Meet the Women in Leadership at FocusVision
I’ve worked in Technology much longer than I ever like to admit. Truth is, I started my career in 1990 at Ziff-Davis: ground zero for technology publishing at the time. Compuserve; dial-up modems; Visi-Calc; the first Mac; the first 20- pound laptop, which we jokingly called a luggable… I’ve pretty much seen it all. It’s no secret that women in leadership isn’t the norm at Technology companies and I can attest to that. So when I came to FocusVision at the beginning of May, I was delighted to see almost a 50/50 split in leadership roles. This was a first for me.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I sat down with three of my colleagues here at FocusVision that awe and inspire me every day: Zhana Baleva, Chief Services Officer; Zoe Dowling, PhD., SVP Research, and Rachel Serrano, Chief Human Resources Officer. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know them as much as I have…
Q: Tell us a little background: who are you, what makes you unique, why are you here?
Zhana Baleva: My name is Zhana Baleva and I am the Chief Services Officer at FocusVision. I have always loved technology and started my career as a software engineer during my studies in university. A month into my internship I realized I really enjoyed and was quite good at working with customers and translating complex concepts to non-technical people. Shortly after, I moved to sales and customer service. In the following years, I grew interested in marketing and market research and added degrees in those areas. That led me to ActiveGroup and then FocusVision, where all those skills intertwined into one career.
While FocusVision is not exactly a household name, the work we do touches the lives of millions of consumers around the globe. From helping Fortune 500 brands determine next year’s TV model, the looks of a website or design a new bank service, nothing is out of scope for us. And this versatility is what I love the most about working for FocusVision.
Zoe Dowling: I like to say I am a blend of researcher, technologist, sociologist, and marketer. I also have a rich background across functions, industries, and countries. Like many of us within the consumer insights industry, I found my way into this career path by default rather than design. I am a classically trained researcher, beginning my career in the academic world exploring new and exciting technology, the internet, as a tool for social scientists followed by doctoral studies exploring web surveys for mandatory government business surveys. In 2007, I joined the market research industry with a position at Kantar Added Value in communications testing but quickly moved into a full-time innovation role exploring all that was new and exciting for consumer research. I’ve been fortunate to marry my love of technology, research and culture for my entire career. Here at FocusVision, these loves collide with technology that enables researchers, like myself, to speak to people in culturally relevant and engaging ways.
Rachel Serrano: I’m a mother, wife, daughter, friend and the head of HR here at FocusVision. I am a quiet but insightful person who enjoys sitting in the back of the room and getting a pulse before I jump in on the conversation. I enjoy reading, walking (working up to running), gardening and I am currently obsessed with the app Design Home. My career started in human resources at higher education then healthcare and CPG. I’ve enjoyed having a diverse industry background as it has made me appreciate each for its unique qualities and has bolstered my experience and depth of knowledge in human resources. I’ve held an appreciation for research and technology, so I was excited about the opportunity to come to FocusVision. I came here because I believed in the team that was being built and the mission the company was on. I knew it was going to be a challenging one, but it would reap the reward of a successful company. I’m happy to say, I wasn’t wrong.
Q. What motivates you and excites you?
Zoe: Technology in general (there’s nothing better than getting to play with a shiny new gadget or app) but more importantly, technology for good – that is technology that makes our lives better in some shape or form. A big part of this is how technology connects us.
In the mid-1980s my parents moved us from Dublin, Ireland to a small city named Umtata, which was then the capital of the former independent homeland Transkei in South Africa. My parents were both philosophers and lectured at the University. For many years, we didn’t have a home landline, and even if we had, international calls needed to be connected by the international operator. So on the 19th June, my grandmother’s birthday, our family of four got in the car and drove to the Holiday Inn, then one of only two hotels in this fairly rural city, to place the international call to wish her a happy birthday. And of course, this all needed to be done as quickly as possible due to the extortionate cost of the call.
What a different picture that would have been today. We each would have shared our own messages to my grandmother via text, image or video calling, spending as much or a little time during the day with her as we liked, with cost not a thought as we are connected by our devices in our pocket. The thing is, whether an expensive long-distance call connected by an operator or a quick hello via Skype, the idea remains the same – to communicate with my grandmother, wish her a happy birthday and ask her how she is.
This is much the same for research. While a lot has changed in the way that we speak to people and ask them questions about their lives, the idea is still the same. We ask them in one of two ways: quantitative survey or qualitative inquiry and seek to understand their world, their truths. By asking questions, research can change business through understanding one another. But we need to make sure that the questions asked are the right ones, asked in the right way, to the right people and so while technology has opened the doors to multiple new ways of asking questions, we mustn’t forget the fundamentals guiding research design principles. This is what motivates me – taking our research technology and applying it in the best way possible to understand people’s lives.
Zhana: I am at my best when I’m challenged. Navigating complex scenarios, experimenting and adapting makes me tick. One of the most exciting and challenging conundrums my team and I had to solve in 2018/2019 was how to transform 6 vastly different companies into a single brand; unifying operations to work in lockstep with each other. Having the freedom to experiment, sometimes fall short, sometimes thrive but ALWAYS learn from our experiences have allowed us to make tremendous progress.
In my inner circle, I am surrounded by a lot of ambitious and successful women. Often times, they share how exhausting it is to juggle between being a mother and being successful in the workplace. My response to this is- Life is not a race or a competition. Give your best to both worlds but most importantly make sure you are happy and content as an individual.
Rachel: I am motivated by family and helping people succeed in their careers. My family is the linchpin for my drive and success. I want to set a great example for my daughters so they can achieve their full potential. To be a mom of two young girls is very motivating. My goal is to encourage them to break the ceiling and go as far as they can in accomplishing their dreams despite any obstacle they encounter. There is no greater reward than helping people succeed. I delight in being a mentor and advocate to both men and women but really push my efforts towards empowering women. I encourage and assure them that they can do it all! It’s hard work, exhausting but so rewarding. Women can balance marriage, family, career and other commitments. It’s a balancing act that takes a lot of energy, drive, and persistence.
Q. How do you help, mentor or support other women?
Rachel: I offer my support by challenging people to go beyond their comfort zone, be solutions oriented and make decisions. I wholeheartedly believe that you can only grow when you try new things outside your comfort. I provide mentorship, advice, insight and share my experiences (the good and the bad) but I think I’m most known for providing opportunity. I will give any driven individual an opportunity to prove that they can do a job. I take pride in helping people reach their full potential. Beyond my mentorship, I reach out and offer my encouragement and continued motivation.
Zoe: Formally I’m part of the WiRe mentorship program, a non-profit community that advances the contributions and voices of women in research. The role and use of insights within an organization continue to evolve providing more opportunity than ever for insights professionals, both women, and men, and I believe education has never been more important to empower these transformational researchers in their business-critical roles. To help support this, I’m an active voice in the community as well as recently designing a course called Emerging Methods and the Future of Market Research that was added to the University of Georgia Professional Courses.
Zhana: We are proud to employ a diverse workforce of professionals at FocusVision. I make an effort to empower both men and women in my team equally. I encourage them to take full ownership, providing freedom and support by eliminating bureaucracy and roadblock in their way. Good ideas can come from everywhere.
Whenever I am asked for career advice by a female colleague or friend, I always recommend a book that was transformational for me – The Glass Wall by Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacob. It boils down to the fact that women rarely speak up about their achievements and don’t get noticed. So be proud of your work and share your ideas!
About Dawn Colossi
As CMO of FocusVision, Dawn Colossi drives worldwide marketing strategy to build the brand and create demand. She has built an always-on customer-driven marketing model based on big data, including intent signals and digital body language; and small data which allows an understanding and clear perspective of what drives behavior and decisions to increase FocusVision’s revenue and market share.