I joined Index Exchange as Director, Engineering relatively recently. Even in the hiring process, it was clear to me: This was a company where I could bring about change.
As a mother of two, an immigrant, and a director whose career has been spent in technical fields, I’m used to being in the minority — the only woman at the table. While that’s never stopped me from following my passion and working my way up, it hasn’t been the easiest experience, either. It was challenging to accept that, no matter what, I would never completely fit in while working in this field. But several years into my professional career, I realised that I didn’t need to fit in. I didn’t need to be “one of the boys” to ensure my voice was heard; I simply needed to speak up, raise my hand, and bring my unique perspective to the table, offering solutions to challenges no one else knew how to solve.
It’s a lesson I feel a responsibility to share, ensuring women — be they entry-level or directors — have a clearer path to leadership and a stronger sense of how to find their voices than I did early on in my career.
I think about this often, but Women’s History Month serves as a time to reflect on how much we’ve achieved, and how much work is still ahead of us. How can we drive change? How can we ensure, in spite of dismal statistics and stereotypes, that we are truly blazing a trail for other women in tech, leaving the industry better than it was when we entered?
I have a few ideas…
Build a Community
“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
Building and fostering a community for women in the workplace – one in which they feel safe voicing thoughts, discussing challenges, and sharing ideas – is paramount. Once established, this community can organise events, boost awareness through training and workshops, and help impact hiring efforts, creating a more inclusive, engaging, and welcoming environment for all. It can also be used outside of a company’s walls, impacting the greater industry and local community.
Hire (and Promote) Role Models
By definition, a role model is “someone whose behaviour, example, and success can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.” However, in order to be a role model, you have to be able to relate to those you’re aiming to influence, which — naturally — makes it difficult for women to find role models in male-dominated organisations and fields (e.g. engineering).
There are two ways to address this challenge, but they must occur in tandem. The first is obvious: Hire more women to leadership positions, and promote them from within. It’s no easy feat — recent studies suggest that women make up less than 25 per cent of the science and technology workforce in Canada (a number that’s likely even smaller within engineering specifically). But the more women we place in leadership roles, the more their junior counterparts will feel inspired to climb the proverbial ladder as well.
The second step and this is often overlooked: train your male leaders. Don’t simply train them to be cognisant of the importance of diversity and inclusion (this should be a given), give them the tools to foster an environment of respect, wherein all voices are truly heard and none are dismissed or ridiculed. Male leaders can and should play just as much of a role in creating equal opportunities as female (and non-binary) leaders, allowing everyone to fulfil their potential and take on new, challenging projects.
Make Diversity and Inclusion Executive Priorities
Today’s businesses are (finally) realising the positive impact of a diverse workforce on their bottom lines. In 2015, McKinsey reported that “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Diversity helps increase productivity, creativity, and employee and customer engagement; it should be at the top of every executive team’s priority list.
For tech-focused businesses, in particular, diversity is even more critical, as it helps reduce bias in the products delivered, improves the quality of products consumed by diverse populations, and boosts teams’ capacities to solve problems and innovate. Beyond the business benefits, it’s also nice to work in an environment wherein you never feel alone. The more connected you feel to your organisation, the more you’ll want to deliver stellar results.
As noted, I knew from my first conversations at Index Exchange that this was a place where I could (and would) truly be able to drive positive change. It was clear that building communities (through groups like ‘Women in Eng’), hiring role models, and prioritising diversity and inclusion at an executive level were all at the top of their priorities list, and I made it my mission to ensure they stayed there.
All this to say: I’m excited to be a Woman in Eng here at Index, and I’m thrilled to be rolling up my sleeves to help champion women across our organisation.