IWD 2023: Celebrating women around the world who are championing equity

This year’s theme for IWD is “Embrace Equity”—and that’s exactly what these women at Zendesk are enabling and empowering others to do.

By Subarna Ganguly, Staff Writer

Last updated March 8, 2023

Today, the 8th of March, is International Women’s Day (IWD), a globally recognised day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women since 1911. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and inclusion and emboldening the collective fight against discrimination.

Celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is vital for embracing equity. At Zendesk, we are celebrating our women colleagues across the globe today who are breaking gender stereotypes, challenging the status quo, and enabling and educating others to embrace equity. They are building a culture of inclusivity through their commitment and work within our employee communities (ECs), while forging ahead in their careers in the technology industry.

Each one of these incredibly talented women has had a unique journey, with its trials and tribulations. These are their stories.

Shao Minje (Candy)

Shao Minje (Candy)

Originally from Dunhuang, China, Candy is a business development representative based in the beautiful “Garden City” of Singapore. She joined Zendesk in January 2022 and has over 10 years of experience in the FMCG industry, with seven years specifically in the IT industry. Some of the technology firms she has previously worked with include Google Cloud and Symantec.

Candy is also currently the Asia-Pacific (APAC) lead for Women at Zendesk, one of our eight employee communities. Candy’s hobbies include reading and dancing.

Can you tell us a little about your journey?

Shao (Candy): “As a busy mom of two energetic children, I’d struggled for many years to pursue my career while juggling my responsibilities as a parent. This inspired me to join the Women at Zendesk (WAZ) community. My goal as an EC leader is to support women who are facing similar challenges and enable them to find their work-life balance.

What do you see as the biggest hurdles for women in tech?

Shao (Candy): “As a working woman in the tech industry, there are so many challenges we have to face and obstacles we have to overcome: prejudice, bias, and discrimination, to name a few. Most working moms are also the main caregivers who have to juggle a lion’s share of the responsibilities at home, along with their career. However, our biggest challenge, in my view, is equity.”

You spoke about ‘equity.’ What does this mean to you?

Shao (Candy): “For me, it’s all about awareness—not only in our society, but in the employment market. My vision for the future of work is one of equitable opportunities and flexible choices for all women, where most enterprises actually transform value and mission statements into meaningful actions to provide bias-free spaces for working moms who want to continue their career development.”

Anna Przybylo

Anna Przybylo

Anna is a learning program facilitator within the talent development team, specialising in new hire orientation. Originally from Poland, she joined Zendesk in November 2021 on a part-time basis and lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Outside of Zendesk, she is a yoga and well-being coach and advocates for menstrual cycle awareness and conscious and cyclical living, with a mission to help people awaken to their personal power to heal, transform, and thrive in their unique way.

Anna tries to live what she preaches, which means having a balance of work-related activities, physical activities, meditation, and quality time with loved ones. She enjoys traveling, meeting new people, and learning about new cultures and languages. Anna is multilingual and speaks Polish, English, and Portuguese.

In February 2023, Anna was appointed as the EMEA Lead for the Whole Self employee community, which focuses on mental health, physical, and mental disabilities, and allies.

Can you tell us a little about your mission as EMEA Lead for the Whole Self community?

Anna: “My goal is to support our community in creating more safe spaces for everyone to show up as they are, to share their stories, and to feel supported by the community in a non-judgmental way. I wish for all of us to develop more kindness and self-compassion, and as a result, build more resilience so that we can live fully and true to ourselves. All parts of ‘you’ are welcome here.”

What do you see as the biggest challenges for working women in tech today?

Anna:“For me, the biggest challenge is having enough confidence in how my unique skills, experience, and personality can contribute to my work and in how I can support my colleagues. I have felt challenged many times by comparing myself to other people’s level of knowledge and/or experience and perhaps feeling somehow inferior and incapable. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that there is no need for us to compare ourselves with others. While having someone that inspires us is a good thing, I strongly feel that it is important for us to celebrate our uniqueness and find our strengths in how we can contribute to our workplace and our communities.”

What does this year’s theme ‘Embrace Equity’ mean to you?

Anna: “I love the theme. For me, this means learning about each other, our individual needs, and how we can support each other. Each one of us is different and therefore has a unique role and mission. Providing individualised support to each and every individual can make a real difference in making every person thrive both personally and professionally.”

Whitney Watts

Whitney Watts

Whitney joined Zendesk in 2019 and is currently the director of global campaign marketing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Whitney has over 20 years of experience in the tech industry and was previously at Salesforce. Whitney is passionate about launching impactful campaigns and programs at a global scale and making a difference through Zendesk’s Mosaic employee community, which supports employees of colour and their allies.

In 2022, Whitney was the AMER lead for Mosaic, and this year, she is stepping into a global leadership role for the employee community.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey in tech?

Whitney: “For my undergraduate degree, I studied international affairs, history, and languages at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Although I studied liberal arts, every class actually had a tech slant to it. For example, instead of just studying American history, we studied the history of industrialisation and the rise of technology. That really laid the foundation for my love of technology. In graduate school, I studied sociology and education at the University of Georgia. I had a brief stint in teaching but then moved into working for a non-profit where I wore many hats, including assisting with their marketing activities. After that, I worked as a marketing consultant for an agency, and there I really fell in love with marketing.”

What have been the biggest challenges for you as a working woman and how did you overcome them?

Whitney: “I can’t divorce my other identities from the hurdles of being a working woman. So my answer will be intersectional. Working through the pandemic and the spring/summer of 2020 with the Black Lives Matter protests, it was very hard to keep my typical ‘positive mental attitude’ during that time. I navigated it through meditation and therapy. I built a solid routine for myself that included journaling and exercise.”

What does “Embrace Equity” mean for you?

Whitney: “To me, it means really putting social justice into practice. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. Examining systems and rebuilding with an eye towards fairness and equity. It is about challenging privileges. It means providing access, opportunities, and levels of support to meet/exceed the needs of underserved and underinvested communities.”

Céline Foubert

Céline Foubert

Céline is a senior marketing manager in France and focuses on mid-market and enterprise marketing in the region. She resides in Paris, the beautiful “City of Lights,” and joined Zendesk four years ago. Céline has been working in the B2B marketing space for more than 10 years, mostly in the tech industry.

She is passionate about urban arts and dance and enjoys traveling. Céline is multilingual and speaks French, English, and Portuguese, a language she picked up while working in Brazil a few years ago.

She was the EMEA lead for the Women at Zendesk employee community in 2022 and is now taking on the mantle of the global lead in 2023.

What do you see as the main challenges for women in tech?

Céline: “I’ve chosen a company that really promotes diversity and equality, but I’ve seen women quite underrepresented in general in the tech industry, particularly at C-levels or board. They still have to work twice as hard to get to the same level with equitable and fair compensation. So, one of the biggest challenges for us will be to challenge the status quo, break the bias, and promote women’s leadership towards more equality and inclusion.”

What does ‘Embrace Equity’ mean to you?

Céline: “I feel there is a rising voice and willingness today to really move the needle towards more equality and fight discrimination. But it’s a slow burn. We’re still far from the goal post, with social habits and unconscious bias in the way. I think that by embracing equity, we can accelerate meaningful structural changes and educate and empower all genders to make an impact.”

What drives you outside of work, and how do you find work-life balance?

Céline: “I’m a busy bee in my personal life, and I love to keep learning from artistic activities, traveling, and spending quality time with friends and families. I find my balance by always making sure I have time for those moments.”

Vanessa Calzani

Vanessa Calzani

Vanessa has been at Zendesk for four years and is currently a director based in Latin America (LATAM), leading campaigns and integrated marketing in the region.

With her empathetic leadership style and success story, she is also a strong role model and mentor for women at Zendesk LATAM.

What do you see as the biggest obstacles for working women today?

Vanessa: “I feel lucky to work at Zendesk, where diversity and inclusion are upheld so seriously—this has positively impacted my life in many ways. Recently, Zendesk offered me the opportunity to take an Oxford Women Leadership Programme that made me reflect even more on women’s challenges in the work environment around the world. A few things I’d like to call out:

First, we are way too tough on ourselves. Women tend to be much more critical of themselves, almost having the need to be perfect. In a competitive industry such as tech, this is even worse and can be extremely exhausting for us. Sometimes, women have to rely on masculine models/styles of leadership to be perceived as a strong leader. I personally struggled a lot during my career with this, but I have learned to navigate this challenge and am working continuously on being a better leader each day while still being myself—and I’m glad I can do that at Zendesk.

Second, many companies still discriminate against women with children and pregnant women or don’t allow them the required time for self and family care, dismissing them once they return from maternity leave and even skipping promotion opportunities during this time. I’m really glad that in Zendesk we have equal opportunities. For instance, Zendesk even financially supports women with fertility issues, covering costs for in-vitro fertilisation—this is such a game changer!”

How do you celebrate IWD and what does ‘Embrace Equity’ mean for you?

Vanessa: “I love celebrating being a woman. This is a day for women, and men, to look at the importance of a woman’s role in the family, in society, in the work environment, and in the varied roles we play. For me, embracing equity is understanding that everyone has the same rights but different needs. And we have to acknowledge that in order to make the changes needed to combat unconscious bias, discrimination, and violence of any type, we need to embrace diversity first, to advocate for equity. It’s all about love, kindness, and balance.”

What drives you outside of work, and how do you find your inner zen?

Vanessa: “I enjoy spending quality time with my husband, taking our crazy beagle (Vanilla) for walks, and connecting with our extended family and friends. I have been spending a lot of time on self-care lately and have reinstated a routine of daily yoga sessions, exercise, diet improvement, and wellness and spiritual practices in my life. I also want to reignite my passion for dance. Being connected with God and its greater forces through meditation and prayer is a foundational part of my life. That’s how I find my work-life balance, my inner Zen.”

Manisha De Silva

Manisha De Silva

Manisha De Silva has been with Zendesk for just under two years and is based in Melbourne, Australia. She is an engineering manager for Zendesk’s event streaming team, which is part of the data foundation organisation. She has over 20 years of experience in the tech industry and has worked with leading brands in the Australian online classification industry. Her areas of expertise include product development, technology, and strategy.

After a successful year of being the APAC regional lead, this year she is spreading her wings to take on the role of global lead for Women in Engineering (WIE), a Zendesk EC that focuses on women in technical careers and their allies. The EC’s mission is to build an active community of women and non-binary engineers to connect, learn from each other, and truly thrive.

Manisha will be responsible for creating and executing a WIE strategy across multiple regions with a focus on career development, connection, community, and culture.

What do you see as the greatest challenges for working women?

Manisha: “There are multiple challenges for working women today, and they are not unique to the region. We see a glaring lack of sponsors for women in tech, which has an inadvertent impact on the number of women role models at senior leadership positions, especially in the C-suite. There is also a lack of gender diversity in teams, which results from not enough women applying for jobs in tech. If we dig deeper, this originates from deeper societal stereotypes and pressures on women about what career and education paths to choose. Very few women are encouraged at an early age to take on STEM-related subjects at schools and universities. Once in the workforce, women face the challenge of finding the elusive work-life balance, as the main caregivers in most families. Interestingly, women are also susceptible to experiencing ‘imposter syndrome.’ Women must overcome all these and more to feel confident and succeed against all odds in today’s competitive world, especially in tech.”

What does ‘Embrace Equity’ mean to you?

Manisha: “For me, it means empowering everyone to have a voice. It’s about creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves as their most authentic selves. It’s about respecting the diversity of thoughts and skills without unconscious biases. A place of belonging and being valued for the person you are.”

What drives you outside of work, and how do you find your inner zen?

Manisha: “I’ve been trying to crack that magic work-life balance formula but haven’t quite succeeded yet. It’s a prioritisation exercise. On weekends, I spend most of my time with my family and our dog Teddy. I love hiking, being by the ocean, traveling, and reading, and I have recently taken up tennis lessons.”

Tameisha Brown

Tameisha Brown

Tameisha joined Zendesk in March 2022 as a senior project manager for the digital and regional marketing team. In her role, she partners with leaders across the regions to drive major initiatives forward. In addition to her marketing role, she was recently appointed as the AMER leader for Women at Zendesk. She is super excited about her new role, collaborating with her peers in other ECs, and bringing shared ideas and goals to fruition this year.

What have been the biggest hurdles for you as a working woman in the tech industry?

Tameisha: “One of the biggest hurdles for me as a woman in tech is being seen and heard. I have been in meetings where I was designated as the ‘notetaker.’ Or had ideas dismissed when said by me but praised when said by a man in the room. As we get better at speaking up for ourselves and embracing our allies, I remain hopeful that we can overcome these obstacles and others.”

How does this year’s theme of ‘Embrace Equity’ resonate with you?

Tameisha: “Embracing equity for me means treating people according to their needs. There are several layers to who we are as a person. Recognising and embracing all of those is how we can provide the associated resources and support needed for each of us to thrive.”

What is your mantra for finding work-life balance?

Tameisha: “Truly embracing life drives me outside of work. I do so by mentally and physically unplugging when my work day ends. I explore new places, do activities that bring me joy, and practice gratitude, every day.”

Embodying the spirit of Zendesk

Zendesk has eight employee communities, representing all four key regions, that bring together over 30 leaders and more than 2,000 members. ECs are employee-led groups that play a critical role in building our culture at Zendesk. They have a direct impact on employee experience by bringing our core values to life, making Zendesk a place where people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to truly thrive, focusing on the primary objectives of career, connection, community, and culture.

These seven featured women represent a handful of our amazing ECs and are just a small selection of a wider community of extraordinary women across the organisation who are paving the way for others with their courage, creativity, determination, hard work, empathy, and talents. This day, and every day, we salute each one of them.