"To build the digital workforce that the future demands, companies must recruit—and retain—women": Q&A with Karalee Close, BCG

December 17, 2019 | Karalee Close, BCG

Karalee Close, Partner and Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group, led an inspiring talk at our 2019 European Women in Tech conference in Amsterdam. Here she shares more insights about what excites her, who inspires her, and advice for other women in tech.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a Managing Director and Partner at BCG and I am the Global Leader of BCG’s Technology Advantage Practice. I am also the proud mother of two great kids and wife to my great husband Sune. We enjoy travelling, sailing and outdoor life. 

Throughout my career, I’ve had a passion for technology and how it changes business models. I have worked on digital, data and technology-enabled transformations across most industry sectors and I currently mainly focus on healthcare, consumer, private equity and public sector. 

I started my career in health informatics and, prior to joining BCG, I held senior management positions in Canadian Hospitals for over 8 years. I have an MBA from University of Toronto and a BSc in Health Informatics from University of Victoria. 

 

What’s a typical day at work like for you? 

I’m not sure there’s any 'typical day' for me – and that’s part of the fun! BCG works with the world’s most influential businesses, governments, and non-profits to help them address their most difficult questions and challenges. This means we are engaged not only across a wide range of industries, but also across functions and topics. The nature of the challenges I work on varies a great deal between clients but it almost always involves the intersection between technology and transformation.

If I had to describe a 'typical day', I would say it starts with my children, followed by a full and exciting day with clients and BCG teams, then it’s back to my children (ideally in person but via FaceTime if I’m travelling). I start with morning stand-ups to ensure we are prioritising our efforts and working efficiently, and then I’m on to a range of client and team meetings around the world where we are doing really innovative and high-impact things.

Our teams vary between projects, which means that I get to work with an amazing range of people with diverse backgrounds and expertise. We most often work in collaboration with our clients and I get a lot of energy out of finding new ways to solve important problems, helping our teams and clients grow their capabilities, and learning new things myself every day. Any work in digital strategy or transformation has to be highly collaborative in order to succeed. I also really enjoy team events and our practice meetings across the world – and celebrating the growth and development of our practice and our people.

 

What excites you most about working in the tech industry?

I’m fascinated by the interplay between technology and humanity. While there is a lot of focus, and concern, about technology replacing humans, the real focus—and excitement, not fear—should be directed on how technology can augment humans. This intersection of technology and people—or 'Tech + Humanity', as my colleagues and I like to frame the conversation—is one of the most critical, and too often overlooked, aspects of our increasingly digital, automated, algorithm-imbued world.

Technology is advancing rapidly – but it can only go so far on its own. As remarkable as AI and analytics and all the advanced new technologies we're developing are, only people can zero in on the right problems to solve and the right paths to take. Only people can unleash that uniquely powerful—and uniquely human—quality: creative thinking. And only people can collaborate in ways that spark new ideas and innovation. So as we continually perfect technology, we need to continually perfect the human component, as well.

A lot of my client work is focused on developing and leveraging the distinctly human capability to sharpen and guide our use of technology. We ask not what technology can do but what technology should do – to improve performance and to make a difference in the world. Today, technical advances are appearing at an unprecedented rate but how we use technology often lags well behind. By bringing technology and humanity closer together, we can drive innovation that brings unprecedented—and perhaps even unbounded—impact in business and society.

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What is the best part about working for BCG?

The best part about working with BCG is the impact we have in the world and the people we get to work with. We live our purpose, which is to unlock the potential of those who advance the world. This drives a real entrepreneurial and team spirit as well as a growth mind-set.

At BCG, we’re proud that our women in technology are some of our best consultants, world experts in their field, and global leaders. We’re a growing team, and place significant focus on developing a diverse set of leaders and encouraging women to go into technology consulting, so that they can help clients to solve their toughest tech challenges. I’ve personally been given tremendous opportunities and our leaders have great joy in seeing our women do fantastic things.  

One of our highest priorities is increasing the number, success, and satisfaction of women – in digital, analytics and technology and more broadly across our group of businesses. We offer global best-in-class career development, mentorship, and networking programmes to help women excel—personally and professionally—and the results have been overwhelmingly positive: the number of female partners has grown at three times the rate of male partners over the past four years.

Women make up more than 35% of our Executive Committee, and we are committed to making this number higher still. We have equal retention and promotion rates of men and women globally, and are committed to researching the challenges and opportunities organisations face in making the workplace work for women, and acting on those insights in order to keep improving. 

 

Why did you decide to get involved with European Women in Tech?

I was fascinated to see ~4000 women in technology in a single place… what a cool thing to do! I was excited for the energy and network we can build as women with shared interests and also to learning from others. BCG has deep research that has shown how diversity is disrupting tech and giving companies competitive advantage. This research suggests that to build the digital workforce that the future demands, companies must recruit—and retain—women. My goal is to make sure this important message gets shared as widely as possible, and the European Women in Tech conference offered the perfect opportunity to do just that.

 

What did you speak about at the conference and why did you choose this topic?

My speech was titled 'The Bionic Company', and focused on what the company of the future will look like and is part of our 'Winning in the 20s' leadership agenda. I chose this topic because Digital and AI are rapidly transforming industries, companies, our personal lives and our work. However, the primary barrier to progress today is not the technology itself but rather how we use the technology and how our organisational models and workforce adapts.

It’s relatively easy to change the model as a start-up but it’s really hard to change a large organisation and to scale innovation. I shared a point of view that addresses an integrated view for value creation, which focuses on strategy & purpose, outcomes, people and technology together. I also showed how organisations that combine the capabilities of humans and technology can develop superior customer experiences and relationships, more productive operations, and dramatically increased rates of innovation.

 

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What advice would you give to women who work in the tech industry? 

Go for it! Women are great tech leaders and our contributions in tech make a difference. BCG research has shown that there are real benefits—both operational and financial—to creating more gender-balanced workforces and leadership teams. Companies in which women are equally represented are more innovative and resilient, and women working at them have higher levels of engagement and ambition.

My advice to women who work in the tech industry is to be ambitious and to make a difference in your own way. Encourage each other, create new and different networks across organisational and functional boundaries… most of all, be your brilliant self! Only you can be you. 

 

Who is your female tech inspiration and why?

I have many different tech inspirations so it’s hard to choose. Most importantly, it’s the fantastic women I’m lucky to work with – the ones who are driven by passion and purpose and excited about the impact that technology has in the world. This includes CDOs and CIOs, the leaders in our ecosystem of partners, researchers in areas like quantum computing and AI, and our teams around the world. 

I’ve also been inspired by women who’ve pioneered and worked across traditional boundaries. For example, I’ve been particularly inspired by Saj Nicole Joni - she is a PhD mathematician, performing artist, CEO, coach, board member and author in the field of Connectional Intelligence. She was also the first woman in nearly every role she’s had, including 25 years of executive and board of director roles. What I’ve found inspiring is how she thinks about the hard questions we work on and how she builds deep connections. 

 

What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in tech? 

Go for it – and be your brilliant self. Women are fabulous in technology and there’s no better time to consider a career in tech. Market leaders are tech leaders and technology is more central to competitive advantage than ever. Yet talent remains a limiting factor at many organisations. 

With so many jobs in tech currently being advertised, it can be difficult for women to choose the right company to apply for. I would encourage women to actively look for opportunities to meet other women who already work in a company to understand the real story on leadership and culture. 


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