An Interview with Ioana David

Shehzadi Aziz

August 09, 2020

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In June this year, I took part in Warwick Enterprise's Her Innovation Collective. This was a virtual program for students at the University of Warwick in the UK. It provided the opportunity to network with women in sectors such as technology, marketing, finance and startups. One of the live webinars featured Ioana David, a Global Marketing Coordinator at Boston Consulting Group, who spoke extensively about her role at BCG, gave advice and answered questions to students watching the webinar. Paola Stefania Garbini, her colleague at BCG described Ioana as an excellent example for ambitious young women. Ioana is also currently studying for her MBA. I spoke to her after the webinar series.

What is your role at BCG and your responsibilities?

In my role as Global Marketing Coordinator at Boston Consulting Group I balance my passion for data analytics with creative thinking and connect the dots between our clients, our expert knowledge and our leadership teams. Using a mix of physical and digital channels (phygital) we build on the community of financial services experts to connect the online and offline worlds and create closer, more efficient, and human experiences: on our website, our social media, in their inbox, or at events and webinars.

How do you regularly engage with technology in your job?

I am part of a completely virtual team, coordinating every day with my manager in Milan and business leaders around the world (in Paris, London, New Tork, Toronto, Singapore and beyond), and leading projects with three amazing team players in LA, Chicago and Munich.

The key to working together across time zones and geographical gaps is to anchor in the human side of virtual ways of working. We always keep our camera on for calls, and begin meetings just as we would in a meeting room, using instant messaging like Slack for chats and quick requests. For transparency we use Trello to organize our days and priorities, which is helpful to check on everyone's progress, especially when working hours don't overlap because of time zones.

Is there anything you still struggle with in your career? Do you believe these struggles have ever been due to your gender?

It might sound funny but until coming to London I have never really considered being affected by gender bias in the workplace; possibly I have been sheltered from that by my family and friends community. The access to information, whether data or solutions, made me aware of how to construct my path forward, leaning on the right resources, skills and people.

I am fortunate to come from a family and social environment where, in school, girls and boys are seen to be just as smart, as hardworking and good leaders, as long as they want to take that role. Most of my girl friends in high school went on to become doctors, architects, data scientists and lawyers.

Once confronted with data on pay gaps, start-up funding, and gender representation in different fields like STEM, I decided to do my part, work on myself and join communities of women who want to make a change, like the Noi Club, Women's World Banking and the work Women@BCG do. I am inspired by the work done in this space around the world and my dream is to bring a bit more of this back to my home country -- Romania.

At WITI we are largely concerned with the barriers that young women face in pursuing careers or further education studies related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). Do you have any particular opinions on this topic?

A statistic that really stuck with me from a BCG GAMMA study reveals that women make up just 35% of all STEM degrees. Of those, 25% make it into the STEM workforce—and only 15%-22% become data scientists. Why? Because 50% of women perceive the field as theoretical and low impact, and out of all women surveyed, 75% don't want to work in an industry perceived as low impact (while only 50% of men feel the same).

I believe some well-intentioned campaigns are still ‘pink-washing' STEM educational programs for girls, especially in tech, which might come from a biased view on what girls with interest in STEM want, without understanding their motivation.

How do we, as a society, incentivize girls, women, and those who identify as women to go into a technology field?

There is much work to be done still, and I think corporations could play a big role in breaking those barriers alongside government, academia, and NGOs. To me the key would be to actively listen to them and accommodate for diversity of thought.

For example, the tactics companies often use to attract talent in data science and tech, such as hackathons and Kaggle, do not always meet women's (nor all men's!) favor. (Being stuck in a crowded room, working overnight on an imaginary problem is not attractive for everyone). As the report points out, many of us prefer work that is highly collaborative, meant to solve real business problems together—not perfecting a model in isolation.

As a society we need to actively support normalizing this career choice for girls, young women, and women who look for a career change by keeping the conversation active and wide-reaching, and connecting to real role models at different stages of their career. Programs like Her Innovation Collective are a great example of combining learning, mentorship, and visualising career tracks.

Do you feel like you have encountered a lack of diversity in your day-to-day job?

In my role at BCG I am lucky to have a very diverse team from every point of view, working with a leadership team strongly involved in making all voices heard. Being part of a global team implies having a deeper understanding of differences in thinking and finding the best way to adapt our messages to the community, which is complex and difficult at times, but we constantly learn how to be better. This is where my studies in sociology and anthropology have contributed immensely, in testing, listening and implementing.

We still have a long way to go, and as we engage voices at events, in newsletters and on social media, we try to show diversity in our role models.

Could you tell us about the pathway that brought you to the career role you have now?

I have always been fascinated by storytelling and the intricate art of communication. At the same time my father showed me how to use a PC since I was 5 years old on a rickety self-built device -- showing me pre-Windows OS, which was the debut to my interest in how computers work, and frankly experimenting with the growing world of gaming, the internet, systems, data, etc.

Despite being a math-athlete in high school, I loved everything about the creative power of problem solving, power of words, and graphic design. So I decided to study PR and Communication in Bucharest. Studying psychology, geopolitics, history and argumentation theory created the foundation of quickly understanding people, environments and adapting to them.

Much like coding, I understood that to be successful in communication I needed to understand the right parameters to guide my strategy by. So data analytics have always been a huge part of my work, whether I worked in advertising, marketing, lobbying, PR, events or brand management. Research is everything. Data is gold.

As I started my third year of university, I reached out to one of the top advertising agencies (on Facebook messaging!), shared my CV and asked them if they had any internship opportunities. These were much simpler times. They replied they never had an intern before, as they had only been operating the Bucharest branch for a few years, but would like to meet me. I went in there with my passion turned to the max, booming with ideas and they liked me, and I started "piloting" their graduate program. It helped to show why I loved the space, how up-to-date I am with industry news and my volunteering experience showed I was ready to go the extra mile.

Fast forward to three years later. I developed an interest in really understanding clients, and so once in London I started working in luxury branding, where I blended sociology and marketing to enhance brand experience and bridge the gap between data and feelings. That was a great playing ground to learning to profile and segment audiences, which brought me to the role I have now at BCG.

I read your piece on Medium about how it is important for companies to ‘connect the dots between data and feelings' in order to meet the demands of customers. Do you believe that this is something where women in the workplace are especially valuable in understanding the customers' behavior?

Absolutely! With a third of the world's wealth under their control, women have become a sizable economic force. Although banks offer products designed for women, the gender distinctions are often superficial and reflect outdated assumptions about women's role in driving wealth and their interest in managing their financial affairs. Team diversity at the stage of creating a product is really important, because of how we can interpret data, based on the segment's pain points. Of course women should be involved in creating products (not just for women, but for every segment). They will have unique insights on the behavior of customers, seeing other angles of approach.

However, women represent 50% of the world's population so continuing to bundle this large and varied group into one generic diversity box is outdated and reductive. We need to listen to the data. In an article I wrote after attending Women's World Banking's annual meeting, I looked at how much the world would be impacted if we looked more closely at women as banking customers.

And finally, are there any particular podcasts, books, or other materials you love and would recommend to other ambitious women?

My personal favorite books are It's a good time to be a girl by Helen Morissey, who taught me that I do not need to be perceived as "masculine" to be a good leader, and rather than lean in, I can thrive on my diverse set of skills. Julia Dexter's book Good company inspired me to push on disrupting the status quo and not being scared of dreaming big. Resources I value are the conversation on the Noi Club Facebook group, which made me find kindness in leadership and working, and SmartPurse has a lot of tips on financial literacy, which I believe is what will help us smash the glass ceiling once and for all. A final recommendation is my favorite podcast, "Women at Work" by HBR, which in fact has an amazing episode on STEM students in the US and generational differences.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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