How Julie Shafiki of Kryon tackles the extreme work-life balance of being a woman in STEM during COVID-19

Penny Bauder
Jun 2, 2020 · 12 min read

This crisis has enhanced our communication, both personally and professionally, because we’re experiencing such a heightened awareness of how we’re sharing and communicating. It’s become very obvious that you can maintain relationships even if you can’t be in the same room.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Shafiki.

Julie Shafiki is the chief marketing officer at Kryon, a leader in enterprise automation, offering the only end-to-end platform that encompasses both Process Discovery and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Prior to bringing her dynamic leadership to Kryon, Julie spent many years in cybersecurity and big data, working to elevate the profiles of companies like Tufin, Safe-T Data and Voyager Labs. While Kryon’s offices are now open, Julie is still working largely from her home in the suburbs of Tel Aviv.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path? Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your

I started off in human resources in New York City. When I decided to move to Israel, I realized that to successfully interview professional candidates I needed to speak Hebrew fluently to pick up on the nuances of the language. I earned my MBA at Tel Aviv University, with the belief that studying marketing would further my understanding of why people make the decisions they do and what leads them to buy certain products/technologies. To thrive in both marketing and HR, you need to be an effective storyteller with good people skills and intuition. The ability to tell the right story to the right persona is essential. My first marketing job was as a writer responsible for all executive communication. From there, I led marketing teams at emerging Israeli tech startups. I fell into the robotic process automation (RPA) space by accident. I’ve always worked in high-tech, including many years in cybersecurity (a hugely male-dominated space!). But when I heard about RPA, it sounded so exciting. It’s a fascinating way to actively participate in developing the workplace of the future — for future generations, including my own kids. What could be better than that?

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your Company?

It’s the most obvious answer, but I can’t ignore it: this pandemic. I can’t say COVID-19 has turned our marketing strategy on its head, but it has certainly made us rethink our goals for 2020 and how we’ll get there. It’s been a dramatic and immediate shift. Everything moved online immediately, and we needed to change our tactics just as quickly. Even though we had already made a strategic decision to put the majority of our budget into online activities, the crisis made it 100% digital. We’ve also looked closely at the different geographies — who is where in the COVID wave. Now, as we make our way out, it will be a wave as well.

The only other time I experienced such a dramatic shift in strategy was when I was with a company during its pre-IPO, “silent” period. We worked feverishly to prepare a company that had been private for so many years to come out to the world as a public entity. It involved a lot more brand awareness and significantly more reporting on important initiatives. Our current crisis mode parallels that experience. It’s all-hands-on-deck, with everyone working night and day. We’re in a “no excuses” survival mode. What we’re experiencing now is by far and away one of the most challenging and intense times of my career. I’ll never forget these months, and it’s not over yet.

In some ways, this crisis parallels our market position. We are a “David” amongst several “Goliaths” in the RPA market. I happen to love that challenge. It requires us to work smarter and create that tone of voice that’s different. When you’re smaller, it’s not enough just to have superior technology; you have to find ways to stand out.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This ties to my answer above about finding our voice and differentiating ourselves. Kryon is currently executing some broader, more thought-leadership-focused programs that are bringing influencers into the conversation, which opens up a wider net of people that will tune in to listen. These are people who may be aware of Kryon as a nimble, high-quality, but smaller company in the RPA space, who will notice that we have a lot to say about the workplace of the future and other progressive topics. We’ve launched a Women in RPA campaign that spotlights diverse and extremely talented female RPA leaders across industries. Early indicators prove our approach is resonating. We’re also planning a global Kryon summit for the first time ever. The event will pull together customers, partners, prospects, and thought leaders to share ideas and experience the value that we bring to enterprises. And because everything is virtual right now, we can execute this as well as any other large company. It evened the playing field in that respect.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

A lot of people have helped me grow in my career. But there is an experience and a person that stands out. I took a management course exactly 10 years ago. I was already in a senior position, but I looked forward to this course to explore additional ways of becoming a better leader, influencer, and manager. I loved every minute of the two-month course. I remember something the instructor said during that course that stays with me to this day. He guided us to always imagine ourselves in our boss’s shoes. If you’re a manager, think like your director. If you’re a director, make your approach like a vice president. We did a whole exercise around this concept. I remember how powerful it was. And it’s a technique I still use often. If I was a CEO, what would she say? If I’m doing a presentation, what does my audience want to hear?

I’m happy I can now pay it forward by mentoring others. I just completed a four-month volunteer mentoring program. Twelve mentors were hand-selected and matched with people looking for guidance in their career path. I worked with a young woman in her 30’s with an entry-level digital marketing job. Like many people right now, she’s on unpaid leave and not certain she’ll have a job to return to. She doesn’t have a lot of marketing experience as she was a lawyer formerly. I spent many sessions giving her advice. Along the way, I realized looking back at my career, that the decisions you make along the way, are always the right ones. That may seem like a silly observation. Sometimes, you stay at a certain job for five or six years. Other times, you spend only a year, as something just wasn’t right or it wasn’t a good fit. Career paths twist and turn, sometimes haphazardly. But there are no mistakes. You learn something in each and every company. People constantly have the opportunity to reinvent themselves (should they wish). It’s fascinating and very liberating to have that power. Our talents lie in many places. Nobody can tell me I have to work only in marketing. I used to work in human resources. There’s a fluidity to our careers. My advice is: don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things. Chances are, you’ll be great at it!

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this Pandemic?

The biggest challenge is having to focus and handle long days with kids at home 24/7. My workday is so intense and includes lots of meetings. It’s not the interruptions that are problematic because we’ve all become accustomed to those and, honestly, they can be cute. It’s more about the dynamics in the house. Someone is always hungry. You can emerge from meetings to a kitchen that looks like a hurricane ripped through it. That can certainly raise my blood pressure quickly.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Along the way, I found my patience. I’ve also tried to ‘re-educate’ the household. Children need to understand that parents aren’t always there to be their entertainment. We can’t play with them all the time. We’re not on vacation; we’re working. A closed door means that we’re busy and can’t be interrupted, but we’ll have family time later. We needed to establish a new type of rapport and clarity around what’s expected. Setting expectations is very important.

Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

For me, it’s the disappearance of work-life balance. Over the last couple of years, my husband and I worked very hard to ensure that we create a distinct work cut-off each day. Now, we don’t have that. Even though we’re home together day and night, we don’t have that separation. We don’t have a place to escape to.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Well, we moved up our bedtime — a lot. We now go to bed early — sometimes even at 9:00 pm, even if the kids are still awake. We’ll watch a movie, talk, or just relax. We do it just to have that physical space and some time to ourselves. My adult son recently asked why I go to bed so early with an incredulous, “You’re not 80, mom.” We need that change of venue and time alone. We also go on walks. We do three-four-mile walks several times a week. It’s a huge help just to get out and breathe fresh air.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Set expectations for everyone. Establish when it’s family time and when it’s parents’ work time. Make sure that everyone knows his or her schedule for the next day. When homeschooling first started, it was a disaster. We don’t have enough computers in the house. One child would be trying to use the phone, which didn’t work. So, we set up a schedule, which was beneficial in many ways. Cooking big meals so there are leftovers has also been helpful, so family members can grab something to eat without having to ask for someone to cook. We also allowed our children to cook. Our 12-year-old makes amazing French toast, as well as pasta and omelets.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?

Take long showers (laughs). Yoga is also a lifesaver. Personally, I can’t go to sleep if my kitchen is dirty. So, my husband and I take turns tackling the dishes, which pile up by the end of the day. Knowing that the kitchen is clean is a way for me to feel calm. I know when I wake up in the morning to make coffee, there won’t be a disaster waiting for me in the kitchen. Ensuring that you have downtime to yourself and finding time for your significant other with conversations that don’t revolve around work or kids are also important. Regular Zoom calls with extended family can also make you feel connected to those you’re missing physically.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the Coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I do believe we have significant reasons to be hopeful from what we’ve gained through this crisis. My top five reasons for hope are:

  1. Improved Communication. This crisis has enhanced our communication, both personally and professionally, because we’re experiencing such a heightened awareness of how we’re sharing and communicating. It’s become very obvious that you can maintain relationships even if you can’t be in the same room. At Kryon, we have coffee breaks online. We’ve been randomly set up with coworkers around the globe. So, I’ve gotten to know people who I would never have normally encountered. Initially, I was skeptical about taking the time for these, but they proved to be really enjoyable.
  2. More Creativity. We’ve all had to think a little more creatively. It’s encouraged all of us to flex our creative muscles and be more flexible. A little push is helpful for better output sometimes.
  3. Everyone is a Problem Solver. This crisis has made everyone push their boundaries and think outside the box. How are we going to get this done? How can we do it better? I found there is so much collaboration to come up with solutions to our challenges.
  4. We’re Closer — Emotionally. I was supposed to visit my family for two weeks in April but of course, that didn’t happen. So, I’ve reached out to fill that void. I’ve spoken more to my brother in the last two months than I have in the past years. You connect with people more often now, as you want to know what’s going on with them. We’re in this crisis together. We’re all looking for that light at the end of the tunnel and to come out better on the other side. On the professional side, that’s the mantra we talk about each and every day — in executive meetings, in team meetings, and on company-wide calls. We’re all pulling together to succeed, almost overachieve.
  5. It’s Reinvention Time! This situation has given us all an opportunity for reflection and to change, or at least recognize what needs changing in our lives. I’m struck by the number of people who have decided to quit their jobs or move in another career direction. It’s given us time to ponder what’s important in life. Ask if what we’re doing is what we truly want to be doing — personally and professionally. I have a friend with a very high-powered job who’s currently on unpaid leave. She’s embraced the time to get in fantastic shape, from walking, doing yoga, and Pilates. She’s never looked or felt better. In fact, she looks like she just came back from vacation!

From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Reach out every day. My mother, for example, was having a difficult time being alone with no physical contact. She was scared and missing everyone. So, the entire family, including my kids, is calling her every day. It’s important that children, irrespective of their age, speak to grandparents. Group calls make us all feel better. I’m seeing this across the board. I chat with friends who don’t have a family at home and help them find a purpose. One of my friends has been obsessively making masks out of all sorts of funky material. She hands them out to people in need. It’s kept her focused and given her a purpose, a reason to get out of bed every morning. We can all do special gestures. They don’t have to be grand or cost a lot of money, but they show you care. I sent some amazing chocolates to my mother just to brighten her day.

Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The one that comes to mind is Winston Churchill’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Accept reality when things go wrong. These are truly unprecedented times. No one of this generation has gone through a pandemic. There is much to be learned and a lot to be grateful for. My husband and I both work for global companies. We’ve met families online in all corners of the globe that we would never have met otherwise. Everyone’s personal lives have become part of our daily sensations through what we see and hear online. There’s a lot to be said about a time of crisis. It changes everyone and highlights what’s important. It makes us think about who we are and what we’re going to be after the crisis is over.

How can our readers follow you online?

Julie Shafiki at LinkedIn and @JulieShaifiki on Twitter

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Penny Bauder

Written by

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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