George Kopilashvili, Head of Digital and Events Marketing at Microsoft for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), started his career at Microsoft over 10 years ago and is now covering the region of 33 countries including 24 countries in CEE. He considers himself very lucky to be surrounded by people with diverse backgrounds and worldviews. We talked with George about what the past year has taught him as a professional and how we as a society can improve even more in the field of diversity and inclusion.
It is Pride month. What does it mean to you?
I was born and raised in Kazakhstan, a country in the middle of Central Asia with a complex mix of cultural, political, historical and religious heritages. Being a gay person in Kazakhstan was hard – as it was for many in countries that gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I’ve seen my experiences reflected in the stories of so many friends across Kazakhstan, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. Some of our countries made progress, removing identity-based discriminatory policies. Yet there’s a long way to go to be truly inclusive and accepting societies.
While some lay claim to borders, I see how our fights for freedom and LGBTQIA+ equity and inclusion truly have no borders. Being united has never been more important – supporting LGBTQIA+ communities and all people there should be everyone’s utmost goal.
What does your role as Worldwide Policy Co-director for Microsoft’s LGBTQIA+ ERG (Employee Resources Group) include?
In my role as a Policy Co-director for LGBTQIA+ ERG, I’m working with internal communities, HR departments, and Legal offices of Microsoft to evaluate our internal policies and procedures connected to the LGBTQIA+ community and ensure equal rights and protection. While I look and focus on what’s happening inside, I’m also a big believer that we, as a company, have a positive impact on the countries we operate in.
Microsoft is a trendsetter for many aspects of corporate life, influencing the broader society as well. We are hundreds of thousands of bright and smart people working at Microsoft. We impact our friends, our customers, and partners outside of our office. When Microsoft decides to support a local Pride Parade, when Microsoft employees march under the rainbow flag, we show a great example to people and communities we operate in.
You are originally from Kazakhstan, lived in Cuba as a child, moved to Belgium, and now live in the Czech Republic. As a digital nomad, do you plan on living someplace else?
I am enjoying Prague and the Czech Republic. I’m trying to learn the Czech language and explore this beautiful country and around. However, I like to think about myself as a modern nomad – I don’t need to stick to one place to enjoy my life. I love exploring cultures, countries, and places. This is where I get energy. Luckily enough, with modern technologies, my work performance is not dependent on my physical location anymore. Actually, my working life became fully digital around four years ago, when I started leading a regional team of marketeers located in different locations across Central and Eastern Europe. Even before 2020, we would typically meet 2-3 times a year in different countries, and the rest was always a digital collaboration.
Did your approach as a leader change in any way since last year?
It did — a lot. I had to (re)think about some of the fundamentals. With hybrid work, your home is often your workplace, it’s hard to stop working, and it’s easy to work a little bit more after. One of the things you try to do as a leader is to lead by example – this would mean not working after hours, or, even if you do, be respectful of others, and don’t send an email when everyone is offline.
What happens is that you receive an email from your manager at 9 pm, and the temptation to open it is very high. There is a very cool feature delivered by VIVA for Outlook, which will automatically deliver your message during the working hours of the recipient! I love it! Focusing on a conversation, not being distracted by the system and notifications, is not a simple task. Another tool which helps me to get better is Team Meeting Habits, also part of Viva package. It’s an analytics tool which investigates your past behaviors and brings you some excellent insights. One, which I chose to act on, is “multitasking.” I regularly check my performance and try to keep the % of the time I multitask during the meetings below 30%.
You are constantly learning and improving; what is something that you have learned this year? What are some positive outcomes?
I love learning. I like different learning formats, varying from corporate education, online courses, to formal and structured learning. In 2021, I started probably the most ambitious learning journey of my life – I enrolled in the Doctorate Program. I’m going to spend the next 4-5 years doing the research and writing the thesis, looking into the marketing automation and sales impact. This is highly connected to how Microsoft does marketing in the modern era, and I’m keen to deepen my personal knowledge and expertise as well as bring research-supported insights into the business.
I have gained the most valuable lesson (and it’s not new) – never stop learning. When we learn something new, we broaden our horizons. We are becoming better professionals and better people at the end of the day.
What is something you would like to change regarding diversity?
I believe every conversation about diversity should start with the intention to listen and understand. Many stigmas and cliches exist because people don’t bother to ask or assume that everything is fine. For many people in the LGBTQIA+ community with mixed legislative, cultural, and religious backgrounds, it’s often a hard and big step to allow yourself to come out in the workplace.
Having an open culture, where no hate is expected, does help people to be who they
We at Microsoft do have such an environment that encourages diversity, innovation, and co-creation!