“Be passionate, push boundaries, and don’t take no for an answer”.
Abigail Rappoport is the CEO of Emoquo, a digital coaching and people analytics platform that improves emotional resilience at work via a confidential digital app and real-time emotional heatmap. I sat down with Abigail to ask her about her experiences as a tech leader and as a woman in the technology industry
1. How did you become a tech leader?
Abi studied business at university and then, starting in financial services, began her career in marketing. During this time, she saw what technology can do for a business: how it can solve problems and create opportunities. Abi was then keen to move into the technology industry.
When everyone around her said it wouldn’t be possible to move into another industry and progress her career at the same pace, Abi ignored their advice and proved them wrong, saying: “Where there’s a will there’s a way”.
Where there’s a will there’s a way
Working in the technology industry with a business background allowed Abi to understand the unique challenges and opportunities from a different angle. She also discovered that there are many roles in technology companies that don’t require deep technical expertise, and that technical knowledge can be learned along the way.
Having worked for a start-up that IPO’d as well as for a number of SMEs for a number of years, in 2004 Abi was presented with the opportunity of a role at Microsoft. They had been a client of hers in a previous job. Working at Microsoft was very rewarding, and she was able to progress relatively quickly in her career, holding a number of leadership positions including running the Microsoft Office product division for the UK.
Whilst on her second maternity leave Abi had time to reflect on what she wanted to do next and decided she wanted to go back to her roots in the start-up world. She says her career has always been spent looking for something new and different, pushing herself outside of her comfort zone – something she feels more women need to do.
From Microsoft, Abi took on the role of CEO of Emoquo in 2015.
2. What would you say has been the biggest challenge?
Abi answered this question in two parts: one, the biggest challenge whilst at Microsoft; and two, the biggest challenge whilst at working back at a start-up after years in the corporate world.
Abi says that tech companies are usually good at supporting people: giving them great careers, focusing a lot on diversity and inclusion and working really hard to get it right. Her personal experience was that, when you’re a senior director and come back to work after maternity leave, she felt an unspoken, implicit pressure to work in the same way she did before having kids. When you have very young kids they need you, and she felt torn and conflicted between wanting to give it everything at work as well as at home.
Abi’s choice to move to a start-up was based on wanting to continue her career progression by becoming a CEO of a company that she passionately believed in and wanted to grow, as well as having a fulfilling job on her terms. The role remains both rewarding and challenging in equal measure. It was absolutely the right choice and she feels privileged to be working with an amazing team that share the same values.
At Emoquo, Abi has found that at almost every technology start-up event there are hardly any other women in the room. Even recently at an HR Tech event, Abi was the only woman founder/CEO presenting (she also won best presentation). Given the relatively high number of females in HR, Abi questioned the lack of women in the room, and was presented with a ‘it’s a big problem’ answer which seemed to abdicate any responsibility from the organisers. Talking to another woman in the room that day, she said that “she didn’t even notice” [the lack of women presenters that day] as she was so used to it.
3. What’s been the highlight/biggest achievement?
Whilst at Microsoft Abi won the Circle of Excellence award for outstanding achievement twice. This is a highly acclaimed global award, that very few people ever get, and to win twice is a major achievement. Abi is also proud of the seniority level she reached at Microsoft: running a billion dollar business and bringing Office 365 to market as just two examples.
At Emoquo, Abi is most proud of the success they’ve had in their current funding round: they’ve raised more in the last 18 months than they have in the previous years of the companies existence. This was made possible because of the significant progress that company has made under her leadership on product development, sales, marketing and partnerships.
4. What advice would you give to a woman starting out in the tech industry?
In a corporate environment, Abi’s top advice is to create a very strong network and make yourself visible for doing great work. It’s easy to think that if you do a good job people will notice, but this isn’t always the case. You have to subtly promote yourself all the time. She also advises working on projects you’re passionate about which are also strategically valuable to the company.
In a start-up situation, Abi says you have to:
“Be passionate, push boundaries, don’t take no for an answer, you must fight for what you believe in, learn from knocks – use them to get better and stronger, don’t let them pull you down”.
Abi says “your network is most your important asset: work it, work it, work it”. Even when you don’t think you need to work it, work it. Help others as much as possible and be generous with your time. Seek out people who you admire and who inspire you and ask them to mentor you, and then use ask them to bring you into their networks too.
5. What do you think the future looks like for women in tech?
Abi is positive about the future: women must stand up and be counted, take advantage of the many untapped opportunities in the market, and stay at the forefront of cutting edge and disruptive technology.
She recognises there is still some way to go. Many companies have lots of great policies and ideas that actually don’t have much of an effect. Like unconscious bias training – people think that because they’ve done the training it’s done, they abdicate responsibility. People do become more aware, but to overcome bias takes years – Emoquo helps people do this every day through positive reinforcement and support delivered via a confidential and engaging app.
Abi also says the lack of inclusivity in technology doesn’t just hurt women, she knows some really talented men who haven’t been able to fulfil their potential. In some environments, men are discouraged from talking about their feelings and a “be tough” culture prevails. Sadly, male suicide is still the biggest killer of men under 45. The government’s policy of forcing companies with 250+ staff to report the gender pay gap could become a spreadsheet exercise to balance the numbers, or companies could use it as an opportunity to dig deep, relook at their cultures and make radical changes to the way they do business. Change does take time. However, there enough macro and micro-economic forces at play that will force a change for the better. Abi believes more women will work contractually and in the gig economy as self-employed workers, and that this set up will become the new normal for both men and women as the desire and opportunities to have a more flexible, fulfilling life continues to take hold.
Emoquo’s website: www.emoquo.com
Abi’s LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/abigailrappoport
For an introduction to LACE’s ‘Women in Tech’ series, compiled by Kathryn Evans, please visit our first piece, ‘Women in Tech Series: Be brave!’.