Abby Godee, Chief Experience Officer at Publicis Sapient leads the global Experience designed to deliver successful Digital Business Transformation. In effect, Abby enables companies to break out of their cultural and organisational silos to connect the dots and solve critical business problems. 

At Publicis Sapient, I lead our global Experience practice which is one of five capabilities that we believe are essential to deliver Digital Business Transformation. Those five capabilities are Strategy, Product, Experience, Engineering and Data and we refer to them together as SPEED. In my role as Chief Experience Officer, I am focused on the human experience of transformation, whether it is the experience of a consumer, an employee, a patient, a citizen, a customer, or a service representative. This focus is unique because the typical transformation story is about technology advancements and business process simplification, but we believe that if people aren’t central to the story, they don’t thrive, and the business value will never truly be delivered.

I live in Amsterdam, am married to a Dutch designer, and have two amazing kids. We’ve decided to raise our kids here in the Netherlands after previously living in Silicon Valley, Seattle, and NYC. I would say that my career has been defined through working at the intersection of business, design, and technology. I understood many years ago that if these three perspectives didn’t exist in balance with one another, then the end user and the business outcomes would both suffer.

I’ve just celebrated my first anniversary at Publicis Sapient and I am having the time of my life. The complexity and weight of transformation challenges that Publicis Sapient is taking on across the globe keeps my job exciting. Our experience team of almost 1,500, has an important role to play in listening to and understanding the people who will be impacted and making sure their needs come first.

The kinds of challenges we tackle can be as critical as helping patients and their families navigate the complexities of getting to the right diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, through intelligent and personalized digital healthcare experiences. Or something as commercial as helping one of the world’s most famous retailers eliminate the biggest frustrations in the shopping and check out experience. All these experiences matter, whether they’re life altering or life enhancing. People deserve to be supported by technology not disadvantaged by it.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not. Since I chose to study cultural anthropology, I didn’t even consider pursuing a career in product design and innovation. At one point I was studying West African textile traditions. However, when I look back across my career, I see everything I’ve focused on has been about people—how they interact with the artifacts and experiences in their daily lives. It’s always been a fascination for me, but the context has shifted over time. I realized my passion was helping improve people’s everyday experiences. While I started working in low-tech home products, I saw a disruption coming from software and technology. I realized I could have a greater impact by looking at the human experience as part of digital transformation.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I’ve worked in many environments throughout my career where I have been the minority, either because I was an American living in the Netherlands, because I was a woman working in technology or as a female executive in a boardroom full of men. In some ways I’ve benefited from having a voice that was different from others in the room. Being a voice with a different point of view can allow you to be heard in a way that others are not.

Looking back, I remember my first role in executive corporate leadership. I joined my first leadership team meeting in the big board room, and I can remember being insecure about even where to sit and what to say during the meeting. Pretty soon I just started doing what I normally do, and saying what I thought would make a positive contribution, and before long, I was reassured by the CEO that he really appreciated the fact that I engaged more broadly and contributed beyond just my functional area. It was a good reminder to always consider how your knowledge connects to the bigger picture. If we think in silos, we operate in silos. That moment was validating for me, and it built my confidence.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m living my biggest career achievement right now. Building on Publicis Sapient’s amazing 30-year legacy and commitment to experience is such a privilege. I am fortunate to have so much support from our CEO and my partners across our leadership team. With this support I’m building upon our foundation to create a once in a lifetime global experience team that’s capable of taking on the transformational challenges of our times.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?

I have always been curious about and thought actively about how to connect the dots between all the different disciplines needed to drive innovation and transformation and deliver amazing experiences. That perspective has shaped everything I do. I’ve also always worked in a way that defied the boundaries that usually existed within companies, working instead to break down silos which enables the real strength of an organization to shine through.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel their career in technology?

Don’t just learn about the technology in which you aspire to achieve expertise. Focus also on learning about the different industry verticals in which your area of expertise would be applied. Learn the language of different capabilities you will be required to partner with to deliver something. Don’t just live within your own expertise and community, make sure that you’re inclusive with everyone and everything it takes to deliver something to market.

What barriers for women working in tech, are still to be overcome?

I believe that things have greatly improved in recent years; however, I think some of the barriers still exist. Often, I think the barriers are there because people are not aware of the impact their behaviours can have. That is why it is so important for organisations to invest in raising awareness around inherent biases or behaviors that exclude people and their ability to bring their best to an organisation. Some of the most incredible women I know still say that no matter how much they realize that they are appreciated and valued, they still sometimes find it hard to be heard in, what can be, a very male culture. This conversation about inclusion isn’t just about gender though. I talk to my friends and colleagues a lot about needing to also find space for more introverted people to be heard in corporate cultures that often favor more extroverted personality types.

Another barrier that I’m quite interested in helping to address, is about attracting girls to STEM in the first place. There is a lot of research out there about girls losing interest in STEM throughout their academic careers with significant drop-off cliffs occurring as early as fifth grade. Lack of support—from teachers, parents, and other role models is a main driver, as well as lack of understanding around what a career can look like.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women in technology?

The first step to having equity is recognizing inequities that persist. As an example, Publicis Sapient created the RISE development program for women in continuation of our commitment to gender diversity and equity and to support the growth and elevation of women and underrepresented genders both professionally and personally. The program is composed of three elements for women—receiving coaching and guidance through sponsorship with an executive leadership sponsor; mentoring via a global technology enabled platform that enables individuals to find a suitable mentor, schedule meetings, and track progress; and specific skills development via learning programs. We also have a program called Spring in India which supports women reentering the workforce after a career break. Many are hesitant to look for full-time positions due to the prevalent bias of organizations towards people who take a break. Programs like these go beyond just discourse about inclusivity and flexibility but back policies, programming, and benefits to truly support talent through every career and life stage.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

To start, a lot more research and investment into getting young girls and women invested in STEM is needed. There aren’t enough great teachers who spend the time educating and teaching girls to get them engaged in the material and content. How can we stop treating technical capability as this binary thing, where one either intrinsically has it, or they don’t? We need to be able to approach the topic and teach the material in more ways than is currently on offer in our education systems.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Having one or more mentors is very important. Ultimately, women-focused resources have advantages, but it is critical to combine with other leadership sources. Women should create their own resources based on the needs they cannot find in the market. I’m fortunate to have incredible female leaders on my team today who have done just that. From hiring a male executive coach to creating circles of women focused on power and inclusion for female leaders at work.

Publicis Sapient started a podcast called Own Your Potential several years ago about incredible and diverse career journeys, professional self-advocacy, personal branding, executive presence and taking ownership of your career. With over 100 episodes now, this is an amazing resource for anyone looking for inspiration and advice on their own journey.