Samsung UK: women should not allow self-doubt to hinder their careers

Samsung UK Marketing & Omnichannel Director Annika Bizon reveals why being unafraid to speak your mind is a superpower.

Asking a man if he had a pen proved to be a career-defining moment for Annika Bizon. This seemingly innocent question was asked during an all too familiar scenario facing women in business meetings with mostly men.

At the time, she was working in the film industry and was the youngest and only female sales director. Despite having a senior position, she was expected to take the meeting minutes.

She recalls: “At the first meeting, I thought that was how things were, but the second time when they said to make sure to take the minutes, I said, ‘why, do you not have a pen?’ It created tumbleweed across the room and changed my career with those guys.

“The other thing I realised very quickly is you’ve got to bring ‘you’ – don’t let your self-doubt hinder you – into a room. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t agree’ because it’s a superpower.”

Promoting DEI

Being unafraid to speak her mind is an important part of Bizon’s leadership style, especially regarding promoting diversity and inclusion. As Marketing & Omnichannel Director at Samsung UK, she has actively brought diversity into the team.

The company has several employee relations groups, and, importantly, they have voices that are being heard. DEI is now part of the recruitment process.

“I’m incredibly proud that Samsung UK had let me have a voice because I came into the business to make a change,” Bizon enthuses. “I sit on a Meta panel, part of which is around diversity and inclusion. We look at whether we are doing enough in our marketing and, as an industry that spends a lot of money on creatives, to promote diversity and inclusion in a tangible and realistic way.

“So, at Samsung, we started looking at our agencies, which recently highlighted that we had a very small section of the population working across our creative touchpoints.

“This has led me to sit on a committee called Solve for Tomorrow, an annual competition we hold for talented and diverse young people to help them channel and grow their innovation skills, to develop various technology for social good such as sustainability and accessibility. Samsung fund this and provide expert mentorship during and after the competition process.”

De-mystify tech to attract women

However, despite a commitment to DEI, the results from a Samsung-commissioned survey, published to coincide with this year’s International Women’s Day, showed that, while two-thirds of 18-25-year-old women could see a future tech career, respondents felt they didn’t understand enough about the industry to take the first steps.

Sadly, 92% of those surveyed couldn’t name a famous woman in tech, and one in 10 misidentified ITV’s Alison Hammond as a tech pioneer.

Bizon believes the best way to encourage more women into the tech industry is to de-mystify it. She explains: “Tech is exciting and fast-paced. Women do loads of things all at the same time, as a rule, and this industry has lots of things going on simultaneously.

“I’ve worked in tech for four years, and it’s not that different from any other industry. The same problems occur no matter what business you’re in. You’ve got to have a good foundation in terms of your skills and be proud of them.”

Transferable skills

In her case, the foundation is marketing and sales, skills she honed during the 16 years she spent at Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney.  She saw the change brought about due to MeToo and what it meant for the global business. When Walt Disney bought 20th Century Fox – the world’s biggest acquisition – Bizon helped to set up Disney+.

She was considering whether to remain in the industry or try another sector when Three Mobile came calling. They wanted to set up a business-to-business division and reach a broader audience.

“At that point, mobile and digital technology were merging, and I could see that I had transferable skills that would give a different point of view,” says Bizon. “I started in the B2B area and moved into their consumer division, working on everything from the partnership with Chelsea FC to the Gogglebox deal.”

Then she was contacted by Samsung, who were looking to set up an omnichannel approach, and she hasn’t looked back. Bizon was attracted by the idea of creating one clear message for consumers. She firmly believes that sales and marketing experience is transferable to any industry.

Challenging the norm

“I have brought in people from different sectors because I want diversity of thought,” she reasons. “I want people to say, ‘why are you doing that’ and ‘have you tried it this way’ because that thinking changes and shapes how a business will transform itself. You want to have as much diversity of thought as possible because you can challenge the norm, making you more competitive, innovative, and successful.

“My job is to market to the consumer and, if I haven’t got enough consumer [representation] sat around the table with me, I can never make good decisions on how to talk to that consumer. Consumers have always been at the heart of everything I do.”

Her earlier experience of being the only woman in a room and expected to deliver drinks and take minutes has made her more aware of inequality than many leaders. She believes older white men find it difficult to relate to DEI partly through fear.

“Some people will never change their minds and don’t understand where the lines are,” Bizon argues. “I try to make that conversation as easy as possible by doing it in a non-confrontational way. Humour solves many things, and I believe massively in good relationships. It’s all about openness because, if it’s something that everyone fears, it leads to no change.”

Coaching new managers

She aspires to nurture and support her team to the extent that it would make her redundant and enable someone else to take over. Certainly, Bizon has no truck with women who pull up the ladder as they rise through the ranks.

She says: “Funnily enough, women can sometimes not be nice to each other. It’s insecurity. If they’re pulling up the ladder, then they’re crippling themselves. Another frustration is putting someone into their first management role with little support. So, I spend much time coaching them in simple things that can make or break someone’s career.”

Bizon believes that DEI is strengthening in organisations every year and, as long as it continues the trajectory, eventually, the issues will no longer be topics of conversation as everyone will be part of the same team – but it will still take time.

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