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Insights From the Women Who Lead EQL on International Women’s Day

March 8, 2023
Sam Robb
Manager, Talent Acquisition

Happy International Women's Day! We had the privilege of interviewing three inspiring women on EQL's leadership team to gain insight into their experiences as women in technology. They shared their experience and perspectives on working in a startup or tech company, common misconceptions, and advice for women seeking a career in this field. The insights and experiences shared by these three women on EQL's leadership team aim to motivate and inspire women to chase their aspirations and disrupt the norm, regardless of their situation.

Meet our Panelists
Photograph of Sara Zabukovec

Sara Zabukovec (SZ)

Chief of Staff

Sara is EQL’s Chief of Staff (and leads People and Culture too!). Prior to her role with us she helped to lead A Cloud Guru to a successful exit, coming onboard early in the journey Outside of work she spends time lifting heavy stuff and looking after her greyhound, Blue.

Photograph of Toni Knowlson

Toni Knowlson (TK)

Head of Sales & Channel Partnerships

Toni is EQL’s Head of Sales and Channel Partnerships – she’s out there spreading the hype of EQL to companies that should know about us. Before joining, she spent time at Salesforce (where better to learn Sales!) and AWS. Outside of selling all the things, Toni spends time with her wife Sarah and daughter Tully – she is also unapologetically into her whiskey, and that has influenced the types of companies she’s reached out to in no way whatsoever (!)

Photograph of Virginia Murdoch

Virginia Murdoch (VM)

Head of Product

Virginia is EQL’s Head of Product and leads our Product Management and Product Design teams. Before jumping into our rocket ship, she led Product teams at none other than CultureAmp - she was a huge part of their success. Outside of her role, Virginia is an avid writer and has been absolutely bitten by the exercise bug (seriously she uploads to Strava on the daily!)

What is the best thing about being a woman in a start-up or tech company?

SZ: Getting the chance to have more influence in shaping policies and company culture so that the company is genuinely inclusive. You don't get to do this to the same extent in larger companies with large HR teams, but you get a bigger opportunity \in a startup.

VM: There are so many things! But to pick one: the solidarity with other women is just immense and powerful. For the last 15 years, I have worked in companies where men vastly outnumbered women; in these environments women from all parts of the org, at all levels and in all roles, have shared their experiences with each other and supported each other, which has not only led me to build relationships with people I might not otherwise have got to know, but also to really understand the unique challenges of working in different types of jobs.

TK: If you’re someone who values learning new things and stretching yourself, working in startups is the best way to learn.  You’ll get much more scope to share your opinions and recommendations on what path to take forward and how to problem solve and you’ll often find yourself with much more experience than you would have in a larger organisation. It’s also less stuffy, more fun and more rewarding when you see your hard work come to life.

What are some common misconceptions about startups or tech companies that you or other women might believe?

SZ: I've worked with female peers in the past that were initially apprehensive about joining a startup or moving into tech from other industries because they believed that startups didn't support flexibility for women with children or that startups would have very male-dominated, frat boy/bro cultures that they would feel uncomfortable in. There's no denying that there are companies that are like this, but there are also loads of startups out there that have great benefits and policies in place that support employees with young families and who have founders and male leaders in their teams who are genuine allies who work hard to create inclusive cultures. No two startups are the same, and plenty are doing great work to create more inclusive cultures where women can thrive.

VM: I’m not sure that outsiders to the industry necessarily recognise this, but work in tech startups is generally extremely creative and generative, and rewards curiosity and empathy – qualities that I think women are, to massively generalise – raised to be strong in. The language of this universe can be ugly and alienating (ugh “product-market fit”) – but the reality is that in early-stage startups, the work is all about connecting with people, understanding their problems and motivations, and trying to figure out how to build a business that satisfies their needs.

TK: I think the misconception that used to be popular was that tech companies are for technologists, but in every company there’s a broad variety of roles that you don’t have to be technical for, and you might find you actually love working closer to the technical side of the business.

What opportunities does a start-up offer women that other organisations don’t?

SZ: Startups and scale-ups go through many stages as they evolve, so there's always an opportunity to influence ways of working, policies and culture. There is also a load of learning and career growth opportunities that come organically when you work in a company that's riding an exponential growth curve that doesn't always come so naturally when you work in a larger org.

VM: Yes! When you go into a large established company, culture tends to be quite fixed, and fixed cultures can be very old-fashioned in all sorts of ways. Start-ups are like caterpillars that, with the right influence, can turn into beautiful butterflies. When the people who work in start-ups truly represent the diversity of the community at large, this has an enormous impact on how the culture in these companies is formed. Joining a start-up can feel risky, but the payoff is that you get to shape a workplace that is more inclusive and rewarding than the status quo.

What career advice would you give to women seeking a career in a start-up or tech company?

SZ: Do your homework on the founders and use LinkedIn to understand the ratio of women to men in the company's leadership team. Check out which senior positions women hold - are they leading traditionally female-dominated functions like HR only, or are there female leaders in Revenue, Ops, Finance or Product or Engineering. Look at the company's values and see whether they resonate with you on a personal level - and during the interview process, ask how people live these values at the company. Check out their policies and views on flexible work - do they have the right programs in place to support flexibility, or is it just lip service? Startups can offer incredibly rich and rewarding career opportunities for women. The important thing is to do your homework to ensure that what you see during the hiring process is what you get once you walk through the door.

TK: Some people say working with founders can be tricky and that’s true, so one of the most important decisions you’ll make before taking a role is do you share the values of the founder. If you don’t it’ll be tricky.

VM: Start-ups are messy. I’ve been lucky to join relatively early-stage start-ups with excellent leaders who want to build durable, inclusive, innovative and rewarding workplaces – but I suspect I’ve been lucky. When you’re considering joining a start-up, make sure you meet the founders and grill them on the things that are most important to you – and be prepared to do some of the hard work required to bring the dream to life, too.

The insights and experiences shared by Sara, Toni, and Virginia of EQL's leadership team remind us of the importance of representation, inclusivity, and solidarity in the tech industry. As we continue to push for gender equality and diversity in the workplace, we hope their stories motivate and inspire more women to make their mark in the tech industry. And for career opportunities at EQL, please keep your eyes peeled to our careers page.
Sam Robb
Manager, Talent Acquisition

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