You may think diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a matter of employing the same number of women and men or promoting an “authentic” culture the allows you to bring “whole selves” to work. But it’s so much more than that.
For Christina Leimoni, Chief Operating Officer at Microsoft Greece, Cyprus, and Malta, who is one of very few openly gay female execs in the region, it’s also a matter of being recognized as a wife and mother in a country that has not yet legalized same-sex marriage.
Born in Greece, Christina’s career has spanned a wide range of sales and marketing roles at the likes of TNT, Vodafone, Google and, currently, Microsoft. During this time, she has worked in several countries, including the UK and India, and built a firm understanding of sales enablement and the power of a compelling value proposition. “I love how we can change our customers’ perception about the technology we’re selling, but also how we can help our sellers have more effective messaging,” she told the Breaking the Bias podcast.
Christina is also a fierce campaigner for diversity and inclusion. Herself in a same-sex marriage, she has seen and experienced discrimination in many forms but none more pronounced than when the pandemic hit in 2020. “We were worried about our little one [Christina’s two-year-old daughter] and whether she is going to be able to meet her grandparents and have some memories with them. That was the moment we thought, should we go back [to Greece]? And our key question was around diversity and inclusion.”
A work in progress
Currently, same-sex marriage is illegal in Greece and though LGBTQ recognition and rights have improved in recent years, many citizens are conservative in their views. This is compounded by the fact that there are very few high-profile LGBTQ leaders in the region. “That means people are not very familiar with minority groups talking openly about some of these challenges.” Christina says she gets a lot of questions, some about being hired to fulfil a quota – “It always surprises me that people actually think an organization that is profit-driven would actually risk having a person in the position I am in to just tick a box on diversity” – and why she feels the need to speak up about LGBTQ issues. “What I always say to people [in return] is that legally, my daughter is not my daughter in Greece.”
Christina explains that because of laws in the country, in the event of her wife’s death, she would not be entitled to continue caring for her daughter. Instead, her child would be passed into the care of Christina’s wife’s family, or social services. “This is a human story that people can understand and relate to,” says Christina. “It’s then they realize, okay, now I understand why you need to be out and loud. Because I’m fighting for human rights.”
Christina Leimoni, Chief Operating Officer at Microsoft Greece, Cyprus, and Malta
This is a human story that people can understand and relate to.
Christina’s campaigning has made a palpable difference. For instance, she and a peer convinced the annual Delphi Economic Forum, which gathers speakers from political, economic, business, academic, and other backgrounds to address challenges affecting Europe, the wider Eastern Mediterranean and Greece, to dedicate a full day to LGBTQI+ topics – for the first time in its history.
Corporations can play a big part in driving certain countrywide agendas, says Christina. Microsoft announced plans to build three data centers in Greece in a €100 million project that will provide technical business support and cloud computing services to the nation. But Christina explains: “It’s not just the physical investment in the data center. For example, we have made a promise to upskill 100,000 people in Greece by 2025. And currently, we have already upskilled 45,000 people. This year, we launched a technical skills program for thousands of unemployed people, and we had 98% attendance. It’s about doing something good, offering back to the economy that you operate in. When that economy thrives and that society thrives, you also thrive as a company, and this is a positive message.”
Christina also praises Microsoft’s response to her concerns about returning to Greece. When discussing the Chief Operating Officer job she now holds with Microsoft’s country General Manager, she laid everything out on table. “[I said] there are a couple of things that are non-negotiable, one of which is my health insurance coverage across my family. He embraced the situation and told me that no matter what, for Microsoft, you are going to be a full family. We don’t care what the form of the family is. For me, that was the most encouraging and empowering situations.”
Christina believes the most important investment a company can make in improving D&I is unconscious bias training. Doing so creates a culture of psychological safety in which employees can safely explore their views and be challenged on them in an educational, non-judgmental way. “[It’s important to] have the psychological safety to talk and ask even if you don’t understand or if you did make a mistake. Having an open culture of giving the feedback that, even though your intentions may have been good, the result is the same if you say something discriminatory.”
The bottom line: “When people feel scared or they’re afraid of being themselves, they might have an idea, which stems from their identity, for example, and they will not bring it to the table. How can we make technology for everyone in our communities if you don’t include the different groups of society inside our own companies?”
To listen to the full interview with Christina Leimoni, tune in to the Breaking the Bias podcast.
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