Microsoft's Dona Sarkar on Accessibility in the Work Place and Entrepreneurship
January 23, 2023
Dona is the Director of Tech for Microsoft Accessibility. A woman of color tech leader for over a decade. A multi-published author (it turns out fiction writing is really useful in software!). The owner of the ethical luxury fashion brand Prima Dona Studios. Dyslexic but Dealing. Fast Company’s 100 Most Productive People and Cosmopolitan magazine's Businessperson of the Year. A teacher of hating Mondays less through the power of intrapreneruship in corporations. Always ready to get on a plane.

Can you give us a brief rundown of your roles at Microsoft and at Prima Dona?

I run the Accessibility tech program at Microsoft where my team and I look after the thousands of products Microsoft ships and ensures they are Accessible to people with disabilities all over the world. For Prima Dona Studios, I am the founder and the Chief Creative Officer. My target customer is a woman who is in the public eye and is not shy about being seen. All of my pieces are tailored by Afghani refugee women right here in Seattle. These tailors use their income to pay rent and send their children to school–they are the primary breadwinners of their houses after having given up their lives and moved to the US from Afghanistran after having been allies of our military.

How should executives think about accessibility right now?

Executives need to realize that Accessibility is not just globally mandated (look up European Accessibility Act) but also good business. Who wouldn’t want MORE people to use their products? The more executives think about Accessibility earlier in their product cycles, the better their products will be AND the more customers they will win over early

What can executives do to embrace an accessibility for all mindset in their companies in 2023?

Executives should realize that every customer and employee will need Accessibility at some point or another. It spans the spectrum from physical accessibility needs (screenreaders, special keyboards/mice) to cognitive (less distracting UX and less jarring colors/animation). We will all develop a disability at some point or another (through age, situation or accident) so it’s wise for us to build the world that we will wish existed while we are in positions of power and authority. Did you know that 50% of all people use Accessibility today? And that number will only grow as the population ages.

How does your high tech job inform your fashion brand?

I have learned so much about business while working in tech–one of the most interesting things is how much fashion and engineering are related. 3D visualization, building product from prototype to ship quality and looking at customer data streams to inform the next version are all things I have learned from my day job that I use in my fashion line.

How do you respond to people who tell you that your side hustle distracts from your “real” job?

I ask them if having kids distracts from their day job? Because having a side-hustle is far easier than having kids :)

What have you learned from running a company while working at Microsoft that others might benefit from learning?

How to run a lean business and figure out how to do all the job functions myself. This leads to me being a much better product leader in times of economic challenge (like now!) at a big company.

What products are your go to right now?

I absolutely love Microsoft OneNote to keep track of all my day job and side-hustle notes. I think of it as an extension of my brain and it syncs my data between all my computers and my phone and iPad. Otherwise I love ChatGPT which acts as the “first draft” of anything I need to write: website copy, business plans, product descriptions, all of it. .

Who are women you admire?

I admire women who are unabashedly themselves while making big impact in the world. Examples are: Queen Rania of Jordan since she balances philanthropic work with her royal duties while still maintaining a flawless sense of style. Sara Blakely who is such a great balance of self-funded businesswoman and hilarity. Annie Leibovitz who has been the top photographer in the world for 50+ years while maintaining her signature photography style. Diane von Furstenburg who has been relevant for 50 years while being incredibly warm, loving and so very herself.

What’s one trend you see on the horizon? Generative AI (Dalle, ChatGPT, Github CoPilot) will become mainstream and something that’s used by people to create images for social media, blogs for product launches and code for mobile apps…among millions of other use cases. This will become your editor best friend for anything you create.

The Metaverse will become something brands need to understand and start building for. This will start with 3D visualizations and extend to Augmented Reality and then finally Virtual Reality.


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