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Kumsal WIT story

The secrets to career progression and closing the gender gap in tech

June 10, 2021

By Kumsal Bayazit

At the Women in Technology World Series, Elsevier's CEO shares career strategies for women — and why it's critical to improve inclusion and diversity in tech

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit’s keynote speech at the Women in Technology World Series Online Festival(opens in new tab/window). The event, from June 7–11, features leaders from tech-forward companies around the world.

Hello everyone, I’m delighted to join you today to continue to make progress towards having equal representation of women in technology.

Let me briefly introduce myself and our company. I am the CEO of Elsevier, a global leader in information and analytics serving scientists, researchers, doctors and nurses around the globe. We’re part of RELX(opens in new tab/window), a top 20 company listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Across RELX, we serve different professional segments. We help scientific researchers make new discoveries, we help doctors and nurses improve the lives of patients, and we help lawyers develop winning strategies. We prevent online fraud and money laundering, and we help insurance companies predict and evaluate risk.

In short, we help our customers make better decisions, get better results and be more productive.

We do this by applying AI technologies — primarily machine learning and natural language processing — to our extensive high-quality content and data sets. We spend about $1.5 billion on technology annually. In addition to my role as CEO, I chair the RELX Technology Board.

At Elsevier, about a quarter of our almost 9,000 colleagues are technologists, working mainly at our tech hubs in Amsterdam, London, Philadelphia and Shanghai in software development, product engineering, data science and infrastructure roles.

Today, I’d like to share with you some reflections from my own journey that brought me here as the first female CEO of Elsevier in its 140 year history — and personal lessons I learned that I hope will also help you as you work on your career progression in technology.

I have never worked as a technologist, but technology has been a key ingredient in my career. It is my partnership with our technologists that has enabled me to work with our global teams to deliver innovation for our customers and strong business results.

So what have I learned in my career journey?

9 career tips to excel in technology

1. Think about how you want to approach your career; be intentional about it. You can choose a route that focuses on your natural strengths. Or if you have a dream job, you can be intentional about building the skills and capabilities required to get there. These will drive different choices.

2. Think of your career as a tree, not a ladder. Build both business and technical skills. Sometimes this will require you to go sideways before you accelerate upwards. Don’t be afraid to follow non-linear paths to succeed. I started out in strategy and switched to operational roles before landing in general management.

9 tips for career success

Why we need more women in STEM

Let me give you some context for why I say this.

Today’s scientists and technologists are solving some of the most pressing challenges facing society and the planet. To achieve the best outcomes, we need to harness the contribution of every brilliant mind.

Over the last 50 years, representation of women in STEM has indeed progressed. Taking the US as an example, the percentage of women in STEM moved from just 7% 50 years ago to 25% today.

But there has been clear stagnation in the past two decades, and we are definitely not where we need to be with women occupying senior leadership positions.

There are two obstacles we need to overcome to make progress.

  • First, factoring diversity into the way we approach research and tech design and evaluation.

  • Second, equal participation in research and technology careers.

There has been real progress in recent years, but there is a lot more to do. You probably know all these good examples, but it is sad that we are still at this place. For example:

  • The reference body for car design is male, so although men are more likely to crash, women involved in collisions are nearly 50% more likely to be seriously hurt.

  • Facial recognition software performs better on men than women, and better on light skin than dark. So if you are a Black woman, the error rate for facial recognition is 35%, for darker skinned men it’s 12%, for light skinned women it’s 7% and for light skinned men it’s 1%.

When research and tech design don’t factor in gender, race or ethnicity, the consequences can be severe.

How can we move the I&D needle?

The second hurdle is systemic barriers to drive equal representation of women. In my experience, there are rarely silver bullets to solve systemic issues and unconscious biases. It takes thousands of small movements in the right direction that accumulate over time to make a difference.

And we work very hard on moving the needle at Elsevier both to make sure our own house is as inclusive and diverse as it can be, and to support the scientific and healthcare communities we serve to make them as inclusive and diverse as they can be. Let me give you some examples:

Internally, a fundamental step we took was to develop a psychological safety program in collaboration with Prof Amy Edmonson(opens in new tab/window) of Harvard Business School, and we rolled out unconscious bias training to ensure we break down barriers to inclusion and create an environment where all dimensions of diversity can thrive. The psychological safety work we do starts with 7 very simple questions we ask our employees to ensure they feel safe to be themselves, which in turn drives risk taking, innovation, high quality thinking and engagement.

We run both mentoring and reverse mentoring programs, as well as dedicated talent reviews for women and underrepresented groups.

We have set targets to eliminate inequalities on the editorial boards of our scientific journals, to drive equal representation.

Our technologists are developing purposeful innovations to drive inclusion and diversity. For example, they developed Elsevier’s Coronavirus Information Center in January 2020, then added a Covid-19 Healthcare Hub(opens in new tab/window) and Vaccine Toolkit(opens in new tab/window),  providing tens of thousands of free research articles and clinical tools for those on front lines of research and patient care.

Tomorrow you will hear from my colleague Irene Walsh(opens in new tab/window), one of our senior leaders in technology, about the pioneering work she and our 3D4Medical(opens in new tab/window) team are doing. Irene and her team are working through some fundamental questions to train the next generation of physicians so that medicine shifts its centuries-old focus from the European male anatomy to an inclusive focus of male and female anatomies.

As a data and analytics company, we measure and provide data-led insights to help the research community, policy makers and governments advance gender balance as well as climate action and sustainable development goals more broadly. I firmly believe what you can’t measure, you can’t progress.

Join us!

If you are passionate about inclusion and diversity, research and science, healthcare, sustainable development goals or climate change, you will find like-minded peers at Elsevier, So we might be the right place for you to apply your skills and experience to advancing progress in science and healthcare.

We invite you to learn more about Elsevier(opens in new tab/window) and our career opportunities — or stop by our virtual booth at the festival.


Kumsal Bayazit


Kumsal Bayazit

Chief Executive Officer


Read more about Kumsal Bayazit