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IWD Special: Twitter’s Maya Hari on helping women in tech

The social networking service’s vice president in Asia Pacific discusses strategies for upping diversity in the workplace.

Between leading Twitter’s operations as its vice president in Asia Pacific while being an engaged mother to her two children, Antara and Nikhil, Maya Hari is a strong advocate for diversity in the workplace. While away in Mumbai attending the FRAMES 2018 media convention, where she moderated a panel on women empowerment and leadership in the digital era, the 15-year veteran of the digital media, mobile and e-commerce industries shares with us her ideas on what’s holding women back and how to lead them forward.

What are some recent projects you’ve led at Twitter, and how diverse were your teams?
I’m a huge supporter of inclusion and diversity, and I’m proud to say our team in Asia Pacific are divers in both gender and ethnicity. I lead the @TwitterWomen team in Asia Pacific and the team organises internal and external events, ranging from industry networking with our Connected Women series, to workshops focused on women empowerment with #PositionOfStrength (a campaign for gender equality online). I am also an active mentor and sponsor for networking and training sessions on women’s empowerment.

Are women in any way less suited to be part of the digital or tech industry?
Women in Asia need to believe that they deserve to have an equal seat at the table. This belief in itself is often missing, given the way Asian society has raised girls all these years. Economic empowerment is a key step — it can not only drive economic growth and participation, but also help correct societal norms and patterns so as to drive gender parity in the long run. Private and public sector focus on enablement through creative programmes — such as gender-neutral parental leave, flexible working hours, and mentoring and fostering of women management — can lead to strong progress in driving inclusive economic growth in Asia Pacific.

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Diversity in tech companies is still a topic that comes up with some frequency. In response to the argument of “We just hire the most qualified; we don’t look at gender or ethnicity or orientation,” while the talent pipeline remains dominated by men, what’s your take on this discussion and what strategies would you say are needed to resolve this?
While the tech industry has traditionally been male-dominated, we see strong graduates across genders today joining the tech community from the best educational institutions. Industries need to adapt and evolve to accommodate more gender diversity and in recent years, we have seen more awareness and action to up the diversity quotient across the board. While I can’t speak for other companies, Twitter is committed to investing in and elevating a more diverse pipeline to ensure the future of the company and the industry is more representative of the general population.

At Twitter we focus on the end-to-end lifespan, from setting diversity goals to consciously building diverse pipelines to internal meeting and thinking environments that accommodate diverse points of view to nurture programs such as mentorship and inclusive networking all need to happen. For example, we released our annual Diversity report just last week, and it shows our employee numbers with breakdown on diversity in a transparent manner. We also highlight our Diversity goals for the future, which keeps us accountable to the public.

What do women bring to the digital or tech industry that’s unique?
Technology is increasingly embedded in everyday life. The shift towards mobile and digital means that the people behind the tech need to be diverse to take into account both women’s and men’s points of views and their needs, in order to deliver content and services that are relevant to both women and men. In order to move away from stereotypical roles of past generations, women need to be involved in technology development to provide their perspectives and develop solutions that women and men would find relevant.

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What are some challenges facing women in the digital or tech industry, and how far are we from achieving true equality? As a mother of two yourself, would you say the digital or tech industry is more or less accommodating of employees who are also parents, and why?

The challenges facing women in the digital or tech industry are not necessarily different from other industries, be it getting a seat at the table or the salary gap that exists between men and women.

Having been at different companies in the tech industry, I would say the flexible working hours and parental leave policies are accommodating to the needs of working parents. At Twitter, our employees are given options to work from home and leave early to pick up their kids. We offer 20-week paid parental leave benefit for new parents, including same-sex parents who opt for adoption. And we love for our employees to bring their kids to see where they work. And we organise “Bring Your Kids To Work” Day every quarter where we celebrate parenthood and our working parents can enjoy time with their family during working hours.

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You’ve written about management strategies geared towards women — connecting with them on a personal level, asking for their opinions instead of waiting for them to speak up, introducing them to mentors and role models, and understanding them as individuals — and the need for a different approach from leadership. Why is this important? Would it inadvertently portray women as in need of special consideration or even coddling?
In order to effect change and true inclusion, there are decisions that need to come from the top that require a different approach from leadership, for example, in actively hiring for a diverse workforce. Study after study has shown that more diverse teams are more creative and innovative. Companies with diverse leadership are more profitable. To actually achieve diverse perspectives, we need to make sure every voice is heard — both women’s and men’s.

Follow Maya Hari (@maya_hari) and Prestige Singapore on Twitter (@Prestige_SG)

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