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Ask Me Anything - Zena Applebaum

SCIP AMA - Ask Me Anything

Zena Applebaum of Thomson Reuters


Zena Applebaum


Zena Applebaum is a Competitive Intelligence strategist, legal industry observer, personal brand advocate changing the legal industry one design thinking workshop at a time. Zena is currently the National Director, Customer Insights & Success at Thomson Reuters in Canada. In her role she is responsible for client intelligence, market insights, and sales enablement across all market segments. Having pioneered the discipline of law firm Competitive Intelligence nearly 20 years ago, Zena shares her passion for the legal and CI industries as a speaker, writer and a contributor to blogs including 3 Geeks and a Law Blog.


In 2015 Zena was inducted as a Fellow of the Council of CI Fellows. She has been a sessional instructor the University of Toronto iSchool, Rutgers University and a guest lecturer at law schools across North America. Zena honed her CI skills leading Competitive Intelligence groups at two Global Large Law firms prior to taking on her current role.

Women in Competitive Intelligence

ZENA: I had the opportunity to join an “Ask Me Anything” interview with SCIP and talk about the role of women in competitive intelligence. Prior to the call, participants and SCIP members were asked to send in their questions that they wanted me to answer on the call. There were so many great questions sent in ahead of time. In the very short 30-minute interview (I looked at my timer with 6 minutes left and thought we had only been talking for 6 minutes!) we were able to cover about five of those questions. I wanted to take a moment to thank SCIP, Cam Mackey and Michelle Winter but also share those five questions and some of my answers here for anyone who missed the call. More than ever as we are working remotely and balancing our careers with everything else live is throwing at us that we continue to keep the dialogue open and make time and space for these kinds of discussions.

Let me first say, I am not an expert on women’s issues or on diversity and inclusion. But I am a woman in the workplace who has learned through experience that we are different; our perspectives, our strengths, and the perceptions others have of us dictate our success. Some aspects we can control, some we can discuss with open and frank dialogue, some differences we should celebrate and some aspects of gender inequality we must find ways to move beyond. It is in that spirit that I share this with you.



SCIP: Is it really that different for women in CI?

ZENA: One of the limitations of digital communications is that we can lose tone and intent. In this question, my initial tongue and cheek response is “your bias is showing”. In other words, it’s that different for women in every and any profession. There are biases everywhere, there is gender inequality and pay equity issues across the board and CI is not different or unique. That said, I do believe that statistically women are known to be more compassionate and collaborative, though less confident. When taken together these can be great skills when applied to CI, however from a management opportunity and career path perspective, women still struggle more than men to get into the C-Suite.

SCIP: Relationship building is vital in CI. Can you speak to how you’ve seen women do this especially well?

ZENA: Relationship building is pivotal in my opinion to gathering the best HUMINT (human intelligence related to any CI initiative). Relationships like good intelligence take time, you need to develop trust. Again, this is something statistically women have been very strong in doing in the workplace. HUMINT is competitive differentiation and the ability to elicit the right information at the right time – that can then be verified elsewhere – and can make all the difference to a company’s strategic priority.

A couple of interesting articles on the topic:

Leadership Assessment: Do Men And Women Influence Differently?
Why Do Women Make Such Good Leaders During COVID-19?

SCIP: Being less aware of this bias in the CI world, how can I (a man) help women thrive in CI roles?

ZENA: Great question and one that to me demonstrates a real willingness to check the biases we mentioned earlier. Mentorship and sponsorship are critical to helping anyone succeed and both are needed throughout one’s career – not just at the beginning. Mentorship is about helping individuals navigate through tricky or new situations, sponsorship is about recognizing someone’s potential and finding opportunities for people to stretch and then supporting them as they learn and grow. Professionals in the workplace and in life need both sponsors and mentors to succeed in CI roles and elsewhere. Sharing your own experience, providing advice but also listening are great ways to learn yourself. Recognizing potential in others and putting them up for bigger roles or adding them to project teams will only strengthen their capabilities and the outcomes.

SCIP: Do you think that working remotely presents new challenges or opportunities for women to have more “voice at the table” in CI?

ZENA: Being remote levels the playing field. We are all in the same size boxes on screens – there are no longer office divides and the hierarchy in the office has eroded, we have a newfound intimacy as we are all invited into everyone’s houses each day. It’s a very unique experience, where we have met one another’s pets, children, partners or parents. We have seen unmade beds, fantastic art and other personal effects. Being remote I believe has changed perspectives for the better, there is more flexibility and more time to work in a way that makes sense for individual circumstances. A shift in perspective is always additive in my opinion to CI work, it makes analysis better when you can review data without rushing and in a comfortable way. But being remote always blurs the lines between home and work in a way it never has before. Statistically women tend to take on more of the household and childcare responsibilities while still working and this can be challenging with the two so co-mingled right now. Burn out can happen faster and so we need to be take great care not to let that happen or work product of any kind and objectivity will suffer.

SCIP: In what ways may women in CI roles communicate the value their different perspectives bring to the process?

ZENA: This area is a challenge for women. As noted, confidence is often something we lack in CI or otherwise. To communicate value, you first need to demonstrate value. That’s critical, making certain you are providing value to initiatives is key. Getting a few wins under your belt , even small ones will give you the confidence to push harder to demonstrate that the different perspectives you can bring to an individual analysis or initiative can reveal blind spots, reveal or help eliminate bias and over all contribute to a better, more well-rounded outcome. Communicating value is hard but it starts with demonstrating value beyond group thinking and then taking the time to share and celebrate well crafted examples of how the difference in perspective made the difference in the outcome or object.

This is a huge topic, and we barely scratched the surface but these are great conversations to be having for any amount of time. Gender diversity and equity in the work place is a big issue that will evolve and change over time, the work will never done. Thank you again to SCIP for giving me an opportunity to share my experience at this precarious moment in time. I hope I can come back and talk with your members again to keep the conversation going.


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