Kirsten Allegri Williams and Christine Bongard, Optimizely’s new Director of Strategic Alliances as well as the co-founder and president of WIT Network, sat down to discuss the future of women in technology, diversity in the workplace, and how Optimizely can drive change.
KIRSTEN ALLEGRI WILLIAMS: Christine, welcome to Optimizely! We’re so excited to have you on the team, bringing your years of experience building partnerships. I’d love to hear a bit more about your background and about what it’s like driving new relationships with other tech giants to accelerate new business.
CHRISTINE BONGARD: Thank you for the warm welcome, Kirsten! I had the most incredible opportunity to be part of a tech startup where I ran operations for the organization for over 25 years. Part of my role was forming strategic partnerships with big players, and it was all about finding the right fit. What’s key to the success of those relationships is sharing the same vision and understanding the joint result that you want to see at the end. Then, you must put metrics, checkpoints, and accountability in place to make sure those partnerships deliver. You can find a ton of partners who want to work with you, but if you don’t have that accountability, and people aren’t delivering, it just doesn’t work. Plus, we are only looking for a few really strategic alliances to help us empower more people to unlock their digital potential, so finding the right alliances is crucial.
KAW: When we think about how customers buy today, the relationship with their agency partner is paramount to creating the digital experience strategy. Given what you know about our business so far, what is the first step that you want to embark on in your new role here?
CB: Partnership is all about getting to market and growing scale faster than what you can do on your own. So we’ll take a look to identify any gaps that we feel we have and from there, identify the players in the market that we can bring into strategic partnerships so that we can then scale up and grow Optimizely’s reach. I’m excited to see what we uncover!
KAW: So why Optimizely?
CB: First of all, Optimizely is a top leader in the Magic Quadrant for the digital commerce experience! … who doesn’t want to be part of a company that is at the top of its game, fast-growing, and well respected in the industry? The digital experience market is growing at 10-20% per year and with a $20B addressable market, we have work to do! Also, one of my dear friends works for the company and shared that it has a great culture, supportive environment, and a tech-first approach. And I just love technology and I love being a part of strategic initiatives to help grow organizations.
KAW: Not only are you our new Director of Strategic Alliances here at Optimizely, but you’re also the co-founder and president of The WIT (Women in Technology) Network, a community of professionals across the world that believe in making it easier for women to imagine, begin and develop a career in IT. It’s so exciting to have a leader like yourself join our company as someone who’s also a huge advocate for diversity in tech, across every spectrum of the term. Tell us a little bit about WIT and the inspiration behind that!
CB: I grew up in the tech industry and oftentimes was the only woman at the table in meetings and at conferences. I wanted to take that experience and use my influence to make further change for the people coming behind me. Women need the support right now; you’ll read every report that says women are not represented in leadership, they’re not represented in technical roles. I want to change that. We founded the WIT Network two and a half years ago and we’ve since grown it to almost 7000 women around the world in 61 countries, so I guess other people agree with me!
KAW: What do you think are the biggest challenges in creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment in the tech industry?
CB: I think the challenges are that many women do not have the same opportunities as men do. Hopefully, this is changing, but two of them that we consistently hear about are being offered technical training and leadership educational opportunities. Through our programs, we hope to bring women in and connect them to companies like Optimizely. We have about 60 corporate accounts that are part of The WIT Network now, and all of these companies are saying to me, “We want to bring more women into these roles. Can you help us connect?” We have over 3 million women out of work due to Covid. Let’s get to work and build those connections.
KAW: When I think about diversity in a tech company, it shouldn’t be considered a separate initiative sitting on the side. You have to have inclusivity in the core business strategy right at the inception of the product development lifecycle. You just mentioned recruiting as one example, but what do you think we need to do to bring diversity and inclusivity, particularly for women and girls, into the places that matter the most in the tech industry?
CB: I think it starts with an evaluation. I love that you’re asking those questions. This whole initiative has to be bought in at a leadership level — you can’t have people at lower levels trying to push this agenda if the leadership team is not 100% on it. I know that Optimizely’s leadership team is all in, which is great. But I think it starts with taking a hard look at those individual teams to ask if we feel we have diversity in each of the teams and whether all voices are being heard.
We also have to be more open and look for stronger professional skills, soft skills, and people we know will be a good fit. Corporations have to take some responsibility in attracting diverse candidates, which might mean being less strict about whether someone has a master’s degree or other rigorous qualifications. You can always teach people the technology. You can always put a little bit of time and money into a more robust product training program once they come in. Leadership can work with HR to target women and build up career paths by helping them fill out their skill sets to make them eligible for promotion and leadership positions.