In honour of Women’s History Month, and our campaign to raise the volume on women’s voices in business, Customer Experience Magazine is honoured to host an interview with Simonetta Turek. She is the Chief Product Officer at Medallia, and has already made a huge push forward in their AI innovation initiatives. This conversation will delve into her remarkable journey and insights as a female leader. 

Please briefly share with us your history in CX and the tech industry, and your journey to where you are now at Medallia. 

I have been in the broader CX industry since the early 2000s at Genesys, but my career started in investment banking. I’ve taken a few detours along the way, including my own startups and tech in agro-chem, before returning to CX via AWS, then Twilio and now at Medallia. I have been predominantly in the B2B and B2B2C space in my career and managed P&Ls from 0 to $2B.  I have been both on the product/technology side and in operations (post-sales, customer facing) and managed P&Ls up to $2B.

Your background is extremely impressive and you must have witnessed the tech industry’s evolution to where it is now. What do you think of the state of the sector now?

There has never been a dull moment in tech!  Now we’re at another one of those interesting inflection points where we will see technology change business and operating models, how we live our lives, how we interact with the world. It’s a moment of intensive innovation with vast troves of data being generated and harnessed and utilised by emerging technologies across so many industries from biotech and healthcare, to environmental monitoring and smart cities, and so on.  I don’t believe there are many areas in our lives, in the economy, socially and culturally, that are left untouched. 

You’ve also played a huge part in Medallia’s AI product innovation. This is a huge success and AI is only becoming more prevalent for companies, and society as a whole. Why, in your expert opinion, is the hype with Gen AI valid? Where is its future headed?

GenAI has the potential to fundamentally change how we create, solve problems, shape and experience our world. Challenges do exist, but the promise is also immense, and we’re only just scratching the surface of possibilities. 

And for me there are two aspects to this. One is the rapid innovation of the foundational technologies. For example, the advancements of specialised hardware such as TPUs and GPUs for computing power, advancements in edge computing, distributed computing frameworks and of course advancements in deep learning. And, second, it is then how these technologies are coming together in various applications of GenAI, and AI more broadly, as I mentioned earlier.

In light of women’s history month, we need to address how your background is also extremely inspirational to other women’s professional development. We know that it’s difficult for women to climb the corporate ladder – in fact, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally is only 31%. How can we encourage women to  not only believe in and advocate for their progression, but make changes company-wide?

Just as in other aspects of life, representation matters. Having proportionate numbers of women in leadership and women with different abilities and leadership styles is important.  Earlier in my career, there would, at best, only be one or two women leaders, generally in HR or perhaps Legal roles but none in tech leadership roles. I admired them for their achievements. Yet I often found that the predominant message was still: “Don’t rock the boat, emulate how men act but be willing to be subservient, fit in, etc.”  I think, thankfully, that has slowly changed and not only is there more opportunity for women in all leadership roles, but more opportunity to have women and diverse styles in leadership. 

But, we’re not where we need to be yet, and promoting women’s professional development and addressing gender disparities in the workplace requires a multifaceted, intentional approach and a willingness, across company leadership, to set a different tone.

There is a need to look at the data continuously and question what it means. If you are seeing increased numbers of departures in certain functions, dive in, understand why and put renewed strategies in place. If you see a lack of diversity in your talent pipeline, question why and take the actions and new strategies to change it, and so on. Introspection and inspection, together with intentional and targeted action, make a difference, especially when coupled with traditional activities such as mentorship and sponsorship, recognition, training and development,  networking and advocacy.

With it being your expertise, let’s talk tech. Women only make up 33% of the tech industry, and only 86 women are promoted to senior positions for every 100 men. What do you make of this? What are some practical ways that we can start to narrow these gaps?

Yes, it’s been slow progress. And only 17% of tech companies have a woman as CEO. For me there are key areas that, as mentioned earlier, with continuous inspection and focused actions, can move the needle. This includes targeted recruitment and retention programs, transparent criteria and anti-bias focused, well-calibrated promotion evaluations, and a very data-driven approach with inspection and accountability at its core.

I also understand that you have an interest in mentorship. Can you touch on this and why it may be crucial for women to lean on their female mentors for professional support and development?

I find that it is important for women, especially early on but really all throughout their careers, to have access to and be exposed to as many role models as possible.  Leaning on and learning from different female mentors offers the opportunity for guidance on gender-specific challenges such as handling bias and stereotypes or how to assert oneself without conforming to gender expectations. I have often relied on mentors and a strong network of women to help guide me on everything from negotiating a new employment contract, to managing work-life balance and busting through feelings of imposter syndrome.

Finally, any pieces of advice or final words of wisdom to companies to ensure the wellbeing of their female employees to empower them?

The data speaks for itself. Research from McKinsey and BCG, among many with data widely available, consistently show that companies with greater gender diversity (and diversity generally) on their boards and in leadership consistently outperform less diverse peers, with higher operating margins, higher return on sales and higher earnings per share.  So, even if gender diversity from a social justice perspective is not a priority for you, better business outcomes should be the motivation to focus on gender diversity and empowering women in your organisation.

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