Growing The Female Lead In Tech

Maya Hari, VP Asia Pacific at Twitter, is using the pandemic to move the social media company towards its bold targets for diversity and inclusivity. She is also helping women bring their strengths and voices to the table by mentoring, sponsoring and building networks.

Maya Hari, VP Asia Pacific at Twitter, is using the pandemic to move the social media company towards its bold targets for diversity and inclusivity

She is in the fast-spinning world of technology but outside of work, Maya Hari spends hours tending to the 300-plus plants in her home. The slow-going work of composting, fertilising and potting stands in stark contrast to the high-octane tempo of her role as vice president, Asia Pacific for Twitter, Inc. “Being an urban farmer has taught me patience,” says Hari, who got into gardening to fill up her empty balconies.

It was also a chance to do something tangible about climate change. “I wanted to see if we could be self-sustainable in vegetables,” says Hari, who has two children aged nine and 13. “Five years on, I can say we’re self-sustainable in herbs and chillies,” she laughs. Feeding a family of four vegetarians through home-grown horticulture has been more challenging than expected.

However, the takeaways — perseverance and yes, patience — are the same cornerstones that have guided her journey from a math-loving engineering graduate to a C-suite role at the social media giant. From regional headquarters in Singapore, Hari oversees Twitter’s operations, advertising and business strategy across almost 10 offices stretching from India to Hong Kong and down to Australia and New Zealand.

The footprint of Asia Pacific, with its heterogeneity in languages, cultures and incomes, is diverse. Growing that to become the heart and centre of Twitter’s growth engine globally is a feat that Hari, who came onboard six and a half years ago, can comfortably own. The challenge now is to monetise those metrics. Although 80% of Twitter’s audience is outside the US, international advertising revenues (the company’s key source of earnings) are dwarfed by the US.

“Revenue trails audience,” she points out. Asia Pacific is home to more than half the world’s millennials and Twitter wants to help brands connect with their target segments in fast-expanding markets. The social networking behemoth is looking to broaden its topline with new features like Spaces, which uses audio as a format, and Super Follows, which lets content creators charge for exclusive content.

At the same time, Hari is pulling up a chair for anyone she feels deserves to be at the table. Twitter has set itself a goal of becoming the most diverse and inclusive tech company by 2025, with at least half of its global workforce female and 25% of its executives under-represented minorities. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the company, like many others, has had to pivot to remote working. That has been a double-edged sword: working from home has been harder on women as they tend to shoulder more of the load of running a home or care-giving. On the flip side, it is opening up more flexible modes of working and raising productivity as people commute less.

Hari herself is relishing not having to get on a plane for work as well as the simple pleasure of lunching daily with her husband. She sees the pandemic as an opportunity to move the Silicon Valley company further towards its representation targets through benefits such as additional childcare support or letting staff shift working hours to accommodate home schooling demands. “We want to support a decentralised workforce, give employees choice, equalise the playing field,” she says.

Female staff at Twitter can also turn to support groups within the company such as Twitter Women. The group helps women build networks and share experiences both within the company as well as with role models from outside. Hari, who has worked at Google, Conde Naste, Microsoft and Cisco, contributes by sharing “real and raw stories” about the gender biases women face, such as being spoken over and how to deal with it. In an industry still dominated by men, women’s networks have been a lifeline for many.

“What has worked for me is to be patient, to build thicker skin, to summon the courage to start a conversation,” she says. She has also had some pivotal sponsors along the way such as ex-colleague Shailesh Rao, who hired her into Twitter, and Sarah Personette, VP Global Client Solutions, with whom she shares a “very empowering” working partnership.

As an Asian woman leader in a global tech company and a working mother, Hari is in demand as a mentor. “Time is my biggest luxury but being able to mentor is a position of privilege,” she says. Outside of Twitter, she is president of nonprofit TiE Singapore, which links start-ups with investors and professionals. She tries in particular to help out female founders, for example with raising capital, as founders play a big role in how companies grow.

“I do think it’s getting easier [for women leaders in tech],” she says. “There’s a lot more awareness in the industry.” Whether it is encouraging girls to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or getting women to bring strengths such as EQ and their voices to the table, this trailblazer is nurturing Twitter’s growth across the region as well as the female lead in tech.