By Lisa Thibodeau
While March 8 marks a time to celebrate women around the world, as guests at Kanata North councillor Jenna Sudds’ International Women’s Day breakfast heard, some Kanata North businesswomen are promoting diversity in the workplace 365 days a year.
At the second annual breakfast, local residents and business leaders gathered to celebrate International Women’s Day and take part in meaningful discussions about gender equality.
Brenna Wyman, owner of Inner Revolution Yoga, Amanda Gordon, partner at Boyden, Thusha Agampodi, engineering manager at Magnetic Forensics, Anahid Khajooei, software development manager at Entrust Datacard and co-founder of Mastermind Events, Jennifer McAndrew, took the stage at this year’s gathering to share their respective journeys into leadership roles and how they worked to overcome adversity along the way.
“I would say that the biggest obstacle is feeling like my opinions have equal weight,” Agampodi told the crowd of nearly 100 who gathered at the John G Mlacak Community Centre in early March.
Having worked in tech for many years, Agampodi is no stranger to being the only woman in a room. She described the obstacles she faced while building her career, including a time she was told to “calm down” when she tried to give her thoughts on a project.
“I’m trying really hard to call it out more now,” she adds. “I’m at a point in my career where I can speak up so that it gets easier for the women who come after me.”
As part of the event, each of the female leaders signed up to be a mentor for a young person in the community. Five young women were chosen to participate in the program this year, job shadowing and learning from the panelists.
“When we help each other and support each other’s business and share each other’s successes, we are being models for other women,” Wyman said, wrapping up the panel. “If we open ourselves up to collaborating, sharing and supporting women, we can go a lot further than when we compete against each other.”
‘Closing the gap’
Sudds’ breakfast was one of many celebrations happening in Kanata North for International Women’s Day, evidence of a larger push to achieve diversity in the tech sector.
Entrust Datacard – a secure banking technology firm – had a handful of its female leaders speaking at events across the city to spread awareness of the importance of closing the gender disparity gap in tech.
“This is an area that you don’t see a lot of girls in, so that is why I’m here,” Khajooei told the group at Sudds’ celebration. “I was very fortunate to have really good mentors during my journey here, so I really want to give back what was helpful to me.”
To encourage conversations about gender equality outside of International Women’s Day, the team at Entrust Datacard created the Ottawa Women’s Alliance Group, which organizes female-led events and initiatives at the office throughout the year, such as clothing drives for Dress for Success – an organization that supplies professional clothing to low-income women to support their job search – as well as mentoring circles and coffee chats.
“We thought starting up that affinity group would help increase the visibility and also encourage and welcome women to move up the ranks and to get into the high-tech world,” said Marisia Campbell, vice-president of legal at Entrust Datacard and leader of the alliance group.
Campbell celebrated International Women’s Day on Parliament Hill this year, attending the Elevate conference to share the company’s mission and speak on a women in tech leadership panel. The event was full of female leaders passionate about driving change, which is encouraging for the next generation of up-and-coming women in tech, she said.
“The more that we encourage, the more action we take, the more we speak about this, the more likely it is to increase the numbers,” she added. “That’s what we’ll need to drive that economy forward and really change the way technology is stacked right now.”
Leading the change
Just across the street in the tech park, cybersecurity firm Trend Micro is on a similar mission to change the face of tech. Some 30 per cent of its employees are women – many of them in leadership roles, which is nearly three times the average for cybersecurity companies.
“It makes it a lot easier to have new, diverse talent come into the company when you have that visibility,” said Emma Bryson, marketing manager at Trend Micro Canada. “Over the past few years we’ve seen a ton of different women coming in and actively seeking out Trend because they’ve seen the type of leadership that we have here.”
The company has continued to challenge gender disparity by hosting programs and events to educate others about how to close the gap. At the end of January, the Kanata office hosted an “unlocking careers in emerging tech” panel, where three local women shared how they built careers in a predominantly male field.
The company also hosts women’s only breakfasts for new hires, where they can sit down with the company leaders and learn about how they can progress in their new career, an initiative spearheaded by Caroline Arbuckle, a senior program manager at Trend Micro Kanata.
“It’s that ‘If I can see it, then I can be it’ mentality that we have here,” said Arbuckle. “If we go to an R&D meeting or a tech meeting, sometimes there are a limited number of women in the room. We just need to overcome that and know that we have a voice and that our voices must be heard.”