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3 Women Driving Innovation in the Digital Age 17 Jan,16

Female tech execs use communication, teamwork and data analysis to spur innovation and inspire the next generation.

When tech companies shared stats on gender representation in the workforce last year, data revealed what many already knew: though women like Grace Hopper were the first computer programmers in history, they’d been largely shut out as the field evolved and a brogrammer culture took hold.

According to a 2014 National Center for Women in Technology report, women hold just 26 percent of professional computing jobs in the U.S. and make up a just 6 percent of CIOs.

These statistics are so grossly out of balance they’re spurring change.

Many big tech companies are launching initiatives to recruit qualified female workers; education and nonprofit groups are inspiring girls and women to pursue studies in STEM subjects — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — and consider careers in tech.

Here, a look at some of the smart, savvy women in STEM careers who are using data analytics, tools and creativity  in the blended world of engineering, marketing and entrepreneurialism to transform innovation in the Digital Age.

Becky Brown

Reflecting on her career in tech, including 21 years with Intel, Becky Brown remembers a time when she was the sole woman in a room full of men and hesitant to sit at the table.

“It was intimidating,” she said.

Today, however, Brown has a solid seat at that conference room as Vice President Global Marketing and Communications at Intel.

Responsible for Intel’s “connected customer” experience, she calls the shots on the multi-billion-dollar corporation’s digital marketing and advertising investments and strategies.

Brown developed the social media strategy that grew Intel’s social communities from 60,000 people to more than 50 million worldwide, an accomplishment recognized by Top Rank when it recently listed her among the top 50 Influential Women in Digital Marketing.

Despite her many accolades, Brown is quick to share the credit with her team.

“I like to surround myself with the best in class,” she said. “A good leader has to be smart about motivating people, about letting them know that the work they do matters, about energizing them and inspiring them to follow their curiosity, about connecting the dots so they can see the bigger picture.”

Building a team of smart, capable professionals has been especially important in digital, Brown notes, given the rapid pace at which the field is evolving.

“Five years ago, there was no content management system. Sites were unconnected and on different platforms. We didn’t have a social publishing tool; we didn’t even know what that was,” she said.

“So much has happened, yet we’re really at the forefront of digital marketing.”

Brown, who is part Chickasaw, grew up in Montana where she earned a degree in industrial engineering. She credits this engineering background for helping her manage effectively through shifting currents.

“Initially, I wanted to go into just-in-time manufacturing, which is all about workflow and efficiencies,” she said. “Now, I apply a lot of those things to marketing.”

Her scientific approach extends to use of data analysis to guide work.

“In digital, we have access to a lot of analytics and we know that data gives us a lot of insight about what the customer wants,” she said.

“We open the covers and look under the hood, and we use that data to better understand our customers.”

Brown hopes her story will inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

“I see my role as a leader at Intel as a role model for young kids getting into STEM,” she said. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s hard for everyone: men and women. Focus and determination can go a long way.”

Monika Kochhar

Monika Kochhar is a leader in digital innovation as CEO of SmartGift, a product-level digital gifting technology for retailers and brands, which transforms the consumer experience by making gift-giving deeply personal and flexible.

She’s also co-founder of the company, but she hates that label.

“I think the title ‘co-founder’ needs to be disrupted. It contains within it a lack of movement,” said Kochhar, suggesting the term is more fitting in historical texts regarding the founding of ancient empires.

“We should really adopt terms such as co-creator or co-maker to embrace the organic and steady process of building a sustainable business,” she said.

Though Kochhar charts the course for the company — setting vision and strategy, creating partnerships, hiring talent — she sees herself as part of the collective, and compares the process of managing a team to conducting an orchestra.

“It’s the leader’s job to let individuals realize their own potential and bring in their talents while giving them a collective focus to achieve something greater than the sum of the parts,” she said.

Prior to co-creating SmartGift, this India-born entrepreneur co-founded Guguchu, a data-driven ecommerce and marketing platform for indie labels and musicians which was acquired by a subsidiary of Sony Music. She’s advised other e-commerce startups, plus rocked a seven-year career as a Wall Street trader.

At SmartGift, Kochhar focuses on the long-term, using data to drive improvement.

“We continuously test every bit of workflow, run user surveys, and engage focus groups of millennials, who are at the heart of our product,” said Kochhar. “Hard data and soft data are both important.”

So, too, is spurring innovation by encouraging new mindsets and behaviors.

“We aren’t operating atop 20th century management principles scaffolding,” she said, suggesting that industries can cross-pollinate ideas to drive innovation.

Kochhar believes women, in general, have the skills to make that possible.

“Research shows that we tend to be more inclusive and expressive in our leadership approach,” she said. “For me, it’s about three things: communication/listening skills, problem-solving skills and the ability to foster a great and fun team environment.”

She said the trick to getting more women in tech is to get them hooked on STEM subjects early.

“Girls need to be pushed into hard-core sciences early on so they are introduced to the elegance of math or robotics in their formative years, before succumbing to peer and gender pressure.”

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta joined LinkedIn in 2010 as a software engineer. Today, she is Director of Engineering, responsible for the technical roadmap and strategic vision for the company’s Groups product. She says her success is partly due to LinkedIn’s culture of support and mentorship for women.

“The executive team here is very mindful and truly cares about helping build careers,” said Gupta.

“My job is to make sure everyone on my team understands the vision and goals, give them the tools they need to meet the goals, and help unblock them if needed,” she said.

She notes the importance of inspiring innovation.

Once-a-month “in-days” offer employees time to learn new skills or create prototypes. The company also sponsors hackday competitions, which Gupta has won more than a handful of times.

LinkedIn’s [in]cubator program, co-founded by Gupta, allows employees to form teams and pitch project ideas to executive staff. Teams with promising projects get the green light to spend three months for further development.

Gupta says improvement is continuous and data-driven.

“We often say that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” she said.

LinkedIn’s Women in Technology Initiative, another effort co-founded by Gupta, challenges the gender imbalance in tech by having women at the company serve as role models for girls and young women.

Gupta advises them to seek out the kind of company culture she has found: “Look for examples of women who have done well or are in leadership positions in a company. If you find them, it’s a sign of a place that will be willing to invest in you and support your growth.”

Sea Change

According to current projections, there will be 1.2 million computing-related jobs in 2022, representing a lot of opportunity for the next generation of female techies.

Brown, once tentative to take that seat at the table, says she’s seen progress in recent years.

“Strong women are coming forward across the industry,” she said. “Things are changing.”


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Debjani Ghosh
Information & Communications Technology
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