Celebrating International Women’s Day: A Q&A with Mesh CPO, Ronny Maate

Q&A with Mesh CPO, Ronny Maate

Today, the world marks International Women’s Day – a moment to celebrate the accomplishments of women all over the globe, but also a moment to examine the work that is still needed to achieve true equality.

For us at Mesh, we are constantly examining ways we can contribute to this important dialog while ensuring that we implement these ideals in our business. In that light, we are extremely proud of the fact that half of our senior leadership team is made up of women and that we lead with a woman CFO, COO, and CPO.

At Mesh, our platform, and the value it provides to our CFOs and finance leaders is our top priority and it all depends on the experience we deliver. The executive responsible for that experience is our Chief Product Officer, Ronny Maate.

We spoke to Ronny to understand her background, what brought her into tech, and what the wider industry can do to include more women in the tech space.

When did you become interested in technology? What first got you interested in tech?

Funnily enough, I didn’t study anything related to computers at school, I majored in mathematics, chemistry, and biology. So, I cannot say I’ve always been a “techie.” To be honest I was not very aware of or exposed to the technology industry early on.

My exposure and awareness changed when I served my compulsory military service in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and was assigned to computing. Over the course of 24 months, my interest in technology and my knowledge of the subject grew so much that I wanted to pursue it as a career following my service.

Let’s talk about your background. How did you end up in your career path? What obstacles did you have to overcome?

After my service in the IDF, I attended the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology University. During my studies, I started working for a big company in Israel called Amdocs, which provides information systems for telcos. I discovered there that product was the thing I loved and what I wanted to focus on. Since my first stint at Amdocs over 20 years ago, I have worked in technology ever since.

I grew up in a girls house with strong female role models in my sister, mother, and grandmother. I was raised to believe I could do anything I put my mind to. I don’t remember ever thinking I couldn’t do such and such because I am a girl. I knew I could do anything I wanted.

While I’m used to being the only woman in the room (the majority of my class at Technion were men, and the majority of my workplaces have been male-dominated), I have always felt natural and equal in these surroundings because of my upbringing. I’ve never thought I can’t speak my mind or can’t ask for anything I want.

And for the most part, I’ve never felt like I’ve been dismissed because I am a woman. There was only one manager who made me feel less respected as a woman – like my thoughts and opinions didn’t matter as much. It made me feel small. In hindsight, I think it was my confidence and outspokenness that intimidated him. Overall though, I’ve had excellent managers, both women, and men, throughout my career, who have empowered me to feel confident and capable of doing anything.

Mesh Payments is the first company in my career where I’ve worked alongside more than one other woman executive. Gender diversity is not just at the top, either – women represent 50 percent of senior management at Mesh too.

Did you receive support from your family and friends? Do you have a role model?

Very early on in my career as a young manager, I had a role model who helped me discover my managerial style. He reinforced some great teachings – you need to know your worth, be confident within yourself, always be professional, and know who you are.

One of the best tips he ever gave me was to empower your team and not be intimidated by recruiting employees who have skills you don’t have. Praise in public, criticize in private. You don’t need to criticize or call people out in public to state your control. You earn respect if you’re professional, take on the responsibility yourself and then teach behind closed doors. You must be conscious of the people that report to you and considerate of them.

My greatest role models are my mother and grandmother. They are both very powerful women. My mother studied economics back when it was designed purely for men and wasn’t as socially acceptable for women to pursue. My grandmother’s family died in the Holocaust, and she came to Israel at the very young age of 16 years old. Self-made women, neither my mother nor grandmother were afraid to do anything on their own.

Hilary Clinton is another powerful woman I consider a role model. She’s always pushed the dial and did things that were not common for women. She’s powerful and inspiring and has always gone against what was expected of her as a woman. Her confidence has always served as a reminder to not let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.

Did anyone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?

There have been moments when I’ve been frustrated and clashed with all types of managers, but overall this was more to do with a personality or situational clash than me being a woman. I’m proudly confident, and headstrong, and I always speak up, and this has got me to where I am today. It’s allowed me to accomplish professional goals and be promoted. It’s not about being a woman, it’s about being a professional. I’ve always relied on the fact that I fully understand the products I manage inside out so it’s hard to stop me. I’ve gained recognition as a result. Additionally, what has got me this far in my career is my ability to build teams, manage conflicts and see the bigger picture. To act as a bridge between people and opinions – soft skills have been essential for my management style.

Could you tell us more about your role at Mesh? What does your typical workday look like?

I am the Chief Product Officer. I knew Oded Zehavi, our co-founder and CEO, from a previous company we worked at together, Payoneer.

I’ve been with the company now for four years and have built the product team up from scratch. When I joined, Mesh had no product or users, it has no doubt been the greatest adventure and learning experience of my career.

To join an early-stage startup that has scaled to be a really successful company is a privileged opportunity. It was a daunting choice at first of course – choosing to join an early-stage startup over a top-tier established company, but I respected Oded and I believed in his vision.

At Mesh, I’ve been given the space to operate and be very independent. COVID threw up some unexpected challenges but we worked as a team, pivoted the product, tested the product, and came out the other end. It was very hands-on, it was a wild adventure, but it was the best way to learn…and fast! My journey here has been so special, building and designing the product, building a team around the product – the knowledge that grows with this experience is invaluable. My growth and success to date couldn’t be more fulfilling.

Three years ago, I’d never have believed we would be where we are today. The team is exceptional, and we are growing so fast, it’s exciting. Everyone feels empowered to speak their mind on the product and we (the product team) welcome the feedback and criticism. We’ve in fact set up processes to enable people to criticize the product to ensure we are building the best. This openness and transparent communication across teams is encouraged and reinforced from the top down, it leaves no room for ego and makes everyone approachable, no matter where they sit in the company. This makes Mesh special, it makes Mesh thoughtful.

What are you most proud of in your career?

In a previous company, I independently led a very long process of introducing a new product into the market where there were very complex regulatory requirements, a lot of partners involved, and managing different internal teams and timezones. I traveled a lot, working with lobbyists and numerous stakeholders. All while doing my MBA. We ended up being the first company to get this license – receiving government approval after a very drawn out and complicated process. It was a hugely proud moment.

The other proud moment was making the decision to join Mesh Payments. It was quite brave to join an early-stage startup instead of an established, profitable company. I took the risk to essentially join a business where I’d be helping to build it from the ground up. I also had a very young baby at home at this time too, so it wasn’t the safe and secure choice. But I jumped at the chance to do something new, I believed in our co-founders Oded, Eran, and their vision, and knew we could do it! It’s been interesting and challenging, building a product and teams from scratch, managing tens of employees and empowering those employees. What a ride!

Why aren’t there more women in tech? What’s your take on that? Could you name a few challenges (or obstacles) women in tech face?

It’s a matter of culture. While I grew up thinking I could do anything, generally speaking, girls are still raised in a reality where they are less empowered to pursue tech-related endeavors. Girls are still largely focused on non-technological things (even in the tech industry there are more women in HR, project management, and marketing positions).

How would our world be different if more women worked in STEM? What would be the (social, economic, and cultural) impact?

Competition is a good thing. It forces us to make improvements and achieve more. If more women worked in STEM there’d be more partnerships, there’d be more openness and opinions, and it wouldn’t be about men and women competing, it’d be about making the industry different and better.

As long as tech keeps maturing (I think about how far the industry has come compared to when I started out just over 20 years ago), more women will be involved, there’ll be a better proportion of things and the industry as a whole will benefit. The industry will think about processes in a much deeper and smarter way, we’ll evaluate risks better, and we’ll grow and evolve.

The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current discussion?

In all my years of experience, I have never worked with a woman CEO. It’s hard to put a timeline on it but I think it will take at a minimum another 20 years to see results. Israel is more equal than other places, but we are still very far away from achieving this. It’s hard to quantify it, but we won’t see a big change very fast. It also relates to the fact that many women put their career on hold while they give birth and build families.

What advice (and tips) would you give to women who want a tech career? What should they know about this industry?

Finding the right partner in life who will allow you to wholly pursue your career aspirations. At the end of the day, if you want to pursue being a manager and having a meaningful role, it has stakes. You can’t speak to any successful woman who can say it didn’t impact their personal life or come with sacrifices. It’s not always easy, and you need someone to give you the opportunity and space to go for it.

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