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Zendesk APAC COO Wendy Johnstone on How Hybrid Work Model can Enable Diversity in Tech Johnstone is passionate about diversity and inclusion and is a fierce advocate for women in leadership and technology

By S Shanthi

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"Diversity is about enabling everyone to be their true self at work and bring everything that's so wonderful about themselves to an organization. And, it's so important for organizations to really build a diverse workforce," said Wendy Johnstone, Chief Operating Officer, Zendesk APAC, in an interview with Entrepreneur India during her recent visit to India. Zendesk is a service-first CRM company that builds software designed to improve customer relationships.

As someone with 25 years of experience in the technology sector and as someone who is responsible for driving operational excellence across the Asia Pacific and ensuring global and regional alignment for all of Zendesk's business functions and offices in APAC, Wendy believes that we live in a time where we have the ability and the technology to tap into a diverse workforce.

"From a technology point of view, with what we have gone through in the last couple of years, companies have been forced to adapt to digitization and the tech industry has enabled that and supported that. We have also seen a shift in the way people work, and technology really enabled that too. But the beautiful thing that has come as a result of that is our ability to tap into a diverse workforce," she said.

Diversity in tech

Johnstone believes that diversity delivers business performance, innovation and newer ideas. "When I hire, I'm looking for people that are very different from me. I'm looking for people that will come into the organization and that will think differently for me, and that will challenge me as a leader. And so I think that's the beauty of diversity. We have seen over and over again, that, when an organization is diverse, it has a huge impact on the bottom line of that organization," she said.

Johnstone is passionate about diversity and inclusion and is also a fierce advocate for women in leadership and technology. She is currently serving as the global executive sponsor for the Women at Zendesk Employee Resource Group (ERG). When asked about how far we have reached in terms of equal participation of women in tech, she said, "We have made progress, but I think there's still a lot of progress to be made. The more that we connect outside our organization and also learn from other organizations, the more we come together as a community and share that best practice, the more progress that will make," she said.

She also feels that there is still a lot of unconscious bias that goes on against women working in tech, but things are getting better. "I have also faced some of those biases. I have been in tech all my career, things have been getting better and we have made progress. But some of the things that I faced were particularly when I became a mother. Earlier, I was always the only woman in the room, the only woman around the table, but I hadn't really consciously thought about it until I had my kids. And then I faced those challenges that every mother faces on how to balance and juggle. And I ran into just some unconscious bias about what I could do, as a female leader, now that I was a mom," she said, talking about her career before Zendesk.

One of the things that she did when she started to play a leadership role was that she went out and spoke to a lot of people and got a lot of feedback. "I spoke to men and women and the one thing that I continued to hear from the men was that they really wanted to help and engage, but they didn't know how to do that. And so as women, we need to open the door to men. They really need them as allies because in a number of organizations, men are in positions of power, and they can help us drive change. We need to help them to help us. So I'm a big believer in that," she said

Hybrid work model

The pandemic has come in as a blessing in disguise for women employees, especially mothers and women who can't move to another city for personal reasons. Though in the beginning of the pandemic, we saw many women finding it hard to juggle work and the challenges that came with the virus, today, as we move to the new normal, the work-from-home option is opening more doors for them.

The hybrid work model is something that Johnstone believes will go a long way in bringing more women into workforce and also promote diversity. "No longer are we limited to hiring people in a specific country or a specific market. With hybrid working, we can really tap into a diverse pool of talent, literally everywhere in the world. And so, as we are moving forward, as we come out of the pandemic, we will be a digital-first and a fully remote organization," she said.

She also went on to speak about how flexibility has helped her manage her work life and her family. "In my roles in the past, I have always traveled a lot. And while travel will always be a component of my role, we all learned that we can do so much more remotely than we ever did before. And so gone are the days where I would constantly be on a plane and missing my family. That will still be important to do sometimes, but equally, I can maintain those connections and be really productive in my role in a digital way," she said.

Zendesk's India focus

Zendesk was founded in 2007 and powers billions of conversations, connecting more than 100,000 brands with hundreds of millions of customers over telephony, chat, email, messaging, social channels, communities, review sites and help centers. The company's India office was launched in 2016. While the company took some time to launch in India, India is a key market and one of the largest markets in the APAC region.

"India is an incredibly important market for us not just in the APAC region, but also globally. So it's one of our priority markets. We are making investments here. And we have seen our headcount over the last year grow by just under 50 per cent, which is really, really exciting. The other thing that really excites me is I'm finally able to come and meet the team, spend time with the customers and with the partners."

Some of its key customers in India include Unacademy, Byjus, ITC Foods, Ola, Dream11, 1MG etc. "What really excites me is just the opportunity here in the market. We have customers across fintech, gaming, telco and retail. What really excites me is their adoption of CX and their thinking of the future of CX," she said.

Wrapping up the interview, she also shared her message to women in tech. "Have a plan, be really conscious of what you are passionate about and your strengths. If you focus to play to your strengths and do what you love, you are absolutely going to do your best work and you are going to bring the best value to an organization," she said,

"Lean on your network. It could be within the organization or outside. And, make your career aspirations and your career plan really visible to your network because they are the people that are going to help you. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for what you want," she said.

S Shanthi

Former Senior Assistant Editor

Shanthi specializes in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. 



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