We spoke with Catherine Feldhausen, Director Strategy and Marketing Enablement at Asia Microsoft Services about her global career, the importance of gender diversity in STEM and the power of connections.
Last time we met you were in Seattle and now Singapore is your home. Can you describe the different roles you have undertaken for Microsoft?
I have been fortunate enough to undertake five roles that span engineering, IT, sales and marketing, and now professional services. Currently, I work with all of the Microsoft Services Marketing leads and their teams across Asia. I support New Zealand to India and all the countries in between.
I have been privileged to not only work in many roles but also in three different countries: Australia, the United States and now Singapore.
What differences have you experienced between working in the United States of America and now in Asia?
The first point that comes to mind is the cultural and language differences. In Asia I support over 20 countries across eight time zones using many different languages. It is important to respect these cultures and understand what it takes to get things done in the country you are working in.
The second point that comes to mind is the types of roles. Roles in Headquarters (HQ) are about creating and driving direction and strategy. Roles outside of HQ involve implementation of the strategy and programs.
All in all wherever you are in the world, be ready to listen, learn and adapt.
The importance of STEM has been recognised as an area for priority particularly for school children, with a strong focus on women in STEM. What are your views on increasing the number of women in STEM?
Having diversity in any role, industry or company is important as it reflects the world. If you don't have a team that reflects the people you are creating products for, you won't truly be able to achieve the right outcome. A great example is the design of airbags, initially designed by men not taking into account the effect on a woman. Same goes for all kinds of accessibility design.
Having diversity in any role, industry or company is important as it reflects the world.
With this in mind, as 50 per cent of the population are women, 50 per cent of every field should be women.
The world of tomorrow will be significantly different to what it is today. Kids don’t have to become computer programmers, however coding and computer science provide kids with computational thinking and problem-solving skills that they can use in the career of their choice.
I urge children to think about what they want to do, and how they can use technology to help them achieve that dream.
You have been involved with mentoring women and encouraging a greater number of women in senior positions. In your experience, what are some of the challenges we still face and where has progress occurred?
One of the biggest challenges we have as women in the workforce is helping and coaching each other. I was asked to be on a Microsoft Leadership panel at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference a few years back, and at first I said no as I didn't think of myself as a leader at the time since I wasn't managing a team; however a colleague and friend said, “Yes you are – you have so much to give, you coach others without realising it.”
There is no longer the line of thinking that a woman has to act like someone else to get ahead. People are more accepting.
Don't wait to see who else has a seat at the table; if you were invited to the meeting then you should be at the table, and if you see someone holding back bring them to the table with you.
Be true to yourself, know your core values and stick to them.
I am inspired by Microsoft's dedication to diversity and inclusion, not only at the senior leadership level with Amy Hood (EVP CFO), Kathleen Hogan (EVP HR) and Peggy Johnson (EVP Business Development), but also within Asia: Jessica Tan leading the Microsoft Singapore sub, Pip Marlow leading Microsoft Australia; and then within the Services organisation we have Michelle Tea (Australia), Tiffany Bloomquist (Services Lead Singapore) and Crystal Chung (Services Taiwan).
You have been very successful in your career, and have a family, what life lessons might you share with younger graduates?
Know what you want to do and go for it, but remember sometimes you need to balance, you can't have everything at once, focus on what is at the top of your list. A career wasn't always on the top of my list. When I met my partner, he and having kids was number one to me. I held back a little on focusing on that next promotion, but I still worked hard to ensure I did my job well to support my growing family.
Can you describe an average day for you at Microsoft in Singapore? What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
There’s never an average day in my role. My location varies – although Singapore is my home, I could be working in the office, or working from home, or in a Microsoft location either in Asia or HQ.
If going to the office, I am generally there early – by 7am – to get ahead of the day reading emails, LinkedIn posts or video conferencing. I am generally meeting with customers every two weeks. I love to spend time listening and understanding our customers' goals, and ideating on how technology can support them.
From your perspective what are the benefits of working in Asia?
Proximity to my ageing parents in Australia was the underlying reason for moving to Singapore. I can be home within 12 hours of getting a call; I wasn't able to do that from Seattle.
My children are also becoming global citizens – we travel extensively, and they love it. They learn Mandarin at school, learn and play with kids from so many places in the world.
From a professional perspective, Asia is growing so quickly. New business models are being created in China while countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar are increasingly becoming part of the new digital world.
Can you share with us a little of your experience in studying at UOW?
I have very fond memories of my time at UOW. I have a Bachelor of Commerce, Economics and Geography. It was the perfect degree for me as it combined my love of business with my love for travel.
The pond, the pond, the pond – what an amazing meeting ground. I still smile thinking about the lunches we had in between lectures.
I had great lecturers; they were always there to listen and be the sounding board, but they also challenged me to think out of the box. It was a small university when I attended so I loved the community feel – lecturers knew their students by name, I wasn't just a number.
Networks and connections have been instrumental in your success. What is your personal approach to developing networks?
I couldn't agree more. Networks and connections are critical, not just at work but also in personal life. We just call them friends or support groups. I often say it takes a village to raise a family and I would say the same is true to be successful in your professional life. After being at Microsoft for 21 years, I have worked side by side with some of the most amazing people, and am fortunate to say that I continue to keep in touch with many of them.
I actually have a few tri-mentorships where three of us meet to discuss both work and home life. These weren’t ‘formal’ mentorships; they grew organically as a result of working together and connecting on both a professional and personal level.
Another important part to these networks and mentorships is that it is two-way – I can’t be the one to always reach out, it goes both ways. Just like my personal relationships, I don't go into it with the attitude of what can I get out of this, but more what can I give.
My mum would say: “Never burn a bridge, as you don't know when you will need it to cross over the next river you come to."
From your perspective, what skills and attributes do the next generation of graduates need to be successful in the modern workplace?
As we don't know what job you will do in five, 10 or 20 years, the most important skill to have is the ability to ask questions and listen to the answers. Be ready to adapt, ideate on the next solution and move forward. As I mentioned earlier I don't really have an average day; it changes, so having the patience and skill to go with the flow but still get things done is incredibly important.
Use your time at university to learn how to ask different questions, how to research and be ready to adapt to unexpected outcomes. Be okay with taking a chance. Create connections, network now as you never know who will help you land your first job or connect you to someone who can help you in your career.
Bachelor of Commerce (Economics), UOW 1987