Claire Blythe, VP, global tech and operations at GfK (the AI-powered intelligence platform revolutionizing real-time access to critical knowledge), won Role Model of the Year at Computing’s recent Women in Tech Excellence awards. We ask for her secrets to success in technology leadership, and how women can rapidly advance their careers in the field.
What does your role encompass?
As the VP of global tech and operations for the Marketing and Consumer Intelligence arm of GfK, I look after a team of about 60 engineers and six project managers in global operations. My role is to set the strategy around our tools, systems, and processes, and ensure all relevant internal stakeholders are engaged. Stakeholders include scripters who create our surveys, data processors producing analytics and data visualisations, and project managers in charge of delivery. I need to ensure that we all understand each other’s requirements and that we deliver compelling services that power future growth.
What is your background?
It’s not a typical background in technology, but the various roles I have had were all crucial in bringing me to where I am today. After my drama degree, I got a job at the research company NOP as a telephone interviewer. NOP was later bought by GfK. I took various management roles in Operations before eventually moving into the global team. I was then asked to take leadership of the global tech team. I’m proud of my background. Sometimes, people talk down their early career, but my telephone interviewing was crucial in understanding the core processes and people we support now. My current role depends upon critical business problem-solving skills and working with the various expert capabilities within the team.
What achievements do you think led to your winning Role Model of the Year, and what does the award mean to you?
The award means a lot to me. It adds legitimacy to the background I have, and to the importance of having different skillsets. I’m sure that helped me stand out, as did having led various transformation projects. I am heavily involved in GfK’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives and co-founded a D&I group called Fast Forward, which has grown an enormous amount. We also set up a group for the Chief Product Officer (CPO) and Chief Tech Officer (CTO), run by three fantastic women, that includes several initiatives around bringing people of diverse backgrounds into GfK.
In your view, what are some of the keys to success for women in technology, and particularly in leadership positions?
For female leaders, like all leaders, it’s important to take a step back and have confidence in your team; to lead and support them as they use their own expertise. I have found that developing strong listening skills, being empathetic, promoting people’s strengths and abilities, and being open-minded, are all essential. It’s also crucial not to underplay one’s own skills: for women wanting to work and lead in technology, often the biggest barrier can be our own confidence. It’s important to recognise, and be confident about, what we bring to the table.
What advantages does a tech team with mixed backgrounds bring to companies?
There is huge value in hiring people from a variety of backgrounds. It helps foster different ideas and brings about growth in new ways. Genuinely valuing what matters to individuals is essential in building teams with a great mix of backgrounds. It’s important to understand people’s specific skills, alongside the values and priorities they have. Great employers appreciate that home life, and the work-life balance, are important for everyone, not only women – especially since the pandemic so profoundly changed our lives and ways of working.
What excites you for the future of your role?
We’re on a great growth trajectory. From a tech and operations perspective, supporting GfK’s AI-powered, multi-layered intelligence services, and seeing them evolve, makes this an exciting time. It’s going to be fascinating being at the centre, as we augment the technology and work closely with panels of consumers to ensure they have an ever more relevant and engaging experience. As a company, we’re very well placed strategically. I’m excited to play my part and lead my team on this path.
To find out more, visit gfk.com/careers.