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Intelcom's women in tech: a roundtable discussion

Womens day2

The UN has dubbed this year's International Women’s Day theme "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality." We sat down with a few of the incredible women at Intelcom to discuss what it means to be a woman in the tech world.

Moderated by Marie-Chantal Savard, Director of Governance and HR Systems Management, four women from our tech teams shared their experiences in the field:

  • Virginie Bourque, Senior Product Manager;
  • Lia Chauvel, Product Manager;
  • Jennie Jianying Liang, Business Analyst; and
  • Françoise Mehanna, IT Manager, Finance Information Systems.

What inspired you to pursue a career in technology?

Virginie: What I really like to do is problem-solving. When I started studying, it was all about problem-solving. And then I realized that tech was the ultimate problem-solving tool.

Lia: I started with civil engineering, and in my first year, you had to take a class for C++. That's when I saw that problems could get solved easily and you could get instant results with programming. I switched to software engineering.

Jennie: I have an academic background focused on statistics and a little bit of finance. As an international student back then, there were opportunities for me, and IT was one where I could transfer my skills.

Françoise: I also chose engineering as a university major. My father pushed me to go work in computer science. He told me there is a lot of innovation in the field and that it is a very promising domain, and I would have a lot of exposure to multiple lines of business.

Marie-Chantal: I’m probably on this panel as the only non-digital native. I have a background where I was designing and creating physical products and services. At a certain point I realized the world is changing and things are going towards digital and digitization, and seeing the opportunities and really being able to transfer all of this previous skill and knowledge into tech is really what motivated me and what made me cross the line of the digital divide.

34% of Canadians with a STEM degree are women, but they make up only 23% of Canadians working in science and technology. Why do you think this gap exists?

Françoise: We don't really have role models in this sector. There is a little bit of gender bias - an unconscious gender bias - in the business world. I don't know why, but I think women are proving day after day that they have a place in this sector.

Lia: The reason why we don't think of women is because we are already at a low number in the sector, so it's not automatic. I've seen it many times throughout my career, and I have been told no because I would feel out of place and be the only woman in the room.

Jennie: Things have changed little by little, I would say. More students, girls, have joined STEM courses or are doing STEM degrees. Girls join big corporations and make contributions as tech experts, programmers, product managers… it's changing.

Virginie: Francoise, when you said it was your dad that led you in the tech direction, for me it was also my dad. So even though he's not a female role model, it was never a discussion for him whether I was a woman or not. He said there are opportunities, you have the brain for it, go for it!

Françoise: It's not easy to be in a masculine environment and need to prove yourself. There are a lot of challenges that you go through in order to prove that you can be present, give your opinion, and do what you're meant to be doing in your line of work.

What solutions or support can we offer to help support women in tech?

Jennie: I volunteer in a tech girl's group, specializing in encouraging ladies, especially international students, to get to know more about the industry. Recently I've been more active in creating social media content. Hopefully, in this way, my group can make the industry something that is not mysterious to girls.

Virginie: I have to agree. If people would ask me, what do you want to do? What will be your career? I couldn't put a word on the position that I have today. I didn't even know it existed. There is so much variety of what you can do in tech that no one knows of, so I like to show the diversity of roles.

Marie-Chantal: Oftentimes, people think of tech, and they think of someone coding. But there are so many other opportunities and such a broader range of roles! There are lots of misconceptions. Being more present and connected with other women in tech - creating that circle of collaboration and support - is important.

Lia: It’s important to have networking and mentorship programs, in order to meet different people who can help us in our career and support us in the tech field. What has helped me throughout my career is the mentors I’ve had.

Virginie: I think it extends outside of work too. It's not just in tech where there is a gender gap. For me and my background, I did a lot of sports growing up, and there was a lot of confrontation about that already. I got comfortable being in a “boy’s world” there, so when I came into tech, it felt the same as anywhere else. It comes from everywhere. If we encourage girls to explore whatever they like, no matter if it typically used to be a man’s world or not, it doesn’t really matter, if you’re interested, go into it. And I think if we’re used to doing that, by the time we get to work it'll be easy for us to go there and take our place and welcome other women as well, and eventually we’ll find parity.

How can companies like Intelcom help bridge the digital gender gap?

Virginie: I think at Intelcom, as a tech company, we have the opportunity to be mentors and provide exposure. This exercise we are doing now - this is an opportunity for someone to read and learn something. It's a small initiative that seems isolated, but it can have a big impact.

Françoise: At Intelcom, we can put more focus on women's achievements in the IT sector. We're proving day by day what valuable work we're doing. We can put emphasis on these female achievements.

Lia: It's important to have networking sessions, so people have more opportunities to meet women or men role models in the workplace. We could even implement that in universities so we could move women in tech studies directly toward Intelcom.

Marie-Chantal: A common thread I’m hearing is about making those connections and [building] that community of peers. I think that’s something really important within an organization, and broader as well: creating that bigger community and providing those opportunities to be able to connect with other women.

What advice do you have for women pursuing this field of work?

Jennie: First, there are tons of free courses online, for example, AWS, amazon, and Google. They have great programs like Shebuilds. Do a few courses and get to know tech. Second, network: Network in school and in the broader spectrum. There are a lot of people who are willing to help and share their knowledge, so just reach out.

Virginie: Look for mentors. When you are younger, you may be shy, but we've all been through it. If you don't know anyone, go on LinkedIn and find someone. Don't be scared of asking. Don't be scared of failing. Just go for it!

Lia: Make sure you are vocal in all contexts: in the workplace, in meetings, and even in the classroom. It also contributes to feeling heard and represented as a woman.

Marie-Chantal: Even promoting yourself and not being afraid to promote yourself and your achievements is important. I find that women tend not to toot their own horns as much. But there's nothing wrong with promoting your achievements, yourself, and your career!

What is most exciting about your work in tech?

Françoise: What I like the most in my career is that I am exposed to a lot of lines of business. It's not only that I get exposed to finance as operations, but it's also about procurement, asset management, and payroll, and this is what challenges me. I have new knowledge to acquire every time I have to implement a new project. This is what I like the most about my job.

Jennie: I echo Françoise. As an IT Business Analyst, I have the chance to learn things almost every day. The opportunity to keep learning is the exciting part of my job. I'm never bored.

Virginie: I feel like we have the power to change someone's day - I'm not going to say life - but for me, I work with the staff in warehouses, and we do changes to how systems work, and they don't have to be complex, but when that person says "wow you've just changed the way I work!" It's very satisfying. You feel very empowered in what you do.

Lia: For me, it's continuously pursuing that lightbulb moment: The moment where everything turns on, and something works.

Françoise: The most important part is when you see the impact of what you did from a small modification.

Marie-Chantal: I love that. That idea of driving change.

Virginie: Now I'm excited to go back to work! So inspired!

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