It’s her.

Women's History Month

In Microsoft CEE, we are joining teams across the world to celebrate Women’s History Month.
Central and Eastern Europe can proudly say there were many women that marked Science and Technology fields over the years, with Hypatia of Alexandria in Ancient Greece or Marie Curie more recently, to name just a few.
In March we took the opportunity to ask our senior female leaders in Microsoft CEE about their perspective on success, inspiration, and challenge.

Nanna-Louise Wildfang Linde, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs Lead, Microsoft CEE
Nanna-Louise Wildfang Linde, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs Lead, Microsoft CEE

Here, we bring reflections from Nanna-Louise Wildfang Linde, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs Lead, Microsoft CEE on the importance of manager’s role in individual and team development, value of empowerment and potential disadvantages women still may have in comparison to men.

Q: What does success mean to you? Is there a woman from CEE (past or present) that you particularly admire?
Nanna-Louise:

  1. Success for me is when my team achieves the impact they aim to achieve, and it’s done in a collaborative way leveraging all the strengths and competencies in the team, and the impact is achieved in a way that represents our values and with great team spirit. Success is especially strong if people have had the chance to develop as part of the journey towards achieving the impact.
  2. The women, who have had the biggest impact on my career and to whom I am forever grateful, are two of my former managers at Microsoft: Grete Faremo (former CELA lead for WE) and Shelley McKinley. Both have had a big impact on my leadership philosophy and style and on who I have become as a leader. From both of them, I’ve learned how important and impactful it is to be authentic, and to bring your true self; you don’t need to try to be the leader you think you should be. Trust yourself and be authentic and truthful. I’ve also learned to be transparent in decision-making and to be inclusive in my approach; seeking input from the team on important decisions and making informed decisions where the team feels heard and included. I’ve also learned about empowerment; how powerful it is to empower people and believe in them. We hire the best people in the world, and we don’t need to tell them how to do their jobs; they do their jobs better than you yourself would ever be able to. I firmly believe in this. So, you need to empower, encourage, and guide. There is not any stronger engine for top performance than feeling empowered to do the best job you can.

Q: What do you wish you had done differently?
Nanna-Louise: For years, I had for a manager, X, who was not having a positive impact on the team; especially on the team below me. I should have realized that earlier and made my voice heard. Only when X was no longer in the role did I realize how damaging X had been; and it was very eye-opening to see how much energy and creativity was released when X was replaced. This taught me how important a good leader and manager is for the success of a team and for a company, and the huge responsibility you have as a leader because of the impact you have on people’s lives and performance.

Q: What is the biggest challenge for women today?
Nanna-Louise: Women are often modest and not always aware of their huge potential. They often need to be pushed and it’s crucial to have a manager who really believes in them (as I have been lucky to have, and still have at this moment). With wrong management and leadership, you will “miss” big female talents, and this is a shame… Another challenge is the “language” we use which male leaders can sometimes misunderstand as “not motivated”, for example when discussing a new role or a promotion. We don’t “sell” ourselves as well as our male colleagues, and this is a disadvantage.

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Violeta Luca, General Manager of Microsoft Czech Republic and Slovakia
Violeta Luca, General Manager of Microsoft Czech Republic and Slovakia

Power to bring value, to walk the talk, to learn, to be authentic, to do the right things irrespective of the pressure, to build a legacy and to enjoy the ride” – this is how Violeta Luca, General Manager of Microsoft Czech Republic and Slovakia, explains what success means to her. Read more on what other CEE female leaders she admires, her thoughts on what contemporary challenges for women are and things she wishes she had done differently in our “It’s her” interviews series, celebrating #WomensHistoryMonth.

Q: What does success mean to you? Is there a woman from CEE (past or present) that you particularly admire?
Violeta:
In my view, success is disguised in many forms and shapes, and it reveals to oneself along the journey. I recall that in the early days of my career, success meant to be number one in everything I was doing, the level of competitive approach was high and potentially counterproductive in the long run. After a while, I’ve learned that success means to me the power to bring value, to walk the talk, to learn, to be authentic, to do the right things irrespective of the pressure one might feel or get, to grow people and businesses, to build a legacy and to enjoy the ride. Collaboration and strong partnerships were the backbone of scaling the impact and ultimately helped me to be more successful. I have been fortunate to meet and work with wonderful women and I would name here only a few of them: Michelle Simons, Anke den Ouden, Kristina Tikhonova, Alexandra Kokkini, Christina Verchere, Natalia Stroe, Marina Zara.

Q: What do you wish you had done differently?
Violeta:
Looking back, I feel good about my choices. Thinking about key lessons of my career, I would like to bring one about vulnerability. Many situations require walking a tightrope between vulnerability and conviction. Most likely none of us can ever be fully confident that we are 100% on the right track, yet we may need to inspire confidence in others. By recognizing that vulnerability, which has become present in all roles, we come much closer to losing our fear of it and it creates potential for positive change. For leaders, the challenge and the opportunity come from the humble recognition that no one is invincible, it comes from giving the team members reassurance that decisions are made in a balanced, thoughtful way. And finally, it comes from showing that, in the end, the most strategic approach is the one with the strongest foundation and potential for winning.

Q: What is the biggest challenge for women today?
Violeta: The biggest challenge for women in the 21st century, in general, revolves around the issue of choice – the freedom for women to choose who they become.  But these days, it is also the need to integrate their work and family responsibilities in a sustainable manner. Many times, I’ve come to realize that women tend to care for everyone but themselves and this approach, if applicable, may have significant impact of one’s life. I feel grateful to work for a company which supports women work-life balance and development and enables the value creation powered by a diverse and inclusive environment.

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Alexandra Kokkini, Consulting Director at Microsoft CEE
Alexandra Kokkini, Consulting Director at Microsoft CEE

“Dare more, dare earlier!” – this is how Alexandra Kokkini, Consulting Director at Microsoft CEE, explains what she wishes she had done differently from current perspective, being one of CEE Female Leaders. Read more insights on success and contemporary challenges she sees for women today in continuation of our “It’s her” interviews series, celebrating #WomensHistoryMonth.

Q: What does success mean to you?
Alexandra: Success is the ability to do what you love every day, things that fulfill you. It may sound simple but what you love changes over time and having the ability to change what you do to match your passion is a true success. Success for me also means a sense of giving back to the world and making a difference. A sense of team accomplishment and collective progression. Leading the Consulting team in the CEE gives me the opportunity to impact organizations across different cultures.

In CEE, leaders like Michelle Simmons, Kristina Tikhonova, Violeta Luca, Anke den Ouden, inspire me deeply – their vision, inclusivity and authenticity.

Q: What is the biggest challenge for women today?
Alexandra:
Trusting one’s own voice, using ambition as a strength, not as a negative attitude. Women often must overcome both internal and external barriers to find the confidence to express their ideas. For women in business, it may be a challenge to trust the unique aspects of female executive presence and acknowledge them as personal and organizational assets. On the personal side, inspiring my two daughters Maya and Leda, by creating a more inclusive world for them.

Q: What do you wish you had done differently?
Alexandra: Dare more, dare earlier! I remember my first days in Microsoft, when I was introduced to Growth Mindset concept. Mind Opener! Progress and achievements through learning from our own mistakes are powerful. I wish I had been introduced to this concept earlier in my career! Now I use it every day in my coaching and mentoring activities.

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Judit Fekete, Geo HR Director at Microsoft CEE
Judit Fekete, Geo HR Director at Microsoft CEE

Judit Fekete, Geo HR Director at Microsoft CEE is sharing with us importance of individual approach to both success and challenges, including “silencing the external noise” about what women’s role should be as potentially hardest task of all. She also shares her biggest personal hero at the moment – another remarkable lady from Central & Eastern Europe. Read all about it in the short interview below.

Q: What does success mean to you? Is there a woman from CEE (past or present) that you particularly admire?
Judit: I think how we define success is very individual. We are all so different and still way too often success is identified as achievements in our jobs, career progression or for some, team size. For me as an HR professional, it is about the mark I make on the organization I work in, the growth of the teams and talent we have, and the culture we collectively create. Sometimes it is about coaching someone and exploring new directions together, in some cases it is about helping a team to dream bigger – there is something to achieve every single day. For me as a person, it is to have a life that is rich in experiences, to devote sufficient time (and attention!!!) to my family and friends the way I would like to, to discover new places and to learn. And most recently, in our 100% virtual pandemic reality, to keep physically and mentally fit, to maintain healthy habits in various versions of the lockdown and to remain patient – I call these successes, too.

There are so many women in the CEE, and also at Microsoft CEE who arouse my admiration! I would say that, for me, they are women who are authentic and powerful in their vulnerability and willingness to help others. My current biggest hero is a lady called Nóra L. Ritók who is a teacher and also the founder of the Igazgyöngy Foundation in Hungary, fighting extreme child poverty by teaching art and by helping in crisis situations with family care in underprivileged communities. She is an amazing lady with lots of empathy, with the ability to influence, create followership with meaningful social impact.

Q: What do you wish you would have done differently?
Judit: It is difficult to name one thing: I am one of those people who constantly reflect and come up with a thousand other ways I could have done things – too late, of course. If I have to name one thing, I wish I had posed more questions with more inquisitiveness to great people I know, many of them being very authentic women, so that I can learn even more and faster!

Q: What is the biggest challenge for women today?
Judit: This question is a really good food for thought, thank you! I am not sure I can generalize – although we share some things in common, however, our individual challenges may differ, depending on who we are, what we think of the world, how we look at our work or our private lives, or what success means to us. The way I see it, just silencing the noise (on expectations and thousands of social media posts on what a woman “should” do/”should” be like), figuring out what’s important for us as individuals, and how we want to live our lives is the most important, and maybe the most challenging thing.

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Michelle Simmons
Michelle Simmons, Chief Marketing and Operations Officer for Central & Eastern Europe at Microsoft

Today, we bring reflections from Michelle Simmons, Chief Marketing and Operations Officer for Central & Eastern Europe at Microsoft. Learn what Michelle would have done differently if she could go back in time, what she sees as the biggest challenge for young female professionals today and what she thinks is the right way to address work/life balance in contemporary world. Moreover, learn what other CEE female leaders Michelle gets inspiration from.

Q: What does success mean to you? Is there a woman from CEE (past or present) that you particularly admire?
Michelle: Personally, success is defined by the impact I have while also growing personally and professionally.  In other words, on a personal level it’s not about achievement by itself but instead, learning from past experiences and from others, while challenging myself in new ways.  On a professional level, success to me is about the impact I have on others (through mentoring, career development, or supporting their success), the organization (enabling growth and business impact), and society.  This is one of the reasons I’m so excited about our vision to make Central & Eastern Europe a Digital Hotspot and about my organizations’ role in enabling this growth in our markets.

In this context, I’m inspired by my peers such as Anke den Ouden, Violeta Luca, Kristina Tikhonova and Alexandra Kokkini who are leading their respective teams to have an impact in their local geographies.  These women have all taken on big professional challenges while giving back through sponsoring initiatives such as our “Female Leaders on the Way” program or volunteering their time for local nonprofits.

Q: What do you wish you would have done differently?
Michelle: I am someone who believes there is always a positive aspect to learn from your decisions and experiences.  So, for me, it’s not what I wish I had done differently but what I had not done.  For example, had I started keeping a journal thirty years ago that chronicled my experiences, thoughts, opinions, and observations, I would have insights to reflect on when making decisions today.  Maybe it’s because my three teenage daughters are becoming more independent, or perhaps it’s because I recently celebrated 20 years at Microsoft, but I find myself in a more reflective mood and believe capturing these experiences and insights along the way would have helped me to be a better leader today.

Q: What is the biggest challenge for women today?
Michelle: In today’s environment, I worry about how younger women will manage their work and personal lives.  While I have been fortunate that my husband has been home with our daughters for the past eighteen years, COVID has added complexity to the lives of working families who must balance children’s schooling from home, working from home, and in the technology industry, a faster pace and demands on the business.  As a result, we’ve been having a lot of discussions in our workplace about how to prioritize work and wellbeing alike.  I believe ongoing, transparent, and authentic discussions are needed to address these new work/life challenges and to ensure a work environment that is equally accessible in this new context.

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Women's History Month
Kristina Tikhonova, General Manager at Microsoft Russia

Kristina Tikhonova, General Manager at Microsoft Russia is talking about her perspective on success, inspiration, and challenges. Read all about it in the short interview below.

Q: What does success mean to you? Is there a woman from CEE (past or present) that you particularly admire?
Kristina: For me, success is to enjoy the place where you are at and get energized by the challenges on one side, and by seeing the result of the team effort, on the other. Being in the role of GM can be stressful if one looks at it from a “burden” perspective, but I prefer to look at the opportunity side – then every effort and every small step towards the “big ambition” you’ve formulated for yourself and the team, IS a success. I think that in current environment, when strategic tasks and goals are long-term and complex – it is important to recognize “successes” in what you do every day.

I admire many women in the CEE, one of them is Michelle Simmons – she is combining high professionalism, success and human empathy, while being very authentic.

Q: What do you wish you would have done differently?
Kristina: I would have spent more time with my daughter in her first couple of years – I was early in career at that time, and almost always on the road. There are moments in life in which you want to be present, and these are important to you, so you want to make time and space for them. After a while, I learned to prioritize personal things better, but those are the lessons learned with time.

Q: What is the biggest challenge for women today?
Kristina: I think our biggest challenge is that we often want to be perfect in many dimensions – at work, having excellent job performance, but also being a good mother/spouse, etc. and this creates internal pressure – the expectations that we put on ourselves, and they just make it harder to “fit” into your own standards. I think we should learn to be more flexible, and enjoy and accept ourselves the way we are…

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