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The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business in Canada is Esra Akgol, Senior Director of Global HR Business Partner & HR Operations, People & Culture, ApplyBoard, EdTech platform dedicated to democratizing education.
Name: Esra Akgol
Job Title: Senior Director of Global HR Business Partner & HR Operations | People & Culture, ApplyBoard
Years in the Industry: 10+ Years
The Quote That Most Inspires You: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships,” – (Michael Jordan)
What drew you to a career in the consumer and/or business technology industry?
I started in technology over a decade ago and began working in the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) world pretty early in my career. I was immediately drawn to the technology sector and its fast-paced environment. This is where I learned to operate in a team environment and realized how a solid team can really help you achieve tasks quickly and deal with multiple demands.
Early on in my career, I had to manage the pressures of daily operations, stay on top of things, and complete all responsibilities associated with closing the merger. Having a good team helped me progress early in life and made me resilient to change, which is a quality that is critical in the tech sector. I was motivated by the challenging environment and it satisfied a lot of my desires to be creative. These environments allowed me to challenge myself to live outside of my comfort zone and ultimately have shaped my resilience and my ability to bounce back from uncomfortable situations, unforeseen difficulties and hurdles along the way.
It’s important to train our minds just as much as our bodies in order to become healthy and adaptable, which is precisely what the technology industry provides for me.
I was really drawn to the ApplyBoard’s mission of educating the world. The mission to educate the world is very close to my heart. My parents, who are both immigrants, had a dream for my brother and I to obtain a post-secondary education since they did not have the opportunity to do that themselves. My supportive father always said to me, “Be the best you can be and you can achieve anything.”
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
I had a series of setbacks early on in my career journey, like many professionals, but all of these challenging experiences shaped my hard-working ethic and resilient attitude. For example, I hit a major roadblock during a fragile moment in my career and as a result, I was denied a position.
There are setbacks in every career, but it’s important to use these opportunities as a chance to improve, and having those internal support groups available to you in your career or work environment has been quite beneficial for me. Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen the tech industry grow and progress significantly. Significant strides have been made in the tech industry regarding gender equality, equal opportunity, and workplace flexibility. I have personally benefited from assistance and partnerships for women in the tech industry.
I have never felt that my gender, or personal circumstances as a single parent has ever prevented me from pursuing opportunities at ApplyBoard. When I consider the things that I have done in my career, parenthood is the only thing that comes close to or remotely comparable to all the efforts that I have put in the tech sector. My experiences as a parent have trained me to be calm under pressure, problem solve, and make more clear decisions.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
Coming from an immigrant family and working in a diverse environment has equipped me with the ability to be more aware of other cultures and global attitudes. This global lens and perspective is a unique offering that I bring forward to the HR industry. I also believe that my experience as a mother has taught me how to become better at problem solving and maintaining a sense of balance in my life.
Technology is historically a male-dominated industry, yet the use of tech is fully embraced by women, and many studies even suggest that females are the primary buyers of tech in the home. What do you feel the technology industry needs attract more women, particularly into high-level positions?
The most important thing is to work for a company that shares your core beliefs as a human being, because when you do, your heart and mind are in sync. ApplyBoard’s mission to educate the world closely aligns with my own mission. If your vision is aligned with the company’s goals, it does not feel like work. Work should not feel like a sacrifice.
The second thing is flexibility; for me, workplace flexibility is critical, and at ApplyBoard, I was provided with that flexibility. The global pandemic has transformed that perspective for many businesses. At ApplyBoard, we offer remote work, work-from-anywhere options, and flexibility, which enables us to balance family duties while still being able to innovate and create, which brings more purpose and joy to our lives.
Being able to pick up my son from school at 3.30 p.m. for the first time in my career meant that I would be able to have special moments with him that I never had access to before. It also meant that I’d have extra income with the money I wasn’t spending on childcare.
From a flexibility standpoint, businesses can attract more talent if they incorporate flexibility into their daily schedules. I believe this is critical for everyone, not just women. Flexibility promotes an open and trusting environment, which results in increased productivity and loyalty. It also fosters a strong culture built on long-lasting partnerships, which is what every business desires.
If you had to sum up what it is like being a woman in this male-dominated technology industry in just a few words, what would you say?
While there are still issues that women face in the tech industry, there’s been a lot of changes and openness that I’ve witnessed firsthand in the industry. We’ve come a long way, but there’s a lot of opportunity for growth. Opportunity that I’m positive about given the transparency, empathy, and open-mindedness I’ve seen over the last 10 years. I’ve met a lot of allies who have aided me along my career journey. Having this community, support system, and network has been incredible for me.
Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you?
There are so many women that have inspired me throughout my career. Suzanne Hyatt is a CHRO and Human Resources Executive. She has over 20 years’ experience helping fast-growing organizations develop leading talent management practices. Suzanne coached me which ultimately helped me find my footing at ApplyBoard.
Natalie Dumond also helped me build my courageous communication and leadership skills. Through her mentorship and guidance, I was able to build more confidence. Thanks to advice from these women and conversations we had, my career accelerated.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
Yes, I’m very excited about the innovation and talent that has come out of Canada’s tech scene, especially in the Kitchener, Waterloo area. I think our country’s tech scene is getting more and more well-known internationally for its innovative spirit and our interest in using tech-for-good. I can’t wait to see what new start-ups will be here 10 years from now. I’m especially interested in the start-ups that are tackling issues like global equality, diversity and inclusion, and solving bigger problems worldwide.