This Woman is Reshaping the Middle Eastern Tech — Interview with Kristina Shinkareva

Is there a bigger challenge than being a woman in the tech industry? Definitely yes — being a young woman working in the tech industry of the Middle East. According to the World Bank, women in the Middle East constituted only 19% of the labor force in 2022. Today, Kristina Shinkareva, Chief Operating Officer at Reputation House, explains how to manage the role of a C-level woman in a conservative business environment.

Tell us about yourself and how you started your career

Following graduation, I set my sights on a career with limitless growth potential — it was my personal and very strong desire to have a career with no limits. Marketing, particularly in its digital form, became my chosen path. Learning from digital marketing experts and global brand representatives, I transformed theoretical knowledge into practical skills after completing my first year at the university.

Securing a position at a top regional IT-focused agency, I was drawn to their commitment to originality in project work. Each project, be it in technologies, applications, or corporate portals, shared a common goal: simplifying and improving lives for people and communities. It was such a source of inspiration both professional and personal. This role has become a quantum leap in my professional journey, shaping me into the professional I am today. 

Now, at 23, I’m the Chief Operating Officer at a top reputation management agency in the Middle East. My age might turn heads, but good communication and lots of project experience prove that professionalism beats age and gender.

What tech are you most excited and passionate about right now and why?

Being part of the generation that practically grew up with a phone in hand, technology has been a constant in my life from a young age. It’s hard for me to imagine things any other way. Currently, I’m fascinated by modern voice assistants and the progress of chatbots, especially how they significantly boosted customer service. I also find ecosystems of applications, like those in banking, incredibly inspiring. They allow access to countless possibilities all within a single application.

From a professional standpoint, artificial intelligence has my full attention. I have my own opinion on this technology, and I’m amazed at how, in 2024, it quickly solves operational problems. It’s like the new Google—people now turn to artificial intelligence instead of actually googling information.

What tech are you most worried about right now and why?

Once again, it’s artificial intelligence. While some argue it can replace humans, that doesn’t particularly worry me. What does concern me is its impact on human development. AI has the potential to overshadow creativity and thought processes, slowing down our genuine human growth. It’s like we’ve been handed this powerful tool without clear instructions on how to use it responsibly. Let’s face it, not everyone is harnessing AI functions the right way. The big question is, will humanity evolve alongside these advanced technologies? I want to believe it will, but there are moments of doubt.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of tech?

I’m all about the arts – instrumental music and visual arts bring me a sense of peace and harmony. Personally, I love to paint, and you’ll often find me at conservatories, theaters, and art galleries. Each masterpiece is a chance to delve into the creator’s mood, understand their philosophy, and experience what they wanted to convey at the moment of creation. Interestingly, I draw a special analogy between client service (my actual work) and real art. Client service, to me, is an art where you decipher the person and their work, identify the nuances, and comprehend the message they intended to convey.

What were the biggest challenges you faced as a woman in tech, and how did you deal with them?

Being a woman in a leadership role in the tech industry is a big deal, especially in the Middle East. From my personal experience, I’ve faced three main hurdles as a female leader. 

Firstly, age has been a common point of contention. At 23, dealing with ageism from colleagues and partners is a regular thing. Secondly, in a mostly male-oriented industry, the constant pressure to prove my expertise and strive for perfection is an ongoing challenge. Sometimes I felt I needed to prove my expertise, my rights to do things in my own way, my ideas. Thirdly, communication is tough in a patriarchal business environment – finding the right approach can be tricky.

There’s no universal solution to overcoming these challenges; everyone finds their own way. My advice is to keep the right attitude – women don’t need to prove their expertise, just show effectiveness. If someone underestimates you based on gender, take it as a sign they see you as a competitor; the solution might be directing them to a good psychologist. Most importantly, stay observant. Analyze situations, keep a level head, and this approach can help navigate and overcome any challenge.

Any questionable misogynistic story or situation you faced?

On a personal note, I faced gender discrimination from the management. A male manager, seeing the potential of my work and solutions, devalued every achieved result, creating maximum emotional pressure in the workplace. The second step from his side was belittling the decisions made because of age and gender. Fortunately, I no longer work for that company. It was a tough experience, however it showed me the type of management I won’t tolerate anymore. 

What was the biggest setback/failure that you faced, and how did you manage it?

In client service, mistakes are bound to happen. I honestly stay calm, quickly identify and fix them — this is a part of my work as well. Every failure, whether in projects or in-house tasks, has become a chance for me to grow. Instead of seeing it as a mistake, I view it as a turbulent situation that opens up new opportunities for personal and professional development.

What’s your biggest achievement that you’re really proud of?

For me, it is successfully building the current team. Managing people is challenging, requiring constant self-improvement. It involves understanding individual perspectives, knowing personal dynamics, and truly connecting with each team member. It’s about recognizing that they’re not just resources but individuals with distinct needs. Balancing a friendly atmosphere with maintaining a professional hierarchy is crucial – finding that sweet spot between a family-like environment and maintaining proper corporate relationships. As a manager, achieving this delicate balance has been a significant accomplishment, validated by positive feedback from the team.

In your opinion, why do we see this huge gender gap in the tech industry, and how can we reduce it?

It’s possible that the current gender gap reflects historical trends, echoing a past patriarchal influence. However, today’s societal evolution is bringing about substantial changes, enabling newer generations to perceive the world from a more progressive standpoint. Despite my initial concerns about conservative attitudes in the Middle East, I faced more instances of sexism and ageism in Europe.

Who is your tech idol? Why?

I don’t really have a tech idol. I respect people’s hard work, but I don’t see someone I look up to. Maybe someday, I’ll be my own inspiration when I achieve certain goals.

Do you have any advice for aspiring girls who want to join the field?

My advice for women aspiring to join the tech field is to approach it as an opportunity, not a challenge. Instead of adopting a mindset of fighting against stereotypes, view it as a regular profession. It’s important to adjust your attitude and not let negative comments affect you. Often, these comments stem from emotions, stereotypes, or baseless arguments. Remember that it’s outdated thinking, and the majority of people today do not support such views.

If you experience a work environment where women face psychological challenges, it’s essential to prioritize your well-being. Don’t hesitate to leave, as there are plenty of places that promote a healthier and more inclusive atmosphere.

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