Edited and prepared by Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU
Start with a gender neutral childhood
There is a welcome focus on women in technology at the moment; how to encourage girls into STEM subjects and how to keep women in technical fields once they are qualified. Unconscious bias, diversity & the impact of the bro-culture on Technology are conversations that are a long time coming. In this highly charged debate it is refreshing to talk to a successful female founder who was forming technology companies whilst Mark Zuckerberg was still in grade school. Kira Makagon is one such woman. A computer science graduate of Berkeley and currently EVP of Innovation at RingCentral, Makagon has co-founded several technology companies including Octane (which was acquired for $3.2 billion) and RedAril (acquired by Hearst). She has also participated in two successful IPO’s Scopus & RingCentral and been named in the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Silicon Valley.
I asked Kira why she thinks there are not more women working in technology.
“The barriers are not external – they are internal, girls fear not being accepted. It can be hard being the only woman in the room. ”
In fact she credits her own early childhood in the Soviet Union with playing a big role in her perception of gender stereotyping.
“There was a positive emphasis on gender neutral culture in school with boys and girls treated very much the same and sports was emphasised. Other than that because of cultural reasons there was a very minimalistic consumer environment and everyone had a uniform.”
A keen chess player in her youth, Makagon was always encouraged by her parents to pursue the activities which interested her; ice hockey, logic games and the maths olympiad. Clearly talented it takes more than that to forge a successful career in Silicon Valley, especially as a working mother of two young children. Again Makagon credits her parents who emigrated with her as refugees from the Ukraine whilst she was a teenager.
“My parents were a big help, as was my husband. I had to make trade-offs, I was not at all the school events or tennis tournaments. My son was Captain of the Tennis team and would beg me to attend his matches but I often couldn’t”
However Makagon believes managing work and families is now easier for both men and women and that technology is the enabler.
“There is much more normalisation now and it is a lot more accepted to say you need to take time out for family. Technology makes it possible for you to work anywhere, you could be at a doctor’s office with your son or daughter and working while you are waiting”.
She also sees the benefits of flexible working
“Our jobs are becoming more and more skilled, the flexible work environment has to be accepted and companies are becoming more innovative in this area”
I concluded the interview by asking her if she had any advice for women starting out in their careers;
“Ask yourself what do I want to do. Not what do I want to do as a woman. And then pursue that. Women bring a different dynamic and perspective to teams and that bring a lot of value”