Microsoft CVP Liat Ben-Zur Shares How Becoming a Mom Helped Her Embrace Her True Self
Liat Ben-Zur, Microsoft's corporate vice president of modern life and devices product marketing, takes pride in "doing the impossible" and helping others do the same. That sometimes looks like bringing her competitors in the tech world together to align on a common goal or taking products that people think are destined to fail and "turning them around and making them successful."
The hardworking mom of two based in Seattle really finds joy in problem-solving, tackling challenging situations, and defending all the underdogs—and she credits this to her upbringing and personal experiences.
Ben-Zur, who was born in Israel and moved to California at a young age, realized early on that she was "different." Her parents spoke a different language to her at home, and they didn't seem like "typical American parents," especially in the early '80s. They were strict, and her mother was very outspoken. The family also didn't have a lot of money, so Ben-Zur would wear the same clothes every day.
Growing up Jewish, she was also personally affected by anti-Semitism, often hearing slurs from classmates, teammates on her soccer team, and their parents.
It was these experiences—and the fact that her grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, taught her to never be silent—that led Ben-Zur to stand up for what was right no matter what. As she noted in a talk on intersectionality given at a January 2020 event hosted by BlackLight and Microsoft Women in Business, "I'd raised my brow. I'd raised my head. I'd raised my voice. I'd raised my hand. I'd flip my hair. I'd flip them off. I even flipped a few tables. I never stood by silently. How could I?"
Facing adversity in junior high and high school prepared Ben-Zur for what she would encounter upon choosing engineering as her career path. As one of the very few females in her undergraduate electrical engineering classes at the University of California, Davis, she dealt with professors who fed into gender stereotypes. And as she began her career, she was working with design teams dominated by older men and treated like an assistant, asked to fetch coffee or take notes.
At the same time, Ben-Zur was grappling with the fear that she could lose all that she had been working for and be marginalized for her sexual orientation.
"I remember being at work in meetings with other executives and other leaders and hearing them make jokes about other LGBTQ folks that were in the company, so I was afraid—I was deeply, deeply afraid," Ben-Zur tells Parents.com. "I had to work so hard to be taken seriously at that seat at the table that I didn't want to be classified as a lesbian or gay or something that would take away how hard I worked ... to be the leader that I was."
That fear kept Ben-Zur silent for over a decade, but once she and her wife decided to have kids, everything changed. "That was the turning point. That was when the switch went off in both of our heads," she notes.
She and her wife felt that there's no way they could bring kids into the world who were ashamed of their parents' identity. They realized it would all have to start with them not being ashamed. The couple thought, "We can't hide—we need to come out, and we need to be proud about it and raise our children to be proud of their two moms," recalls Ben-Zur. It was then that she came out to everyone in her life and began living as her authentic self.
Now, a mom of two—Adi, 10, and Shai, 8—Ben-Zur says embracing her true self has led her to opportunities she would have never been able to enjoy before. "It made me a better employee; it made me a better leader; it made me a better mom," says the VP.
Ben-Zur says it also taught her how important it is "to create the space for others to be their authentic selves and not be afraid that they always have to fit in." She adds, "It's a lot of these things that made me unique, that made me stand out, that made me not fit in that I think today are helping us build better products for a broader swath of society—more inclusive products."
For example, she now sees software like PowerPoint through a different lens. It's not just for professional presentations, she says. It can also serve as a tool for her children to connect with their friends by having PowerPoint parties, a phenomenon that's taken off during the pandemic and allows kids to make presentations and share them with others in real time over video chat.
Now, at Microsoft, Ben-Zur is dedicated to supporting and celebrating her coworkers' ability to be their "full authentic selves." She feels proud to be a part of a company that values inclusivity and diversity. And thanks to her background, passion, and unique perspective, the proud mom has become an integral voice at the table, helping lead the charge to create positive change in the world. As she says, "God knows we need it."