Blog post co-written with Angela Ngo, Manager Professional Services, @Zuora
As part of the annual Subscribed conference, Zuora hosted a talk with four panelists of profoundly successful Women in Technology. The discussion wasn’t focused on the old “us vs. them” mentality, but rather was a celebration of inspiring, successful technologists who happened to be women.
The opportunities for women in technology today abound. Appreciate the groundwork we’ve made, not just for women, but also minorities in technology. The consensus from the panel was: 1. You don’t need to act like a man to be successful in technology, and 2. You don’t have to be afraid to use your skills to influence progress. Ask questions that get under peoples’ skin and allow yourself to shed that armor every once in a while.
Coco Brown, Founder and CEO of The Athena Alliance, shared her perspective that the challenge of getting equal representation of men and women at the Board level was less driven by overt sexism, but more lack of awareness and connections between senior, competent female professionals and individuals who are most often charged with creating boards of directors. This includes mainly the Venture Capitalists, Private Equity and lead investors.
Brown encouraged women to leverage and develop their professional relationships with both men AND women, and leverage those relationships and mentorship opportunities to progress throughout their careers.
Alvina Antar, CIO Zuora opened the panel discussion by observing all the men in attendance at the standing-room-only crowded Inspiring Women in Technology breakfast and exclaimed, ”We love men! Men, we need you!” Antar reminds us of the importance of men to uplift, promote, and support women. She added, “The majority of my mentors, whether they know it or not, have been men and I never let being the only girl in the room be an issue – it never held me back and only gave me more reason to prove that I belonged.”
For women to assume their role in leadership positions they need to continue taking initiative, involve themselves in networking, and positioning themselves for leadership opportunities.
Carey Butler, CTO of the Seattle Times Company, shared two golden nuggets of wisdom—be smart in your family planning and be rigorous and intentional about the time you spend with your family.
If there is advice she could give to young women who are planning to have families, it would be to be aware of the resources it takes to have a family and the importance of factoring resources into your timing. Secondly, she shared that despite working extensively, she and her husband made a commitment early on to be home and recreate with their children every weekend without fail. She extorted, “Don’t save weekends for housework!”
Antar offered, “Women shouldn’t ever feel that they have to sacrifice their crazy career aspirations to have a family. My father inspired me to be passionate and fearless in everything I do and “be an 800 lb. gorilla.”
Antar also chimes in with respect to the unique challenges that women face in juggling career, home, family, and community: “Marrying my husband was truly THE best decision of my life. He encourages me, supports me and challenges me to strive for more. We are blessed with 3 beautiful children, twin 6 year old boys and a 3 year old girl. We have an incredible support system that allows both my husband and I to find that balance and focus on the quality of time spent and not dwell on the lack of quantity of time. I continuously remind myself that this is what’s best for me and that I am setting a great example for my kids, especially my daughter. Having my husband, Ramy, watching me in the audience during the Inspiring Women in Tech was beyond emotional and comforting. I felt on top of the world!
An interesting question was posed to Magdalena Yesil who immigrated to the US on her own at age 17: “You’ve a heritage in a culture where women are marginalized at a deeper level than we experience here in the US. You have put a significant emphasis in your career on international diplomacy, what can you tell us about your view on women globally and specifically the Turkey T20 Summit?”
Yesil reminded the audience to be grateful for how much progress for women had been made in the US. “Imagine a world where you are not allowed drive or go to school, a world where you might be forced to marry the highest bidder at age 12, or can’t leave your house without covering every part of your body. We have so much to be grateful for here, in America, and in Silicon Valley.”
Alvina added, “Being an Assyrian from Iraq and spending my childhood in Kuwait, I have seen first-hand the fear and chaos in the Middle East. I share whole-heartedly with Magdalena’s message on being utterly grateful for the progress and opportunities we have as women in the United States. I saw first-hand the fear and and chaos in the Middle East before the Gulf War and it is depressing to know that we haven’t made much progress to date. That is the sole reason my father decided to sacrifice his own career to move the United States and give his 2 daughters and son a whole new life with every opportunity to dream big.”
Magdalena Yesil was asked how she decided to be the first investor in Salesforce and she regaled us with the story of how Marc Benioff called and invited her to lunch one day when SFDC was just a conceptual idea. Yesil listened to Benioff share his idea, and believed in this idea. She stressed the importance of recognizing a good idea with a tangible market, and sticking with it until you’ve absolutely decided that you’re ready to walk away.
“There’s too much pivoting in the world today,” said Yesil. “Believe in your idea and stick with it.” Yesil closed by saying “I believe in Zuora, and I’m also an investor. I’m looking forward to the day when someone asks me ‘How did you decide to invest in Zuora.”
The event was closed with a surprise visit by astronaut, Scott Kelly. An incredible example of inspiring, Kelly is a former International Space Station Commander and holds the United States record for the most logged hours in space.
Magdalena Yesil, founder of Broadway Angels and founding board member and first investor in SalesForce.com—seeing it through IPO. Yesil spent the last few years working on international peace diplomacy and refugee issues in the Middle East. She is an immigrant to the United States and is an Armenian from Turkey.
Coco Brown, Founder and CEO of The Athena Alliance which works to create key connections that promote qualified women to board of director opportunities and help them excel as they serve in that role.
Carey Butler, successful technology and business executive and current CTO of the Seattle Times Company (STC). Butler’s leadership roles extend beyond STC into the broader technology and nonprofit community, where she advocates for STEM education and workforce development.
Cathy MacDonald, senior technology leader with many years of experience covering all aspects of IT, billing, collections and extensive program management and current EVP IT at Xplornet Communications Inc., a rural high-speed service provider.
(In the desire for full disclosure, Zuora invited me to their Subscribed 16 conference, though I was not paid to attend.)