Before Extreme, Monica Kumar served as CMO at Hitachi Vantara, where she successfully drove a product simplification strategy that brought the company’s portfolio of data storage products together into one easy-to-consume, scalable, and resilient platform.

Additionally, Monica was instrumental in launching Hitachi’s new brand strategy and narrative which helped drive awareness, customer acquisition, and long-term growth.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role

I am a mechanical engineer by education, and after working in a factory in India for some time, I realised I was much more interested in engaging with customers and sharing their stories. I moved to Silicon Valley, completed my MBA, and started my career in technology marketing.

I am currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Extreme Networks, leading the company’s go-to-market strategy and global marketing organisation and driving initiatives that elevate our brand and unique value proposition. I have many years of experience in B2B marketing and a history of accelerating growth through compelling product differentiation and impactful, revenue-generating strategies.

Before I joined Extreme, I was CMO at Hitachi Vantara where I led Hitachi’s new brand strategy and narrative. Previously, I served as SVP of Marketing and Cloud go-to-market at Nutanix, and I spent more than 20 years at Oracle in a variety of marketing roles including several years as CMO of Oracle’s Data Management business.

I am also an active board member for UPWARD Women and City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, and am a founding member of Neythri Futures Fund, a historic first fund with a mission to increase the diversity quotient in the venture capital ecosystem.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never really sat down and planned my career! I focused on doing what I was doing, doing it well and not worrying about the next promotion. Over time, as I established credibility as someone who “gets stuff done”, I also developed a keen sense of teasing out new opportunities as they arose. If they aligned with my passions, I raised my hand for it, and that’s how I moved around learning new skills and building my experience profile. I view career journey as navigating a maze, and not a ladder. In a ladder mindset, you might miss opportunities that are around you. If you’re open to exploring, you never know what opportunities you might find.

My engineering degree helped me on my journey to marketing because those analytical skills easily translated to problem-solving and gave me a data-driven mindset – which is so important in marketing.  I didn’t set out to transition into a marketing role, but I knew I was excited about telling stories about how technology is positively impacting our world and quality of life. Technology is a means to an end; what’s more important is how we make it meaningful, applicable, and impactful to the world around us.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

It depends on what you define as a challenge. In the early 2000s, I had my daughter, and I wanted to move to a remote role so I could spend more time with her. At that time, remote roles were rare. You could see that as a challenge because I had to take on a different role at Oracle to make it happen, and I wasn’t sure what impact it would have on my career.

However, this turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. I got into product management and business development, which I found fascinating, and at the same, I was able to prioritise spending time with my daughter.

This was a challenge, but it turned into an opportunity. Every challenge could be an opportunity in disguise; often, it just takes some time to become clear.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

What I see as my biggest achievement is how I’ve been able to help influence and positively impact the career advancements of people I’ve worked with. To me, career success is defined by influence and inspiration. I’ve worked with some incredible people along my career journey, and I get excited when I see people who I’ve helped in the past achieving something great. At an earlier stage of my career, I might have said something different, but as a leader, it’s all about the people I work with and how I can have a positive impact on those people and the business.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?

My parents have had a huge influence on my success. My father was a judge in India for many years, and his main driver was always providing justice to those he believed truly deserved it. My mother was the first and only female professor in an all-boys college, which instilled in me the qualities of a powerful and independent female leader. That also helped my confidence when I joined as the only female in an all-male undergrad class of mechanical engineering students.

I have always been driven by my parents’ grit, work ethic, perseverance, and dedication. They put dedication and persistence into everything they do, and it’s been a huge source of inspiration for me. They also helped me develop my passion for building a strong community. That passion has led me to other achievements outside of my day job, including helping found a group for Indian Businesses and Professionals and joining the board for UPWARD Women.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

The most important thing is staying true to yourself. I believe it’s better to have less perfection and more authenticity. Ultimately, you can try to emulate someone else or your idea of how someone should act in a certain role, but it’s about who you are at your core. Excelling in your career is easier when you are already aligned with your core passion, beliefs, and what excites you.

For example, in my career, working as an engineer in a factory was a job that I could do. But it wasn’t exciting – I’m an extrovert, and I wanted to be more front-facing. Now that my position aligns with my personality and passion, I’ve found greater success and a more rewarding career path. In a technology career, that might mean figuring out how you can create a positive impact for people and organisations. Don’t get too mired in technology, remember what it can do for human beings.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Unfortunately, yes. I believe there is still a fair amount of unconscious bias and struggle with work/life balance. Many leadership frameworks also don’t consider how women can be included or how we define success, as we often bring a different perspective.

I see three main ways to overcome these barriers. First, organisations looking to increase gender equity must have role models and mentors who can help guide younger employees, and they must have these mentors at a scale that fits the size of the organisation. Secondly, we need more women in leadership positions. Everyone has their area of focus, but putting women in key decision-making positions is what will make a real impact. And finally, we all must continue to be persistent. I know many of us face burnout from fighting for our seat at the table, but we cannot give up when we hit an obstacle. The only way to overcome those barriers is to continue to push against them to drive positive change.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

The Flex First benefit we have at Extreme is a great example. We encourage our employees to work from wherever they feel comfortable, and not losing those hours commuting is huge, not just for women but for all working parents.

Additionally, and as I mentioned, it’s critically important to have the right mentoring and coaching program in place. When women are underrepresented in leadership or mentors are unavailable, it can feel like there is a ceiling on success. We need to increase the percentage of women in leadership roles and be deliberate in doing so – it should be part of a company’s goals, not just something aspirational.

There are currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I cannot emphasise enough that we need more women to have a seat at the table, i.e. in leadership positions. This is where our impact starts becoming real and we can start to accelerate the pace of change. You inspire those who may be considering joining the tech field. Women in leadership roles will often see what could be improved within an organisation to encourage further diversity, equity, and inclusion. Having a diverse workforce is a great first step, but organisations shouldn’t just look to hit a specific percentage and say that the job is done. Women must have a seat at the table, making decisions and having a real impact. In my opinion, that is the fastest path to positive change.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

I am a member of the board for UPWARD Women, which is an organisation with a global footprint and has many resources for leadership development. I’m also a founding member of Neythri, a global community of South Asian professional women. I find inspiration from groups like UN Women and women leaders and social activists like Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates. Books I recommend include: Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, Thrive by Arianna Huffington, and My Life in Full by Indra Nooyi.

Read more from our inspirational women here.