We spoke with Megan Riley, Country Manager for Vaimo International country unit, based in Tallinn, Estonia. We talked about how she ended up at Vaimo, Women in Leadership, and how she tries to make the most of every opportunity in life.
Hi, Megan, to kick things off, could you tell us about your past experience and what led you to this role at Vaimo International?
I did my degree in Spanish linguistics and literature and thought I would become a Spanish literature professor. But at the time, Microsoft was hiring for their Natural Language Processing team. This was in the late 90s, email was still relatively new, and as you can imagine, I was completely computer illiterate. But I really loved the job. Over the years, I went on to try new things at Microsoft and moved away from what I had studied.
I was with Microsoft for 17 years, but in the end, I just needed a break. Working in a company where the women to men ratio was 1 in 7, and the tech industry, which was not very welcoming to women and minorities, was very tiring. So I retired, my partner and I moved to Estonia, and I had my second child.
I started my leadership and business coaching company. Had you asked me at that time, I would have said I am never going back to working for someone else. However, Katrin Peo, the Head of Marketing at Vaimo, who I knew from the Tallinn European School board, asked me for lunch and said that Vaimo is looking for a Country Manager in Estonia. After coming to the office to meet the team and loving the vibe, I decided to say yes. I am really happy with that decision. I had missed the excitement of this chaos.
What does a typical day look like for you (if there is such a thing as a typical day!)?
My day starts with total chaos at home, getting my kids ready for school and out the door. When that finally happens, I can make a cup of coffee, and I have a stand-up meeting with my team, which I love. We talk about what is coming up for the day ahead, what the challenges are, what we need to move forward, and how we can help each other. And then it is pretty much non-stop meetings. Then I sprint to pick up my children, make them dinner and get them in bed. After that, I get back online, catch up on emails and anything else I didn’t get to.
Ecommerce is changing rapidly with the introduction of new technologies and shifting customer expectations. What do you think businesses should be prioritising?
If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it is that more and more people are online and connecting with people from all over the world is easier. This may be a strange analogy, but I participated in a Hack for Africa last year, and it involved people from all over the world. Had it not been for COVID, it would have been an in-person event with only the local people able to attend. COVID provides us with this amazing opportunity to bring people together from all over, and for businesses looking to expand, it is a golden opportunity.
I know that right now, a lot of businesses are looking at tightening their belts and have had to let people go. But for companies who have some buffer, now is the time to expand–to put your business online. You can jump ahead of your competition and be at the forefront of eCommerce.
What is your biggest achievement to date—personal or professional?
There is no one thing, just how I have managed to live my life in general–taking every day as a new opportunity. Every time I have taken a new role, even if it has been out of my field of expertise, I have found something to leverage inside me, passion or transferable expertise, and I have just kept going. If you fail, you fail, try again next time, and if it works, great, take what you can get from the experience!
Maybe later I will look back and think that I should have been more intentional, but so far, I have really enjoyed where life has taken me.
You are an avid advocate for Women in Leadership. Could you tell me a little bit more about your involvement and why you think it’s important?
I am one of the moderators at the Women in Leadership group in the American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia. I have moderated several events like ‘Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling’ and ‘Future of Education’. I recently also moderated the ‘Responsible AI’ event, which wasn’t specifically for Women in Leadership, but I think every time you show up as a woman, that is important. It is powerful just taking your place and saying that it is not enough to have a ‘manel’ (all-male panel) here; we need to put together a panel with at least a couple of women in the room.
Women have vast leadership capabilities and qualities–we have amazing voices and can do many things. What we have seen in regards to COVID is a great example–countries that are led by women are doing the best. Companies lose out when they don’t have women representing a different perspective. For example, the companies in the Fortune 500 that have women on the board do better than companies that don’t.
Women bring a different perspective and a different set of life experiences. We should value that! We should also value men, don’t get me wrong; I love working with men. But we still need to keep working to make sure that women’s voices are heard, and their contributions are valued.
We are seeing now that women are more supportive of each other, and if you make it to a particular level, you reach down, and you bring someone else up with you. But women can’t get there by themselves, especially in the tech field. Most of our coworkers are men, so it is also really important that these initiatives are inclusive to create this allyship. Often men are well-intentioned and are simply unaware of the inequality because it is not their life experience.
We need to get the male leaders involved because they need to see the benefits for their business for hiring smart, strong women and ensuring there is an environment for all women to thrive. If a man doesn’t need to be extremely strong to thrive in an environment, then a woman shouldn’t need to be either. Don’t put the burden on women to be three times as good as the men, to have their voice heard. But these changes will only happen when we are more inclusive, not less inclusive.
Vaimo is passionate about providing an environment where women can thrive. 67% of our International Country Unit Leadership Team and 40% of our International Country Unit People Leads are women.
You have years of experience in leadership coaching. What is one tip you would give to business executives to help keep their employees motivated through the current times?
I would say that this is not necessarily specific to the current times, but it is more augmented right now–listen to and value your employees.
It is very easy to just focus on the bottom line, but it is crucial to remember that behind these numbers are human beings. In the end, it doesn’t matter how good your idea is; if the people working for you don’t feel valued and heard, and you are not leveraging their experiences, you won’t have long-term success.
COVID can make it a little bit harder, as you don’t see people in the office every day, so you have to be more intentional. Check in on them on a regular basis, have intentional discussions about how they are doing and what ideas they have.
When people see that their leadership is interested in their opinion and not just their output, they show up in a different way. It can be the difference between a decent business and an amazing business.
What 4 words would you use to describe Vaimo?
Dynamic, vibrant, international, and fun!
A big thank you to Megan for joining us and sharing her story. Stay tuned to hear more stories from Vaimoers across our offices!