Women in STEM: Transforming the Tech Industry

 
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For those of us in the technology world we know that growth often follows disruption, and that disruption leads to a need for transformation.

For most of my professional life, I have been focused on transforming organizations within the technology industry. Early in my career, I discovered a passion for business transformation after joining a Canadian organization to help turn around a unionized sales division. After that, my interest was piqued and I began actively seeking out these types of opportunities. Over time, I learned what to look for in an organization that was in the right position to undergo a transformation, and how I could help affect that change effectively.

But now, there’s another type of transformation that needs to take place, specifically in the way women are treated within the Canadian STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) industries.

I believe my experience at Cogeco Peer 1, and how we have been focused on turning around a high potential, but nevertheless, the underperforming division could provide a bit of a blueprint for a transformation of the broader industry. It’s a strategy that involves a lot of listening, consensus, and making quick decisions that create impactful results.

When I joined Cogeco Peer 1 in May 2017, I immediately put into place what I like to call my 90-day game plan. The first 30 days were about listening, assessing, and going deep into the business. Over the next 30 days - I expanded my listening tour outside my hard reports, I broadened my reach, and started floating ideas. The last 30 days, it was time to get started, and to act. Quick wins were important. Strategy was set, and we started to execute.

Now, eight months later, Cogeco Peer 1 is strongly positioned for growth. With a strong, seasoned management team in place we are now ready to take on the industry. And not unlike what I have had to do in my own career, we are ready to compete and aggressively differentiate ourselves from the rest of our industry.

One of those areas where Cogeco Peer 1 differentiates itself happens to be the number of women working in the highest ranks of the company. In fact, Cogeco Peer 1’s three General Managers are all women. I firmly believe that our turnaround has been due, at least in part, to the diversity of voices we have in the upper echelons of the company.

And while that’s an impressive start, our industry needs a structural change of its own to make sure that simply having women in leadership roles does not set us apart from the rest of the industry. According to the 2016 Canadian Labour Force Survey, women make up just 27% of the workforce in information and communications technology (ICT) firms. What’s worse is that number is down from 2011, when we made up 30% of the workforce in ICT companies.

That’s where our community of female leaders can impact change. When you consider how few women there are in the technology world today, and how our numbers are declining, and how important those voices are to the future of the industry and the way we create products and services, it’s easy to see why it’s so critical for all of us to do everything we can to get more women into the technology field.

From a broader, macroeconomic perspective, when you realize that most of the good new jobs in our modern economy are being created in the STEM fields, you can quickly see why it’s so critical for us all to come together to inspire our young girls to pursue careers in these fields.

For all of us women in the technology field, we can be powerful allies for younger women as soon as they enter their first roles in an industry that is heavily dominated by men.

Before I found the first strong female mentor who helped me navigate corporate Canada and bring out my authentic self, (my unicorn, as I call her), I had a rocky start. I didn’t always get the best advice. One of my first mentors coached me to hide my femininity.

“Don’t talk so much with your hands, and watch the inflection in your voice, or people won’t take you seriously,” they told me. That advice got to me—and not in a positive way.

At the outset of my career, I was nervous. I dyed my blonde hair brown and kept it tied up or back, dressed in overly conservative business suits, and wore glasses. I did anything and everything I could do to tone down my femininity. I was hiding who I really was. Thankfully, I figured out that the real path to success lay in my ability to embrace my femininity and through it my authentic self, but I wouldn’t learn that without some help.

Personally, it took seven years before I found the woman in my organization who helped turn things around for me.

Today, just five per cent of Canadian technology companies have a female CEO, and more than half don’t have a single female executive. And according to the Conference Board of Canada, women’s progress in reaching senior management positions has stalled, with men being two to three times more likely to be in a senior management position than women.

Female leaders can transform businesses. Through coaching and mentorship, we can transform industries and ensure young woman see themselves in senior management roles.

We need a transformation that enables more young girls to believe they can excel in science, technology, engineering and math. One that enables young women to believe a degree in STEM is the way of the future.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. And the place of women in the technology world is no exception. I’m proud to work for a forward- thinking organization like Cogeco Peer 1 that believes in the power of female executives and is investing in the future of the company and powering the potential of the industry.

But we all need to do our part if we’re going to come together and affect real change. We’ve listened, we’ve assessed, we’ve broadened our reach, and it is time to get started, and to take action leading a transformation that will change the look and feel of the types of people in our industry.

And it starts with supporting one another.

 

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