Q&A – Optimove's Rachel Shehori: “For me, every day is Women's Day”

Rachel Shehori, Optimove VP of Engineering, speaks exclusively to Gambling Insider about International Women’s Day, the flexibility of hybrid working, overcoming challenges within the tech industry and the importance of role models.


Thank you for speaking with Gambling Insider, Rachel. The first question we have for you is, hopefully, an easy one to start off in honour of International Women's Day. What does International Women's Day mean to you?

Well, in the beginning it was weird that we need a special or specific day for what, as a woman, seems to be my life. I have two sisters and I have three daughters, so my life is full of women around me. Since getting older, especially in my position and industry, it's actually a day I noticed people use to raise awareness – in a good way. Actually, even the date of International Women’s Day – I don't know if people know – but it was the date of a strike women did in Russia in Petrograd on March 8th. This story behind it is amazing.

More people should know that.

This is what it means to me: it’s a time to be happy to see people sharing all these special things with how far we’ve reached, how bad it was and how long we still have to go. For me, every day is Women's Day, for the good and the bad. But I think it's a good idea to raise awareness.

“I think the best thing is to really love what you're doing”

What are some of the qualities you've developed that have helped you succeed as a Vice President of Engineering?

Well, I think it's more qualities that have helped me as a person. First, I'm relatively confident; I'm also a people person; I would say with leadership skills, I believe in not only being fair with your employees and colleagues, but also decent. There is a big difference and a fine line, and we need to be both. I think I'm good at recognising things that engage and empower people. I'm also good with numbers and I love what I'm doing. I don't think I could be doing anything else – or I would not have the same joy as I have in my position. I like to build cool stuff with super smart people, and being a manager or executive in the software industry is a specific part of that. I think the best thing is to really love what you're doing.

How can people in leadership roles within the gambling industry advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Well, I usually don't believe in specifically advocating; but in understanding the ROI, if we are talking clear numbers in business or the value you’re gaining, I think a good management team – especially in the gaming industry – is having a balance of men and women with different focuses and skills. I think the combination and balance is really good.

In addition, once you get older, you are more responsible for what you are doing and for the things you are participating in for your industry. Working in a company of 450-plus, being responsible for what we are doing and how we are doing it, is something everyone is aware of and keeps in the back of their mind. I definitely don't think this is a responsibility in only the gaming industry... but something we should have in general is a good balance of men and women because of their different skills.

“It's not an easy journey and you need to have a tough skin”

Absolutely; how do you and your team stay informed about industry trends and use them to your advantage?

Engineers are super curious people. We go to conferences, for example, and I can tell that at least from the last two, we came away with something new we wanted to try. On the other hand, when we are starting to build something new, we're going to do research. We encourage conflicts and discussions; we encourage speaking up and then giving other options in a totally different way. In addition, we are encouraging our people to bring new ideas and find out what else exists out there. Meetups are something we are going to more and more.

I think the best thing we did last year was when all the tickets to a local conference were sold out, we held an internal conference within our company. People wrote sessions about areas they found to have worked well during this year. It was amazing because it was super focused on what we are doing and the technologies we are using. It's very easy to say “nah, it's not going to work because of…” but instead, having this culture and atmosphere of “I want to hear something new. Let's get excited.” I think that is it.

Yes, always good to encourage discussion and more research. What are some of the gambling industry challenges you've faced in your career? And what advice could you give to other people facing similar issues?

I don’t think we have engineering or technical challenges that are specific to gaming. We do have challenges of speed. On the one hand, you want to do it quick as possible to get into the industry, meet your business goals and beat your competitors with new cool features and capabilities. On the other hand, you want to make sure you're doing it right – not only for today, but scaling for the next huge customer you can’t even imagine yet. Try to imagine building a car when you don't know the size of the family that's going to buy it in a year from now.

You know that this year your family is two people. Next year it could be two hundred, two million, two billion. Our challenge is also using all the new technologies and capabilities out there, from generative AI and all the buzzwords everyone is using, correctly and in a smart way. You want to make sure you are not falling behind, but that you are actually using technology for something that's going to help your business thrive.

“It’s not about showing the perfect picture, but how challenging it is, and how we fail along the way”

Great analogy. A two-billion-person car would definitely be a design challenge... The last question we have for you is also in honour of International Women's Day. Can you tell us how the tech industry can encourage more women to pursue tech engineering and other STEM fields?

One thing we implemented at Optimove, is making sure that when a woman is being interviewed for a technical position that a woman is going to be part of the interview. You need to have the right person in the interview. On the other hand, I think the Covid-19 pandemic actually helped women in tech. Hybrid work has way more flexibility with balancing between work and life, even though times have changed, and more and more fathers are not only helping but actually being full partners; sharing the time, the burden and the schedule arranging.

I think the tech industry should also help by awareness: having role models, like Sara Blakely and Meg Whitman, sharing the stories of all their steps and challenges along the way. It's not an easy journey and you need to have a tough skin. Sometimes you see a super successful woman, she looks amazing and her kid seems like they’re getting the best attention, while she’s also singing and volunteering. You might think: “Oh my God, how is she doing it?” But you don't see all those nights of crying and thinking: “my kid cannot go to sleep, I forgot to do an annual review for tomorrow, or I didn't finish the report for my CEO.”

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes for a lot of women.

It’s gotten better. The balancing is there, but I think we need the awareness of sharing stories of those role models, especially their challenges. It’s not about showing the perfect picture, but how challenging it is and how we fail along the way. It's not easy, even for a man to get to this position; not all of us have the same starting point. Just remember that women usually need to work at least twice hard to get to the same exact position. And if a woman is older, it's even harder. I think the industry definitely needs to encourage women, because it's good for business.

I think Madeleine Albright said “there is a special place in hell for women who do not support each other.” When I'm mentoring for an engineer, or giving someone my advice, I always say “give back to someone, yes?” We should support each other. As a woman in the tech industry, I can tell that a lot of senior women who I appreciate are vocal and we need to be vocal in these kinds of occasions. Leadership is about saying… and not about not saying. This is being a leader; you need to remember to use your influence in other areas.

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