By Katherine Motlagh, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
March 8 has always been a special day in my life. In Russia, where I’m from, that day is a celebration for all women and girls. It is a Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day combined. Every girl is recognized, with flowers and attention, and it’s a lovely occasion.
Now, that day has even more meaning and celebration as International Women’s Day, when we recognize women’s achievements, inspire women of all ages to live their lives the way they envision and encourage them to be proud of who they are along the way.
I was lucky to have great role models when I was younger. Both my parents had demanding careers, and my mom was a great example of how to balance work and family. My mom was my role model. She lost her parents when she was young and did everything possible to be there for me and my sister. She was selfless around us – caring, nurturing and supportive. But she was also an engineer by education and built a successful career in quality assurance and factory management. She retired from a glass factory, where she ran a three-shift production line for several years. Her colleagues respected her, and she was well known as a strong and courageous woman who did not take no for an answer.
Growing up I looked up to her. And when I became a mom, I wanted to set that kind of example for my children so they would believe in themselves. She helped me learn how to become self-sufficient and self-driven, ultimately preparing me for when I came to study in the United States on my own, which was a big decision at a young age.
Like my mother, I built my career in a typically male-dominated industries – telecom and, more recently, real estate. I encountered many challenges, some stereotypes and some differences of opinion. This was difficult at times, but I looked at it as a situation where I always had to prove myself as a competent contributor like everyone else.
I got this far in my career because I was competitive and didn’t let adversities, stereotyped or not, take me down. I told myself to concentrate on my strengths, enjoy the journey ahead and keep the long-term horizon in mind. I wanted to overcome adversities by my actions to show I was right and not to focus too much on the question of “I should not have been questioned as a female?” or “Would a man have been treated the same?” I wanted equality to start with me and the way I took actions that led to the results I aimed for.
I ended up leaving a great job when I found out I was expecting my first child. I thought that to be a good mom, I should stay home. And my husband supported my decision to be a full-time mom. But a few months into my maternity break, I realized I wanted to do more for myself. I took a class, where I met a woman who became an inspiration of my future career. She was a working mother of two, successful in her career and a respected leader in finance and accounting. We got to know each other, and one day I asked her how she did it. I wondered how she balanced work, family and life.
She gave advice that I still cherish today: focus on quality over quantity. And I thought to myself, if she can do it, so can I.
I decided to return to the workforce and never looked back. I realized I didn’t have to choose between being a mother and a businesswoman. I learned I could balance both responsibilities and still succeed, pursue my aspirations and raise kids.
Women in the workplace are often misjudged or stereotyped before they can let their accomplishments speak for themselves. I always stood my ground when it came to my peers questioning my ability based on my gender, and I have shown my kids there is a way to be respectful, respected and not get pushed around. Raising children takes a lot of time and energy the same way a professional job does – they both require full attention. So, it took a lot of adjustments to balance the two. Now, I have a daughter who looks up to me, and I want to show her by example that girls can do all the things they aspire to. Girls can have a career and balance a happy life.
I think in 2021 and beyond, days like International Women’s Day should remind companies and industries to further embark on their journeys to diversity and inclusion. To me, inclusion means ensuring all our employees and teammates have equal opportunities and rights to participate in activities and contribute to the success of a company.
CyrusOne is a young company, and we have just embarked on the journey of diversity and inclusion. Our business is traditionally male-dominated, and we can do a better job attracting and retaining diversified candidates, especially early on in their careers. I’m proud to be a woman in this industry and at CyrusOne, and my door is always open to the women of CyrusOne.