Women in Research: Giulia Gasperi

8 March

Embracing the unexpected: my career journey from Data Dread to Data Empathy

Imagine a world where your college nightmares become your career highlights. If my econometrics professor found out that I built a career around data, he’d probably fall off his chair. Numbers used to send me into a tailspin of intimidation and confusion.

My iconic study strategy? Plastering my living spaces with cheat sheets and absorbing theories on log-linear functions over breakfast. I thought that if I could recite the definition of multicollinearity in my sleep, maybe, just maybe, I'd scrape through. Spoiler alert: I passed the exams by the skin of my teeth. 

Fast forward through the years, and here I am, reflecting on a journey sprinkled with gratitude and the occasional facepalm moment. I worked with some of the world’s biggest and most culturally salient brands, held full-time and freelance positions in the US and in Europe, pioneered data-led brand strategy, mentored superstar talent, presented my work at global insights conferences like ESOMAR and had the honour to forge relationships with fantastic, smart and empathetic humans from around the globe. All while occasionally wondering, “How did I even get here?”

My 3 pearls of wisdom (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the data):

  1. Purpose is your compass. My first eureka moment hit me like a lightning bolt in business school. There I was, staring down a dataset in SPSS (a wild Friday night, amiright) when it dawned on me: this bunch of rows and columns and functions were my crystal ball. Suddenly, data wasn’t just data - it became a gateway to unlocking truths and shaping the future.

    I had found my “why”: extrapolating insight and foresight at scale to help shape the products, experiences and brands in people’s lives is a huge responsibility and an opportunity to never stop learning about the world around me.

  2. Find your voice, and use it to push boundaries. Moving to New York for work was my “welcome to the big leagues” moment - an immense privilege and a very steep learning curve. As a young woman, in rooms filled with the powerful voices of people more influential and confident than me, I felt like all I could do was whisper. Self-doubt crept in - why would anyone want to listen to me, the fresh-off-the-boat newbie in this big, vast & complex American market?
    The experience led to my second big unlock: embracing the power of data-telling, or storytelling through data. Data became my megaphone and gave me a seat at the table to guide and inform decisions - not just with opinion, but with objective truth.

    The revelation wasn’t just empowering - it was my ticket to the world of brand strategy and innovation, where I got to play with the cool kids. I joined an intimidatingly smart bunch of designers, innovation strategists and cultural/semiotics experts to find new ways to carry data-telling forward. Together, we built cannabis brand worlds, shaped the future of streetwear and created audience strategies for legendary brands in industries like music and sports.

  3. Serve, connect, & empower to build community. Here’s a truth bomb, courtesy of a very wise human: “Data is empty without empathy” - like a party without music, it’s utterly pointless. My journey taught me that data is not just numbers; it’s a form of self-expression, a bridge to meaningful connections.

    Embracing data empathy allowed me to not just help others see the human stories behind the numbers but also to unlock insight and foresight for those who need it to succeed in their own crafts and careers.

    Working on great projects has been invaluable, but what I’ve found to be the most satisfying part of it all is that I get to empower others: whether it’s mentoring bright minds, breaking bread with CEOs or volunteering for startups, I’ve found so much joy in using data to empower others.

    In my current role at ESOMAR, chairing and crafting conference programmes for the global research and innovation community, I get to stir the pot in the global research and innovation soup alongside great industry leaders. Together, we aim to spice things up and hopefully make them tastier for everyone.

So, to my 25-year-old self, who viewed numbers with the same enthusiasm as a visit to the dentist: not only did you survive, but you thrived. And to those reading this, remember: if I can transform from data phone to dataphile, there’s no limit to what you can achieve. Here's to many more joyful, fun and unexpected adventures in the world of data, insight and strategy. Cheers to you, the bright minds in this industry, and the magic you create every day.