The business of diversity: Building a better tech industry

Article by Maya Gershon, Chief Revenue Officer at Vade Secure

DiversityDiversity is a word you hear a lot in the tech business - but you don’t see enough of it.

I’ve spent my entire career striving to be the very best I can be, working hard and climbing the ladder whilst holding down a very demanding second full-time job: motherhood. I’m a huge believer in the positive power of diversity and unlocking the talents of people from every gender, ethnicity and background. But the IT industry needs to do better. How are we going to get to where we need to be?

As an engineer, business school MBA, researcher, developer, sales leader and public speaker, I want my story to inspire others to try. When advising others, it’s a good idea to set a good example. How can we lecture other industries about efficiency when we squander so much of our talent pool? We need to be more diverse and inclusive if we are to show others how to make the most of themselves. As an  example, in sales presentations, I have always found that stories create a much better impact than statistics. So here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Military discipline

After university, my career started at Unit 8200, a top-secret cyber intelligence unit of the Israeli Army. Obviously, I can’t tell you exactly what I did during my time in the Army, but I can say this: it was more egalitarian than the IT industry. I was one of thousands of people who took an entry exam to get into this elite unit. I wasn’t chosen because I was a woman - I was selected on aptitude alone. The Israeli Army is very practical and makes the fullest use of its resources. Under those circumstances, it selects the best person for the job. The general in charge said we were doing a job that was given to adults in equivalent agencies in the rest of the world. There was gender parity because it was vital to get the best possible outcome from the human resources we had.

This points to an important truth. You don’t achieve diversity by fixing the game. You build it by opening up the playing field so anyone can compete. Women don’t need help to get to the top. They just need an opportunity to succeed. Closed doors and sealed networks are no longer acceptable in business. Neither are they likely to be profitable. Open up and you will soar. Close down and you will sink.

Early years

I believe the problems with diversity start early, particularly when it comes to encouraging women to take a job in the tech world. It’s a problem of education and expectation. I was lucky because I grew up with an older sister and two older brothers I was close to. That meant I could be who I wanted. I played with boys’ toys, learned about electronics and I liked building things. My parents encouraged me to develop my interests and I was not restricted to dolls and dressing in pink.

However, when I went to college, I was one of only five women among 250 men. Things have changed a little and Israel is more progressive than a lot of the world but the change is still painfully slow. I was shocked when I went to give a lecture at my son’s school. My talk, which was designed to inspire entrepreneurs, was entirely attended by boys. Meanwhile, the girls were all packed off to dancing class. That lack of expectation is the essence of the problem with our industry. If you can see it, you can be it. Girls should be given role models from the get-go, showing them why tech is a great industry for young women to join.

Education is a priority and it takes a generation to achieve change. To that end I am passionate about encouraging more young women to have the confidence to study technology. We need to instil that self-belief. Meanwhile, there is a more short-term fix. I would train more women to work in the IT industry, even if they have no technical foundations. There are many positions they could make their own in sales and pre-sales. If you take people that are smart and have an aptitude for learning they can thrive. Women can be very ambitious and effective without the ‘right’ background. They can build a bridgehead.

Supporting working mothers

It’s not easy to juggle children with a full-time career. At one stage in my career, I was working by day, studying for my MBA at night, reading to my children at bedtime and then attempting to stay awake while answering my customer’s queries. Meanwhile, my husband had been called up by the army to serve his country and there was footage of the war being beamed onto our televisions. I was so exhausted that one day, when my son fell over and started crying, I joined in. I phoned my sister and she gave me some stern but great advice: be strong and get help. That is the advice I would give to all working mothers. Don’t be afraid to pay for help or even use anything the state can offer you. It’s not easy to get to the top, so make sure you’re using every resource at your disposal. We can build a better tech industry - but we need to work together.

About the author

Maya Gershon featuredMaya Gershon is the CRO at Vade Secure, where she is taking the lead in efforts to grow the company's footprint in the U.S., UK and Japan. Maya has 25 years of experience in the technology sector, including time with Unit 8200 where she trained with the Israeli defence team and progressed to Staff Sergeant. Over the years, Maya has held a variety of engineering, sales and marketing roles at industry-leading organizations such as WeWork, Intel, Cisco, Amdocs, Keysight Technologies and more. Maya is a computer and electrical engineer with a strong technical background in R&D and product strategy and a Kellogg Business School graduate.

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Maya Gershon featured

Inspirational Woman: Maya Gershon | CRO, Vade Secure

Maya GershonMaya Gershon is the CRO at Vade Secure, where she is taking the lead in efforts to grow the company's footprint in the U.S., UK and Japan.

Maya comes to Vade Secure with 25-years of experience in the technology sector, including time with Unit 8200 where she trained with the Israeli defence team and progressed to Staff Sergeant. Over the years, Maya has held a variety of engineering, sales and marketing roles at industry-leading organizations such as WeWork, Intel, Cisco, Amdocs, Keysight Technologies and more. Maya is a computer and electrical engineer with a strong technical background in R&D and product strategy and a Kellogg Business School graduate.

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

When I was 16 years old I was identified by the Israeli Defense Force, and selected to join an elite cyber intelligence unit; I was drafted at 17. That’s when I fell in love with cybersecurity and technology. I’ve been a huge fan ever since!

I studied computer and electrical engineering at university, and then worked in R&D for eight years before transitioning to sales. I held various sales and sales management jobs, every time in a different market and with a different technology, to learn multiple technologies. I held sales roles on almost every continent, and managed teams world-wide.

Today I am the CRO of Vade Secure, a French company specialized in SaaS cybersecurity. Vade has a great product, superior from our competitors’. We block threats in the most attacked companies in the world, and protect over 1 billion mailboxes.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

“I did, in fact multiple times. I remember I first planned my career when I was about 18 years old and still in the army. I thought I needed to get more familiar with this area, so I took a course in university in advanced computer programming. I liked it. I made plans again when I graduated. And then, and this was the most important and probably the most difficult one  - when I decided to move from R&D to sales. I have re-done career planning multiple times ever since, and I try to help younger people to do theirs, and I do it often.

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

I have faced a lot of career challenges. From challenging managers, losing key deals, getting unpleasant feedback, and more and more. In my view, standing back up after you get hit is what makes you a professional. Keep going when it’s the hardest. When you feel it’s hard to get up in the morning, that’s when you show you’re a professional. You get up, and improve.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement is that once I worked for a company and grew their profits from 15% to 75% on $350M in revenue. That was a significant achievement for the company and a game changer in terms of growth.

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

Persistence. I don’t give up easily, or not at all and I keep going when it’s hard.

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

Learn constantly. The reality of today is going to be obsolete tomorrow. Try to anticipate the future, the next big thing. And it’s not only in technology, it’s also sales methodologies, Go-To-Market approaches etc.  Keep reading and learning and looking at successful companies, looking at new technologies. Know that the only constant thing is change.

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

I think there are, unfortunately. Women are not perceived at techies. I remember when I was a young salesperson, I used to go to meetings, and although I was also very technical, people always thought that since I’m a salesperson I don’t understand technology. I needed to be 10 times better than everyone else to gain their respect. So that’s what I did.

These barriers can be overcome by education in my view. Making more and more women understand they can be at least as good, if not better than men in Technology, would make more women follow that path, and make it more and more acceptable and natural for society.  When I graduated, the dean in my university asked the audience to clap twice as hard for every woman that came on stage, since we were only five women and 250 men. This ratio has got to change.

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

I personally don’t see women as needing extra support from companies. I think that women should be treated equally. And that is actually the most important thing – equal treatment.

There is currently only 17 per cent 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 think it has a lot to do with education. I would go to schools and encourage girls at various ages and levels to learn technology. I would want them to see which areas interest them the most, and encourage them to be curious about those.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

To be honest, I never read or listen to anything specifically aimed at women, and maybe that’s the secret to success. I always read books that are not speaking to women or treating women differently. So if you want my (very general) recommendation on a book I like, it’s Unapologetically Ambitious by Shellye Archambeau.

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