ERTICO’s campaign #womenonthemove2020 is back with Leen Balcaen, Senior Director for Industry Solutions at HERE technologies, a Partner of ERTICO. As leader of different teams throughout her career, Leen shares her experience in the world of mapping and explains why is it important to promote diversity in the workforce.
What attracts you to the smart mobility sector?
I’m a geographer. As I was studying at the University of Ghent, a visiting professor came to explain how you could draw a map on a computer: I was immediately sold! I am the biggest mapping geek there is, and I found this so interesting that I never skipped a class. At the time, this professor was working for Tele Atlas, which was then acquired by TomTom, so it became very clear in my head where I wanted to work. Ever since, I’ve always been interested in mapping, the complexity of maps and how we can make them digital. My career has so far been a wild ride, starting with 11 years at TomTom and now working at HERE.
How did you become Senior Director for Industry Solutions at HERE?
Since I joined HERE in 2016, I have had many different roles and led many different teams. In 2018, HERE decided to become an open location platform and shifted its strategy towards new industries including Smart Cities. I was asked to set up a team and that’s when I started as Senior Director for Industry Solutions.
How much does diversity in the workforce count?
Diversity is essential to any team. It is only with a diverse team that you can look at a problem in different ways and therefore come up with “out of the box” solutions. I have seen this happening in my career time and again as I have been working with many teams of different races, social backgrounds, gender, sexual orientation and religion. I must admit, I’ve never thought on the basis of men vs. women.
However, the location business is mainly a male business and as a woman working in technology, I still remember the first day I came into the office and thought “Where are all the women?” And this also applies to management. I don’t see myself however as “a woman in a managing role”. At the end of the day, I’m Leen.
For me, it’s about creating relationships with people. Everybody, regardless of their gender, race or cultural background brings experiences to the table. And this is what we have to focus on as managers: how do I get the best team together to solve a specific problem at hand?
Do you think women and men need to be treated differently – better facilities, wider understanding of family obligations?
I don’t like to think in boxes. I always see individuals. Everybody has their own private life and the particular needs that come with it. So I always try to sit down with my team members and understand what their aspirations are and how I can help them achieve their goals while taking into consideration their work-life balance.
Tell us about Enel X and HERE Technologies’ “City Analytics – Mobility Map” solution and how it started!
The City Analytics – Mobility Map has been driven by my Italian colleagues at HERE. The conversation started with the outbreak of COVID-19. We got to think about how we could help the local authorities, particularly in the Milan region, in making sense of what was happening there. We are a location provider, so we have access to location data and therefore have a good insight into mobility flows. Enel, on the other hand, has a large footprint within the local authorities in Italy. We brought our expertise together and within 15 working days, my colleagues came up with this “City Analytics – Mobility Map” solution that provides Italian governmental agencies with mobility indicators to analyse the impact of COVID-19 containment measures. It has been so successful that is has now been replicated in Spain. To come back to the beginning of our conversation, the team that drove this project was made up of women and men with a common objective: helping out.
What innovative solution do you think will truly change our lives?
In the COVID-19 context, any innovative solution that will truly change our lives will help, in one way or another, deal with the consequences of the pandemic.
We have seen that lockdowns all around the world have had a terrible effect on the local economy. The most hit are small corner shops that had been heavily relying on foot traffic before the outbreak of the pandemic. They rarely have the staff or the digital infrastructure to organise deliveries. During a COVID-19 Hackathon, HERE identified this as a problem we could solve. As a result, we have recently launched HERE WeGoDeliver: a free tool that helps SMEs to plan and optimise deliveries. We have received very positive feedback already. The bakery shop CANAL in Berlin told us for example that WeGoDeliver helped to keep their clients’ base ordering ice creams and éclairs and therefore ensured that the shop would open again when the lockdown ends.
There are many other questions location can help answer: How can we ensure that the food supply chain doesn’t break? How can we quickly locate container ships carrying medical equipment and make a quick decision on where to send them and which one to unload first? We are working together with partners as we speak to solve these challenges.
I always say that when something is happening in the world and it is hard to make sense out of it, take a map and look at its location. You can explain every world problem on the basis of geography: it always boils down to the X and the Y. COVID-19 is showing again that location is the glue that ties everything together.