” Joanna said. “They left their homes for a country where they didn’t speak the language; they sought an education for themselves and for us because they firmly believed it was the path to greater opportunity.”

Joanna continued, “All of this compelled me to honor them by doing the best I could with my education. I never wanted to disappoint them. I wanted them to be proud of me.”

And they have every reason to be proud. In addition to her academic and career successes, Joanna has earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues at Atlas.

“Joanna is simply awesome,” said Richard Ross, Senior Vice President, IT. “She’s created herself as the leader in Financial Systems and business processes while raising three great kids.  She is a wonderful colleague.”

Initially, Joanna was set on pursuing law – she proactively took the LSATs before graduation. But she was surprised to discover how much she enjoyed an IT class that was part of the curriculum at the Business School.

“It was all about problem solving, and that really resonated with me,” she recalled.

Joanna pivoted and took a job with a global food and beverage company, where she worked as a developer between 1989 and 1992. This eventually led to a position at a global alcohol company, where she worked as a developer for four years, implementing applications in a number of different markets overseas, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain. Often, she was the only black person on the team, and she was always the only black woman.

This is one of the reasons that Black History Month is so important to Joanna.

“I remember when we didn’t have Black History Month and being part of the discussion to support this effort in Congress,” said Joanna. “I also remember having jobs at companies that hadn’t yet adopted Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday. Regardless, I always took it as a personal day. I felt it was a hard-won victory that I was going to celebrate.”

Joanna with her family.

Joanna with her family.

She continued, “Celebrating Black History Month and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day helped me with my own sense of self. It also gave me strength to pursue my career. As the only black person in the room, I understood there was work to be done. I took that very seriously. However, the fact that I was there, in the room, also meant that some progress had been made. It was, and still is, very important to me to celebrate those individuals who worked so hard to drive change so that I can continue on the path that I’m on, and my three daughters (Delilah and twins Maya and Jayla ) have the freedom to pursue their dreams.”

February is the twins’ – one of whom is named Maya after Maya Angelou – favorite month, Joanna said. They are among a small percentage of black students at the school they attend, and the school’s focus on Black History Month instills them with a sense of pride.

“I’m very pleased that the schools are focusing on it, and I’m equally as pleased to see the acknowledgment here at Atlas,” Joanna said. “It’s so important to be inclusive of the Black experience and learn about all of these people who were heroes.”

At home, Joanna and her family spend a lot of time talking about those heroes. When the twins were six years old and Delilah was two, the family began a tradition of discussing an individual from history at the dinner table each evening of Black History Month.

“It’s been a really inspiring exercise,” said Joanna. “We have all learned so much about these trailblazers over the years, and I know we are better for it.”