On International Women’s Day on March 8, RingCentral staff tuned in to a panel discussion highlighting how RingCentral, and how people in general, can encourage, uplift, and celebrate women on this day and ongoing. Moderator Sarah Fricke, AVP of Global Revenue Enablement at RingCentral, facilitated the conversation among Kira Makagon, CIO of RingCentral; Sonalee Parekh, CFO of RingCentral; and Mignon Clyburn, former commissioner of the FCC, president of MLC Strategies, LLC, and member of RingCentral’s Board of Directors.
Words of inspiration from famous women
At the outset, Fricke asked the three panelists to highlight quotes that have served as inspiration to them along their journeys to leadership positions. Kicking things off, Kira Makagon emphasized the duty that she feels women have to help other women, quoting the late Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State, who said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” When it comes to how to help, Makagon turned to the words of feminist poet Adrienne Rich, who suggested “the most important thing one woman can do for another is to illuminate and expand her sense of actual possibilities.” The latter quote became a recurring theme of the panel, with all panelists citing how important it is to advocate for and mentor other women.
For her inspiration, Mignon Clyburn turned to the late former U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, sharing how Chisholm suggested, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Mignon expanded on that sense of self-agency with another Chishom quote, highlighting how “we must reject not only the stereotypes that others hold of us but also the stereotypes that we hold of ourselves.” Mignon emphasized the importance of knowing that what we embrace, accept, and perpetuate are under our own control and encouraged women to be empowered to take and leverage that control along their path of advancement.
Referencing a quote she has hanging on her wall and noting how it’s there for her sons to read every day, too, Sonalee Parekh turned to inspiration from late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who famously insisted “women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” Parekh highlighted the importance of women being in the room right now as AI proliferates at lightning speed, as there is risk inherent in AI algorithms being written to grow, build, and multiply full of our own existing biases. Parekh highlighted this risk as a call to action for more women to enter and remain in the tech field, especially taking care right now to be in those rooms where decisions about AI are being made.
The importance of uplifting each other
Panelists also highlighted how they help other women to build their confidence. Clyburn underscored the importance of leading by example, which includes showing and affirming that it doesn’t take perfection to be effective. To her, Clyburn shared, the “how” of how we approach things matters more than the “what,” with her noting “how you approach things, how you project, how you uplift – those are the lasting legacies that people need. We can’t control the what; we can control the how.” Makagon agreed and emphasized how it is common knowledge that having diversity, including women, on teams makes teams more effective. Makagon also challenged those women who have broken the glass ceiling to remember to turn around and help others to do so, too.
Attention remained on how women can uplift other women, with Makagon sharing how, a decade ago, she appeared as the only woman along with 17 men in a picture from a RingCentral senior leadership offsite. Seeing that visual depiction made her resolute in change making to bring other women into the picture. Makagon shared how RingCentral has come to recognize and fight unconscious bias, bringing in speakers to raise awareness of such bias and to educate management and others on it.
Staying true to oneself
Authenticity served as another key theme that unfolded in the conversation, with all panelists sharing how they learned to be themselves during some critical, specific moments. Makagon shared stories about how she worked hard to fit in with men, and then, one day, she wore a skirt to an interview, prompting a professor to quip “you look like a girl.” Parekh chimed in that when she, too, tried hard to be “one of the guys” in a prior role, she ended up not happy with how she was representing herself; ultimately, she came to appreciate hers and others’ uniqueness and especially their unique voices as key ingredients in career satisfaction and success. Clyburn reminded everyone, “the cards you’re dealt at first aren’t the cards you finish your hand with,” inspiring everyone to remember that times do change, and things do improve.
Along the vein of things that we all hope will improve very soon, Makagon highlighted the many women presently engaged in the war in Ukraine. Makagon mentioned that International Women’s Day was a recognized holiday when she was growing up in Ukraine, celebrated, in part, by boys bringing carnations for girls on this day. On behalf of the panel, Makagon extended a virtual flower to all women impacted by this horrible war.
Highlighting a quote that Clyburn cited, moderator Fricke concluded the panel with a reminder from Oscar Wilde: “be yourself; everyone else is taken.” Panelists shared their final thoughts, with Board member Clyburn sharing the important reminder that, when it comes to women building careers, “the road isn’t straight, the terrain isn’t smooth; embrace that. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being effective and being true to you; you’ll come out on top because you’ll figure out how to meander in a way that’s best for you and for the organizations that you work with. Stay hopeful, and remain uplifted.”
Building a better culture
The panel concluded with discussing RingCentral’s current efforts to create a more supportive culture for women, including by pulling more women into leadership. Last year, 18 women nominated by senior leadership participated in the first cohort of leadership training designed to bring more women into more AVP+ positions. This year will see a second cohort. Moderator Fricke and panelist Parekh both underscored that any women interested in taking part in this cohort are encouraged to talk with their management about the possibility. As well, all panelists invited RingCentral staff to reach out by chat at any time for connection and mentorship, with Makagon reminding everyone: “women aren’t used to asking for help; we are used to fending for ourselves – but if you don’t ask, you don’t get it [help]. We’re all here, so reach out!”
We have a number of events this Women’s History Month. Register for our webinar WISE ERG: Stories of Allyship in the Workplace Panel Discussion with Carlos Granda, SVP Customer Success, on March 21 at 9 am PT / 12 pm ET. Register here.
Please join Carlos Granda, Senior Vice President of Customer Success, who will host a panel of industry leaders and share their stories of moments that matter. Carlos will be joined by Jessica (Brown) Guerrero, Global Head of Cloud GTM Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at Google, Lili Gil Valetta, CEO and Co-Founder at Culture+ Group, and, Rhonda Vetere, Global CIO/CTO, 2x Author, Global STEM Ambassador and All World Athlete 70.3.
We will discuss what allyship means, how we can all become better allies to the women we work with, along with hearing great stories and examples of this in practice. Together we can honor the contributions made by the women that came before us, and build towards a future in which subsequent generations of women can thrive as their authentic selves in the workplace.
Originally published Mar 16, 2023, updated Mar 17, 2023