As one of only a few elusive female executives in the technology world, Kara Hinesley- Twitter’s Head of Public Policy and Government Affairs for Australia and New Zealand- talks about working in an industry that has faced criticism for a lack of minority representation.
Kara Hinesley is one of those people that always has a smile on her face and seems to always say yes. She is as welcoming as she is bubbly and it’s these traits that make it easy to see that she loves what she does.
She is the woman behind the decisions that shape how we use one of the largest social media platforms in the world.
“Every policy issue that you can think of that might concern Twitter, I have to deal with it,” says Hinesley.
“Everything from counter-terrorism to dealing with copyright. I’m dealing with issues that have to deal with net neutrality, cyber bullying, harassment, encryption, cybersecurity, a whole host of issues.
“I feel like I just- it’s been eye-opening, being in this job.”
According to Hinesley, her work in social causes like Indigenous X, the GO Foundation, Black Rainbow and within the LGBTIQ community have been the most meaningful experiences in her life.
“You get to see some really amazing stuff,” she says.
“I will never know what it’s like to walk around and be a different colour or be from a different walk of life or be LGBT, I just don’t know.
“Whenever I get to do work that helps them- and also as a company we get to recognize them- it almost validates all the work that they’ve done, and it shows that they have people in their corner.”
A quick scan of her Twitter feed reveals a passion for progressive causes. Yet the broad range of views found on Twitter means that the social platform she personally advocates can be at odds with Twitter’s users.
According to Hinesley, however, it’s a key element of her job to embrace all opinions, listening and learning from those who have an opposite view.
“If it’s that they listened to their father say it and now they’re repeating it, there’s always some sort of thread that you can go back and find how somebody arrived at some decision or standpoint that they’re unwilling to budge from,” she says.
“I know that there is no way I would be able to productively or successfully alter anyone’s opinion if I don’t first understand where they’re coming from.
So even when I vehemently disagree with them, which sometimes happens, I’m always willing to listen.”
Hinesley maintains a diplomatic attitude with the task of growing a platform the New York Times has described as “a mouthpiece of dictators, demagogues and celebrities the world over”.
But Hinesley remains certain that Twitter’s presence in the commons is of “great, great value” to the political sphere for citizens and politicians alike.
“Not only just as a citizen, and as somebody who’s really interested in politics, and kind of a nerd about it,” she says.
“I also think that the transparency, it’s a hyper- level of transparency that we’re seeing now.
“I’m used to a lot of these thoughts and conversations and statements from politicians were usually very carefully crafted and delivered to the traditional media through usually a press secretary or media advisor.”
As an executive at one of the world’s most controversial social networks, Hinesley works endlessly to seek accord with public figures all over the political spectrum.
“I have to work on both sides of the aisle,” she says.
“I need to be able to work with Labor, the Greens, Pauline Hanson, Nick Xenophon’s team, and that’s the thing- I’ve never had an issue hearing other people’s opinions.
“I actually find it interesting and fascinating, especially when they’re incredibly divergent from my own.”
Hinesley has faced obstacles of her own in shaping a career in a foreign country, after moving to Australia when her then boyfriend- now husband- Patrick Galloway.
“He’d gotten offered the job to come back after working at ESPN for five years, and so he asked me if I’d come and I said, ‘OK, sure, why not?’, says Hinesley.
Upon arrival, she “realized that in order to practice law in Australia, there wasn’t just a bar exam that you could say similar to the US, you actually had to go back to school for it.”
“I’m always just really proud of us and everything that we’ve achieved,” says Hinesley, reflecting on the difficulty she faced in establishing her career.
“When I moved over here I literally had no money. I had just finished law school, so I was very much in debt.
“I remember us having to go through the coin jar to buy tickets to get a train pass, so I could come into the city for school and when I look back on those days and then look at us now, like actually being able to like save money.”
She smiles, as though she were overcoming all of the hardship again.
As the face of Twitter’s policy adjustments, she bears the new responsibility of representing the company at all levels.
But in an industry notorious in recent years for a lack of diversity, Hinesley insists that she’s been lucky with Twitter.
“I think having the education that I have and, Twitter is, for whatever reason very skewed towards women,” she says.
“There’s a lot more equality than maybe the tech industry overall, but some of the barriers I think are trying to get more women into STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Maths).”
Hinesley says that it’s important that girls are encouraged to engage with science and mathematics to give them the opportunity to pursue those paths later in life.
“You see it play out later on because girls aren’t really going into those fields in college,” she says.
“And then, of course not practicing in those fields as a professional.
“So, I think that those are probably the biggest barriers I’m seeing.”
But Hinesley says there has been great collaboration between companies like Facebook and LinkedIn in removing these barriers.
“Even though our companies might compete against each other on a sales perspective, I think that there’s a lot of humanitarian issues that we can bring a lot of good towards and we all work together or separately within the companies on these things,” she says.
“It’s nice when we can kind of come together and I don’t know, like actually make a bigger difference than we would separately.
“And that sounds corny, but we really do try.”