AWS Marketplace’s Kanwal “Kay” Mirza: celebrating International Women’s Day and embracing equity
As we celebrate International Women’s Day in 2023, AWS Marketplace is honored to share perspectives from women technical leaders from our AWS and seller community.
This blog series profiles five trailblazing women as they share personal stories of how they overcame challenges in their careers and are leading the charge to #EmbraceEquity in their organizations. They also offer advice to women seeking to grow as leaders in the tech industry.
“Never underestimate the impact of mentors; they can truly unlock someone’s potential and career trajectory.”
–Kanwal “Kay” Mirza
Kanwal “Kay” Mirza is a Business Development Manager leading the Startup segment for AWS Marketplace. She advises business leaders on how to incorporate AWS Marketplace and Software as a Service (SaaS) into their digitization and cloud migration strategy. Specifically, she helps startup customers with their go-to-market and buyer journey.
Kay was born and raised in London, UK and now resides with her family in California. Outside of work, she is an avid design and fashion enthusiast and loves to travel the world. She enjoys music, long drives, and coffee.
Q&A with Kanwal “Kay” Mirza
AWS: The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Embrace Equity,” which refers to the idea of fairness, removing barriers to success, and interrupting bias. It’s about ensuring that policies, practices, and systems provide all individuals access to the opportunities, resources, and recognition to be successful. What has equity meant to you when it comes to your career?
Kay: I view equity as the specialized resources that are needed for individuals to thrive in the workplace. Equity removes barriers and creates unique solutions for everyone who needs them. If a workplace is equitable, the playing field is level, and everyone can grow and thrive in their own way. I’m really proud to work at AWS, where one of Amazon’s 16 Leadership Principles reminds us to seek diverse perspectives.
I work with and am passionate about startups, and I hear all the time about implicit (or explicit) bias that keeps women in startups from being treated fairly. Did you know that only 8.6% of venture capitalists (VC) are women, and women-founded startups got a paltry 1.9% of all VC funds last year? How can we make a difference when we don’t have the same access to startup capital as everyone else? Women deserve to have our voices amplified, and limited representation in VC, on boards, and in the C-suite are just some of the challenges we face.
At AWS, I joined Women@Startups, our mission is to create an environment where women of the startup segment can thrive. Since it serves both AWS employees and the women founders of startups, I see great value for two main reasons, mentoring and coaching from amazing, talented women, and I have an opportunity to pay forward to other women in the startup ecosystem.
AWS: What gender-specific institutional fairness issues have you had to overcome during your career? How did it affect you, or in other words, what was the outcome? Was there institutional change?
As a working mother of two daughters, I recognize that juggling multiple responsibilities at home and work, while striving for work-life balance is a pervasive and global issue for women. Women often are faced with disproportionate challenges and need to strike compromises to maintain a healthy work-life balance while chasing their careers and dreams. One way my workplaces have accommodated that and provided more equity for working moms/parents was to provide flexibility for in-office expectations, such as having two or three days a week when we are expected to be in the office.
Working for the number one cloud provider in the world can be intimidating; you are surrounded amongst some of the most accomplished and smart talent pool.
When I joined AWS, I was the only woman on the team. My first instinct was to solve for this by encouraging other women to join our dynamic organization and subsequently be a resource and support system for new women hires.
I joined an internal affinity group and turned to the Women@Startups chapter for support. It was eye-opening to learn that many other women are facing similar challenges. Not only did the employee resource group provide access to inspirational leaders, advisors and sponsors, I was granted the opportunity to lead the Channel Partnerships committee and build and scale a team for our ERG. When I was hiring for that team, I was very deliberate in seeking to create a diverse and inclusive team. Proud to say 80% of team are women!
Through this community, I have been able to create mechanisms for women to help propel their careers forward, something I am very passionate about. But how many women are in organizations that don’t have this helpful but entirely voluntary group as support and either end or stunt their careers due to a lack of work-life balance?
AWS: What advice would you offer to women who strive to grow as technical leaders?
Kay: I would strongly encourage other women to continue to be students of learning, understand the tech landscape, and stay up to date with new skills and training. If you are interested in tech roles, you can start with learning the benefits of the cloud through resources like cloud practitioner training and explore several other resources that AWS has to offer. And definitely get a mentor, whether inside or outside your company.
AWS: What steps can others take to be better allies to women, what can we do to inspire these advocates?
Kay: Attract and nurture talented women. First, let’s acknowledge that women are generally underrepresented and underestimated in tech. Diversity doesn’t just happen; you have to take intentional action to attract and recruit diverse talent, while being an advocate of change and pave the way for women. Be intentional about building bridges and open seats at the table specifically to women. If no women apply or are promoted to director and above positions, find out why and address the issue. And let’s not forget to be cheerleaders and celebrate women’s successes! In particular, Women@ Startups has specific initiatives to help attract diverse talent. For example, creating an equitable hiring experience. Another initiative could be to design a pathway for appointing women to boards so that they have an opportunity and platform to share their superpowers and perspectives.
Embrace mentorship. Never underestimate the impact of mentors; they can truly unlock your potential and career trajectory. I have personally been very fortunate to have a strong board of advisors that have invested in me, challenged me to think big and remind me that I can achieve my dreams and aspirations. I advise folks to either find someone in the next role you want or someone in your network whom you admire and respect to mentor you. My mentor is a VC I met at a former role. I reached out to her when I was exploring my next career path. She shared that she saw great potential in me and challenged me to apply at one of the FAANG (Facebook/Meta, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google/Alphabet) companies. And here I am!
My mentor helped me evaluate the next step in my career. I came to her with options, and she encouraged me to take a broader impact role that will challenge me and help me learn and grow.
And don’t forget the value of peer support. You would be surprised how much your guidance and support can mean to your team members.
I would love to have more women on my team, so I mentor women interested in tech, one way is to learn how to prepare for Amazon interview loops.
Be vocal. You have more power and impact than you think. Commit to using your platform and voice to empower and elevate others and be mindful with ways that you can pay it forward!
More from Kay Mirza
Women @ Startups San Francisco
International Women’s Day and #EmbraceEquity
International Women’s Day (March 8) celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness against gender bias, and accelerating gender equity.
The International Women’s Day theme for 2023 is #EmbraceEquity. This theme imagines a world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive, a world where difference is valued and celebrated. Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity.
Amazon is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the company’s diverse perspectives come from many sources including gender, age, race, national origin, sexual orientation, culture, and education, as well as professional and life experiences.
To find out more about selling your software or services in AWS Marketplace, find out more about becoming an AWS Marketplace seller.