Decision Culture US CEO Kristina Jensen On Why You Shouldn’t Let Gender Inequality Hold You Back

By Isabel Wong

While most developed economies still continue to look for ways to tackle gender issues in the workplace, Decision Culture US CEO Kristina Jensen said sometimes the best way to approach it is to focus less on it and go for the opportunities that you want.

With over two decades of experience in advanced data analytics, Kristina Jensen has worked as a senior executive in firms such as AT&T and Cox Communications. (Photo: Courtesy of Kristina Jensen)

Raised in Denmark, a notoriously gender-neutral country, the senior analytics and data science leader said Denmark achieved a high degree of gender equality by providing equal opportunity for women and men, letting all children have the same experiences since a young age, while always having female role models in all aspects of the society.

Jensen also told Lynk the growing trend in developed economies is that female professionals are not holding back in terms of putting themselves forward for leadership roles, which she thinks will help make the world more gender-balanced and overtime, the gender angle will become less relevant in most decision making processes.

L: Lynk | K: Kristina Jensen

L: Kristina, you used to hold analytics leadership roles at telecommunications companies in the US. Are there any gender-related issues in the industry? Have you ever encountered any challenges as a woman in your career along the way?

K: Looking at the top leadership, men still clearly hold well over 50 percent of the positions. When you go further down into the organization, the percentage starts to even out with women and men more equally represented.

I work in a field that tends to over index towards men, but I have not personally felt disadvantaged as a woman. In fact, I think it gave me an opportunity to stand out and be noticed. While women are still underrepresented in the top leadership positions today, that is starting to change. I think the younger generations of women are not holding back, and over time the whole gender conversation will take up much less focus. So all in all, I think we are moving in the right direction.

L: You grew up in Denmark where there is a relatively higher degree of overall gender equality compared to the rest of the world, what is Denmark doing differently to nurture such a gender neutral environment?

K: Denmark is not perfect and from a salary perspective, Danish women on average over a lifetime still earn less than men. That being said, Denmark is one of the highest ranked countries on the Gender Equality Index. There are probably several factors that play a part including the culture, political power, access to education and economic opportunity. 

In 2019, Denmark ranked second in the European Union on the Gender Equality Index and had a higher score than the entire EU. (Photo: unsplash.com)

I think it is hard to pin-point one thing, but when I look back at my experiences, these are some of the things that stand out to me:

  • Paid maternity leave for both men and women along with subsidized child care
  • Female role models in power, almost 40 percent of the Danish parliament is women so you get used to seeing women in power
  • Denmark is a fairly open society and quick to adopt new ideas and new ways of thinking
  • Having a culture that exposes kids to the same experiences regardless of gender at an early age. Examples include having Physical Education lessons together through middle school and high school, having cooking classes in the sixth and seventh grades, and scouts are co-ed also
  • The lines between genders are not as clearly drawn, and Danes have a fairly relaxed attitude towards boys and girls mingling at all ages

L: With that being said, what does gender equality mean to you?

K: To me, gender equality really means equal opportunities. For example, gender should not be part of the consideration when you decide what you want and can be in life and what is expected of you. It is not a consideration when hiring someone, how you should pay them, all voices should be equally important.

L: You mentioned the idea of embracing the differences between male and female as they ultimately have two different sets of advantages, how will an ideal gender inclusive environment function in your opinion?

K: Studies show that even in countries where you have almost a year of maternity leave and subsidized child care, women’s average earnings are on par with men up until childbirth, and fall below men’s salaries after childbirth.

Studies found that even in Denmark, children are career killers for women. (Chart: Slate)

Right or wrong, this is understandable as priorities and desires may change with having children. As a mother of three, I would love to see large corporations offering more flexibility around job sharing, part-time positions that give parents/employees options to scale up and down their work time as they navigate through parenting.

L: What advice do you have for women who are navigating through industries and societies where gender equality is still a challenge?

K: This may sound a little backwards, but I would say try not to make it a big focus. Instead, stay focused on what you want and stay true to who you are, and advocate for what you want because it is the right thing. I think things will generally fall into place if it’s meant to happen. Sometimes when you focus so much on one thing, you end up limiting yourself in your thinking, and sometimes read too much into a situation.

After over 20 years in the telecommunications industry, Jensen is now the CEO of a technology and business analytics firm helping companies make better decisions with advanced data analytics. (Photo: Courtesy of Kristina Jensen)

L: Back in university, you chose to study decision sciences, what prompted you to make that decision?

K: I was in a mathematical track in high school and we got exposed to how to use maths to solve business problems. I was highly intrigued by it and I liked having facts to justify my answers. It felt very intuitive to me, and it ultimately made me re-consider becoming a law student.

L: Companies are collecting a huge amount of data by building platforms and leveraging technology, but very few of them are using the data they have to come up with actionable business insights. But your company, Decision Culture, addresses exactly that. What does it take for businesses to successfully apply data analytics in their operations?

K: In order to reach a state where you are truly using data to drive value, you need to have the right data infrastructure, tools, the right skill set and processes in place to monetize your data. The first step is to get clear on your current state and what you are trying to achieve. Once you understand where you are on the maturity curve in terms of infrastructure and data utilization, you can effectively assess the gap and put a plan in place to achieve your short- and long-term goals.  

Your short-term goals may be your low hanging fruit and generally a stepping stone to get to the next level.  For instance, you may need to do a POC to prove out a concept and get the proper organizational buy-in and funding to reach your long-term goal. 

In my last role with AT&T Business, we started an initiative to use data to drive value as a discipline. We worked across the organization to identify a number of hypotheses, we estimated the value, and ordered them by rank, and then focused on a handful. After six months of deep dive analysis, we had identified USD$46 million in potential cost savings. This became the springboard to dedicate more resources to this type of activity.

L: What are the key benefits for companies who integrate data analytics in their operations as opposed to those without a proper data analytics infrastructure?

K: Data driven organizations tend to overall make better informed decisions compared to organizations that operate without strong data processes. Better informed decisions generally lead to more revenue and reduced cost over time. Data driven processes with high transparency also provide a common framework or baseline for everyone to operate from. If executed correctly, it can be an effective way to get a large organization to focus on the same idea and drive alignment.

Decision Culture pointed out many companies are collecting a huge amount of data but not leveraging it to generate actionable business insights. (Chart: Courtesy of Decision Culture)

A perfect example of this from AT&T was our percentage digital metric. The telecommunications firm’s CEO Randall Stephenson put out an aspirational target of having 80 percent of all customer interactions be digital by 2020.  The metric drove strong collaborations across call centers, stores and digital departments working together to shift more activity to digital while holding all groups accountable.

Other examples to discuss: When variables are selected in the machine learning process, we often see that our most common beliefs don’t hold up or we gain a much more nuanced understanding on how well those common beliefs stand.

This interview is a part of Lynk Elite Expert Women interview series, click here to learn more about the initiative.