We often hear about the barriers that deter women from engaging in science, technology, engineering, and maths-based careers. Another concern may be that there are unconscious bias and a lack of diversity at board level. At Microsoft, these concerns are critical for us to address. We are working to integrate all kinds of diversity, including gender diversity throughout the business.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, two women who work at Microsoft – Kristina Michalsky, General Manager of Consumer Device Sales and Anjana Srinivasan, Device Sales Lead got together to explore their career paths and views on women in technology.
Anjana: Hey Kristina! What a great topic for us to be talking about today. Can we start off our conversation today with you telling everyone a little bit about yourself and your journey so far as a woman in tech?
Kristina: Hello Anjana. I was born in Slovakia and moved to study in Germany, where I found my first job at Tyco Electronics. It was a side hustle along with my studies, so that I could pay for school back in the day. I worked as a sales co-ordinator supporting an account manager to sell things like cables, energy products, utilities for B2B, and so on. I did that for three years before moving on to HP as a category manager for print, personal computing, etc. This was my first foray into the technology industry and I loved it. I loved the fast paced nature of technology as an industry, looking at future product roadmaps and understanding how tech could improve people’s lives. I enjoyed working for a company that was global and had an impact on a large population of the world. I knew then that tech would be where I would want to spend the rest of my working career.
My career eventually took me to Microsoft, where I joined the finance department in our German subsidiary, thinking that it would be good to diversify my experiences to build a well-rounded persona. I spent seven years within Finance across Germany, EMEA HQ and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region before being offered the role of a Consumer and Device Sales Leader within CEE region; then as the Retail Leader for Germany. This brings us to today where I run our UK and Ireland business for Microsoft’s Consumer and Device Sales organisation where I have been since October 2019. It has been a whirlwind 14 years at Microsoft where I have moved across four countries and six roles. How time flies!
Anjana: What an awesome story Kristina! My story is very similar to yours, having spent roughly 15 years in the technology sector across Lenovo and now at Microsoft! I have worked in multiple roles across the world in countries such as India, US, Hong Kong, and the UK across sales, operations, and marketing roles. My advice would be to take calculated risks with your career and moving countries or disciplines definitely helps you to grow and develop as an individual. I’m very grateful for the opportunities that we have both had!
You mentioned previously that you discovered a love for technology when you started working in the sector. What makes you stay in the industry?
Kristina: First off, tech is a very exciting industry. It’s changing all the time. If we think back to 2007, the world’s bestselling productivity device was a Nokia 2600 Classic – a feature phone that you wouldn’t even think of today! We are now working in ways that people didn’t even think were possible – collaborating with people around the world, surrounded by devices that work seamlessly together, and working from anywhere, we’re no longer attached to a desk in a single location. The rate of change and the scale of impact that we can have on people’s lives in this industry is incredible.
Secondly and quite pragmatically, flexibility has been a key reason for me to stay in technology and at Microsoft. I was able to travel the globe whilst working in Prague, Czech and now in London with my husband living in other countries. Being able to commute to each of these countries whilst spending 3-4 days a week with my husband back at home was a fantastic benefit. By working remotely, I have been able to maximise my career opportunities, whilst living my life the way that I want to.
Finally, I completely agree with Microsoft’s mission of empowering every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. I love being able to direct the changing nature of technology to deliver a positive impact, helping as many people and companies as possible. This gives me a great sense of purpose and motivates me everyday in my role at Microsoft.
Anjana: I couldn’t agree more. As you were speaking, I was thinking of my own life. Flexibility in tech helped you pursue your career, whilst it helped me pursue my relationship. Back at Lenovo, I was given the opportunity to move countries too, from the US to Hong Kong and then to the UK to live with my then-boyfriend, doing exactly the same role I was doing in the US. If it weren’t for that, I would have likely quit the workforce. It is such a luxury that we didn’t have to choose between our lives and our careers. It’s absolutely motivating to pay it forward.
Let’s then shift gears. What’s the best part of being a woman in the tech industry?
Kristina: Whilst tech is a fantastic industry to be in, we know that women are under represented in this industry across all levels. Gender stereotyping remains the primary issue, starting very early on. Whilst this is getting better, there’s a lot more work to be done to improve representation. This is what is most energising to me – that we can play a pivotal role to pave the way for more women in the industry. It’s incredibly motivating to think that you can influence this issue in any small or big way – to be the shoulders that younger generations can stand on.
Anjana: So true. One of the reasons I was attracted to Microsoft was, that we are already doing such a great job on this. I love that diversity and inclusion are at the heart of our culture. We are walking the talk with so much diversity across the organisation – not just gender. It’s also super energising to see so many women in Microsoft in leadership roles. Can you talk us through how Microsoft has gotten here and what do you personally do to drive this?
Kristina: Indeed. Just to throw some stats at you – half the team in our Consumer Device Sales in the UK and Ireland organisation is female across all management levels. This is compared to around 20 percent in the industry. We have come a long way, through quite intentional steps:
- Representation starts with hiring and succession planning. For any role, ensure there’s a diverse succession slate of candidates – at least 50 percent diverse candidates. Whilst we always go for the best candidate for the job, we make sure there’s enough diversity in the candidates we meet with in order to be best placed to hire diverse candidates
- Mentoring. There’s a strong mentorship culture in Microsoft to help our employees be successful. Diversity only works if you harness it and mentorship helps to create allies for our employees to set as many people up for success as possible. I personally mentor 10 females from young professionals to people managers to be a coach and a sounding board.
- Finally, flexibility. I can’t say enough, how important this is. We need to find a way to work around important family moments like school drop-offs, assemblies, and moments that are important to individuals, helping both women and men have the flexibility to live their lives and have fulfilling careers. With women often playing the role of primary caregivers, this approach helps set a level playing field and removes any institutional disadvantages that may exist.
We are also focusing on sharing our journey with our partners – companies that Microsoft works with. We want to share the cultural transformation journey that we have been on as a company, the positive impact it has had to our business and help to drive the change throughout the industry. By no means are we done, but it’s definitely a privilege to be in a position where we can share this journey with others.
Anjana: You know, I heard something super interesting the other day – nowadays, work is not a place you go to, it’s what you do. Modern technology whether that be laptops, connectivity, software, or apps, they all enable work wherever you are. As a Mum of a three year old, I deeply appreciate this. I can do the school run, attend a parent’s evening and dial into work calls – all in the same day. It’s great that I can still be a Mum, whilst continuing to develop my career.
Alright, a final question. What advice would you give a woman considering a career in the tech industry?
Kristina: First off, we need to remove the gender stereotyping in the industry. Technology touches everyone’s lives and as an industry we need to ensure that we work together so that products work for all – no matter their gender or ability so that they can achieve their own personal goals.
Secondly, technology has many roles – both technical and non-technical whether that is sales, marketing, finance, HR, and so on. The skills that are needed within the industry are much the same as needed in any other industry – especially in non-technical roles. Regardless of role, you need the same soft skills, same commercial acumen, collaboration, and leadership abilities to drive teams to succeed. The essential characteristic I believe is having a growth mindset, the curiosity to keep learning in order to keep pace with ever changing landscape.
The opportunities are there for women and the right infrastructure is available to set them up for success. I hope if you are a woman reading this or know someone interested in entering our industry, you will feel motivated to learn more and help them on their journey!
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About the authors
Kristina works as the general manager for the consumer and devices division at Microsoft UK and Ireland. Joining Microsoft in 2005, Kristina is particularly passionate about building and leading diverse teams with a particular focus on learning and personal development.
Anjana works as the Device Sales Lead at Microsoft. Joining the company in January 2019, Anjana has worked across the globe in positions in India, the United States and the UK. A true creative – Anjana enjoys build innovative compaigns whilst building and mentoring her team ensuring that everyone is energised to do their best work!