Athena member Bhawna Singh is a senior technology executive with 20 years of experience successfully building and leading talented teams of engineers to transform and scale technology for a global user base. Bhawna drives the technology vision and strategy for her teams to deliver innovative solutions for the best user experience and business results. Now, as CTO of Glassdoor and Senior VP of Engineering, she is responsible for technological innovation at Glassdoor, overseeing the company’s websites and mobile platforms, in addition to its software engineering, data platform, and machine learning teams.
Learn more about Bhawna’s experience as a first-time C-suite leader and her advice for women rising into the C-suite to self-advocate below.
I started my engineering career with online application development and implementing backend transaction processing systems. My work on command-driven search and natural language processing set me to take a deeper interest in search-related problems and scale. At Ask.com, I continued to define the focus areas of my career through my work on Ask’s web, Smart Answers, Q&A, and content search initiatives while leading and scaling their distributed platforms, search, and data science teams. My work at Ask.com led to scaling systems for our 100 million global users, growing our SEO and SEM business reach through technology innovation.
I joined Glassdoor 5 years back with a dual mandate to rethink and rebuild their jobs search business and to start their first office in San Francisco with an engineering and product presence. We needed this new location to be another center of excellence for us to hire niche skills to grow Glassdoor’s business. It was an exciting challenge for me to take on. The first year in the role was a period of tremendous learning as I led all functions in the office- facilities, recruiting, product, and engineering. We delivered strong engagement and revenue results for our jobs business. From there, my role continued to grow to lead the engineering teams driving Glassdoor’s consumer experience to assuming the position of CTO & SVP of Engineering at Glassdoor last year.
What has been your experience as a woman of color in tech?
Every upward step comes with a need to prove oneself and an expectation to be flawless in order to grow your career. I was very fortunate to have great managers who focused on my performance and results rather than my color and gender. In turn, as a leader, I now stress allyship and dedicate my efforts to pay it forward to grow women under a wider net of mentors and sponsors. I also joined an investment fund recently whose core mission is to invest in start-ups founded by women or diverse founders.
The mentoring relationships I had with a few leaders helped me a lot as I developed solutions for the problems I was solving. Learning from their experiences helped me address my blind spots and gave me a wider perspective to use in my own decision-making.
The more diverse your leadership, the more complete your perspective is. To have that diverse thinking gives you a richer understanding of a problem and helps eliminate the blind spots that come when a narrow group of people makes all the decisions. I also believe diversity is key to creating a healthy company culture where every employee feels safe to express their viewpoint and connect with the organization.
I approach with a listening and learning mindset. In any discussion, I try not to make assumptions and let curiosity lead the way. This allows for an open and healthy dialogue, a “let the best idea win” environment, and a pragmatic solution to the challenge at hand.
And by leading with “why”, I have found that people who understand the potential impact of their work tend to be more motivated to give their best. So, in conversations with my team, I start with why we need to do something, the rationale behind it and the difference our work will make.
One of my constant reminders has been, “If you are not outside your comfort zone, you are not learning.” This quote has kept me going through life’s professional challenges.
As a technology leader with 20 years of experience in the industry, I have led multiple tech transformations, scaled systems from 0 to 100 million monthly users, led the global expansion of products, participated in multiple acquisitions, and spearheaded innovation to drive user growth and engagement delivering multi-million dollar revenue growth.
My learnings and insights will be valuable to the companies looking to scale and grow their offering through product and technology innovation.
The quality and availability of Athena’s virtual salons are the most valuable part of my membership. Online sessions gave me the flexibility to join from anywhere and step away if something else needed my attention. Beyond just learning from the content, I gained value by participating in live conversations with the group and building new connections. I have learnt a lot through the deep insights shared by Athena members on challenging situations.
Become an advocate for yourself. We all have self-doubts, but I sometimes see women calling out “gaps” that I don’t really see as their weakness. Finding a mentor who can confirm your true gaps and strengths is critical. After identifying those opportunities for growth, it’s important to do that internal homework and actively work to address the things you need to do in order to reach that goal.
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