On March 8 every year, International Women’s Day is celebrated all around the world to recognize the contributions and achievements of women across various communities while calling for greater equality. This year, the theme “Make It Happen” aims to encourage effective action for advancing and recognizing women. In conjunction with this occasion, Microsoft Asia Pacific will be featuring female leaders from around the region, sharing their inspirations as well as words of advice for women hoping to #MakeItHappen in the technology industry and beyond.
General Manager, Southeast Asia New Markets, Microsoft Asia Pacific
Michelle Simmons is the general manager of Southeast Asia New Markets at Microsoft Asia Pacific. In this role, she leads Microsoft’s business across nine countries that make up some of Asia Pacific’s fastest growing markets. Prior to this role, Simmons was the senior director of Marketing & Operations for Microsoft Korea. She began her career with Microsoft in the United States in 2001, where she held leadership positions in sales, partner strategy, and marketing across the Enterprise as well as Small and MidMarket and Partner Solutions organizations. Before joining Microsoft, Simmons held several sales and sales management positions at ASAP Software and Frontier Communications.
What empowers you to Make It Happen at work and at home?
What empowers me is an opportunity to create an impact that can make a difference. It’s also about having the trust and confidence from my family, my team and my co-workers.
What advice would you give girls to help them reach their goals and Make It Happen?
Firstly, define your goals without any constraints or influence from others and set them high. Secondly, believe that you can do whatever you dream or want to do. You don’t always have to do things the same way others have, whether you are a man or woman.
When my husband and I first got married, we chose not to have kids as we were both working. We were married for about 7 years before we decided to have children. When we did, we also decided that he will stay at home. It has been 12 years since. It was a big decision to have my husband stay at home 12 years ago, as not many people were doing that, even in the U.S. But we did what we felt was the best decision for the family. So my advice is to do what works for you and not feel compelled to conform to what society expects from you.
What would you like to do more to inspire other women to take on leadership roles?
For women just starting their career, they often have too many expectations. I’d say worry less about the expectations and more about the impact they can have, whether they are in a leadership position or not. It is also about adopting leadership in any role they are in, as they don’t have to be in a leadership position to take on a leadership role.
Who are the women who inspire you the most, and why?
Although my mother did work outside the home and that set a good example for me, I’d say that I am most inspired by my female peers. For me, it’s less about whether the person is male or female, but whether he or she has the right leadership skills to be the role model I can look up to.
Why do you think it’s important to involve more women in the tech industry?
For one, women are driving more buying power. Women are part of the population and the tech industry should be representative of that. Part of the innovation in technology is about incorporating and being able to identify diverse perspectives. By offering a different point of view and perspective, women are critical to encouraging innovation. That being said, it’s not really about women but it’s all about embracing diversity.
What advice would you give to girls who are thinking about working in the technology field?
My advice would be to try and explore what the career opportunities are in the technology industry. Certainly what’s most obvious is programming but there are a lot of other things that you can do. Ask people that you know in the industry about what they do and why they enjoy doing it. Open your mind to all the different opportunities in the technology field.
And if you are already interested in the tech field, the best thing is to enjoy it, make it a hobby, learn about it, have fun and develop the skills along the way.
How do you think we can inspire and encourage interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) among young females?
I believe it is important that young girls are exposed to these subjects while they are still in school. The aim is for them to have fun studying these subjects and make sure they are being challenged and experimenting in those subjects. Once they can start applying it in different parts of their personal life, it will become more interesting. They will then be able to visualize the careers ahead of them.
I majored in Marketing and French in college but I love Mathematics and statistics. However, at that point in time, other than being an actuary, I didn’t see what careers were possible, so I didn’t pursue it. But I’d say for young girls (like my three girls at home), it’s about making it fun and applying it to things they are interested in.
What is your personal view about International Women’s Day and the role of women in the society and workplace?
International Women’s Day is an important day to stop, reflect and see how far we have come, celebrate what we have achieved and see what the possibilities are in the future. I think it’s essential to bring out the tension to the cause and the importance of women and diversity.
But at the same time, I also believe that there should not be too much focus on making it a women issue. After all, workplace challenges are not unique to women. A challenge is a challenge, for both men and women. For example, men face the same struggles like maintaining a work-life balance, just that they may handle and express it differently.
What I have noticed is that a lot of women these days are looking for a role model. They want to know that it’s possible before going for it which makes International Women’s Day significant. By celebrating women’s achievements on this day, it serves as a great reminder and encouragement to all women that many of their goals and dreams are possible, they just have to make it happen.
At Microsoft, we strive to create an environment that helps us capitalize on the diversity of our people and the inclusion of ideas and solutions to meet the needs of our global and diverse customer base.
Find out more about our global diversity and inclusion programs here.
Read more about the experiences and inspirations from these female leaders in Microsoft Asia Pacific:
- Pip Marlow – Managing Director, Microsoft Australia
- Serena Cheung – Director of Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners Group (SMS&P), Microsoft Hong Kong
- Mira Fitria Soetjipto – Human Resource Director, Microsoft Indonesia
- Sunny J. Park – Legal and Corporate Affairs Director, Microsoft Korea
- Rukmani Subramanian – Chief Marketing & Operations Officer, Microsoft Malaysia
- Jan Ferguson – Director of Customer & Partner Experience, Microsoft New Zealand
- Karrie C. Ilagan – Country General Manager, Microsoft Philippines
- Jessica Tan – Managing Director, Microsoft Singapore
- Flora Chen – Customer Service and Support Lead, Microsoft Taiwan
- Siriporn Pajharawat – Director of Developer Experience & Platform Evangelism (DX) Group, Microsoft Thailand
- Duong Thi Kim Anh – Human Resource Manager, Microsoft Vietnam