Recently we had the pleasure of sitting down with Eva Zahrawi Ruiz, a freelance Brand and Marketing Director, Executive Coach, Inspirational Speaker and Entrepreneur. In our chat, Eva took us through why she was attracted to all things tech-based and how her varied experience has allowed her to become a prominent figure in the tech space in Amsterdam.
Q: What drew you to the tech space in the first place?
I have true admiration for technology. I appreciate the fact that it supports the modern-day way of living while also improving it, extending it, building bridges between people, helping to address and even solve certain issues that are at play in our society. Technology can have a direct positive impact on the lives of people. I’m extremely proud to work in tech because it drives communities forward and because the products and services are relevant. It is fulfilling and motivating to work in an industry that is critical to our daily operation. I am unable to work in any industry which does not have a clearly defined purpose.
Q: Who are your female role models in this space and why?
I am going to keep it close to home in this case.
I would like to mention Gillian Tans, the CEO of Booking.com — A woman who had a very good job in hospitality and decided to risk it all by moving to a start-up with fewer than 10 employees, not long after the internet bubble burst. That took some guts. They went from having a bed in their office in Barcelona when they couldn’t afford to rent two properties, to becoming one of the biggest e-commerce companies in the world, with over 17.000 employees. I think it is absolutely astounding that a small start-up based in Amsterdam, enables us to constantly discover the world in an easier way, while continuing to grow into one of the biggest travel companies in the world, with 198 offices in 70 countries.
The second woman, who I look up to, is Boukje Taphoorn, the CMO of bol.com. I have had the privilege of working with Boukje for 8 months last year. Not only is she someone with an incredible background in marketing and tech, but she is also an extremely thoughtful leader. She worked for great companies, including Google, and when I look at her achievements, it’s no surprise that bol.com wanted to have her. No matter how intense Boukje’s agenda might be, she always finds time to motivate and facilitate the people she works with. She operates using small but powerful gestures, such as offering words of support after a presentation, remembering everyone’s names, having an open door policy and being a beacon of humanity in and outside of the office — qualities I and others can really learn from. I find it truly inspirational that she can juggle all of her personal and professional commitments, of which there are many. In between all her hard work and determination, she still finds time to go for a jog in the middle of the day and be a constant inspiration to women in corporate and also to those at university. No small feat when you consider that she is leading the marketing efforts of The Netherlands’ biggest retailer.
Another woman who is a role model to me also is Lital Marom (www.litalmarom.com). She’s a serial entrepreneur, a keynote speaker, a fellow THNKer and someone I can call a dear friend, someone who amazes me every day. Lital is a woman who is asked to speak all over the globe, teaching audiences of up to 10,000 people about the Platform Economy, Exponential technologies, Scaling and so much more. Mind-blowing! She is a fierce woman who has been in tech since the 90s, at a time when she was the only female in a male-dominated industry. She has successfully dealt with a lot of resistance within this space and has managed to thrive greatly. Her energy, drive, can-do mentality and big thinking, make her someone that I keep on going back to as a source for strength.
Q: What challenges have you faced being a woman in a world traditionally led by men?
I have to say I don’t have the feeling that I have faced challenges specifically for being a woman. Maybe it is a matter of mindset, but I have always managed to build very good relationships with the men I have worked with, who I have found to be very supportive. I have always focused on my own path and I don’t have the impression that my career has been affected in a negative way by being a minority in the workplace. I would like to bring a bit of a different perspective and experience to this question. I have managed to achieve my dreams and what I wanted to do. I do know that so many women have faced challenges, but I also want to be an example of someone who has found her way so that maybe I can spread a more encouraging story. I have never made anything personal or sex-based, I just stayed focused on my goals and it has worked out well.
Q: Do you feel that you are taken less seriously than your counterparts, and how do you deal with it?
Not necessarily for being a woman. However, I have had to struggle because I look much younger than my age, being the tiny Spanish woman in boardrooms full of very tall Dutch people, and because I take more time to reflect before responding the way more vocal and present men and women do… So it has been an effort but if you keep showing up you will get there and taken as seriously as you need to be taken.
Q: Where do you get support from in your everyday work life (other women, your company)?
I get support from other women, also from other men. From inspiring managers and leaders, from places like THNK, the School of Creative Leadership I went to, where we had a fantastic network of people who were a great support. I am also supported by a group I am a part of, who are trying to affect positive change in what we do. We meet regularly, and they challenge me, support me and hold me accountable for my actions. But also from all the available sources online, talks, readings, and podcasts. Seeing how and what other people are doing is a constant source of support too.
Q: What do you think the future holds for young girls who are interested in technology?
I believe younger generations are very invested in the progress of humanity, they are very conscious, aware and I find them so extremely mature, compared to where I was at their age. I truly believe they are going to fix a lot of the issues, especially the mess that previous generations (including mine) have left behind. So if we look at technology as a way to improve our planet, then I think there is an exciting space for young women who want to make a difference. And if we look at it that way, then the differences, I hope, will become smaller.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would give to a woman who wants to start a career in tech?
I am not sure if I would start with tech. What I would do is to start with what it is that we would like to do with our lives, what do we want to improve, where we would like to see things differently, what do we want to influence, to advance? And if in order to do that, a role in tech is the answer, then go for it. Stick to that goal and keep that intention in mind, ensuring that you stay focused at all times and the rest will sort itself out.
Q: What has been your greatest success?
I could say the transformation that I managed to do at Vodafone, re-focusing the culture and strategy for this brand to create truly meaningful and purposeful campaigns. How I managed to prove that corporations using technology are a phenomenal platform to do good, create impact and affect change in society. That technology when put to the service of building connections between people, people and objects, objects and objects, can be a very powerful source for good. Additionally, I have learned how being good and doing good things, ultimately delivers better business results.
Q: How do you innovate in this business?
Putting our users, customers, audience first, always. Answering the questions, ‘what can we do to help someone or something?’, ‘can it have a positive effect on anyone’s life?’ If you can’t find a valid answer, or if you have a feeling of “so what” or “who cares” about this except for us, then don’t do it. But if you can answer it positively, that will be an innovation worth pursuing.