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Office of the AVP & CTO


Celebrating McMaster Women in Tech and International Women’s Day  

This International Women’s Day, March 8, 2023, McMaster’s Office of the AVP and CTO is joining the United Nations in celebrating under the theme DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. 

Today, women remain underrepresented in the technology sector. This presents a major barrier towards women’s participation in technology design and governance.  

“All of us can work towards equity by inspiring women to believe in themselves, creating space for their voices, and celebrating their successes,’” says Gayleen Gray, Associate Vice President and Chief Technology Officer.  

In 2020, the Office of the AVP and CTO launched the “McMaster Women in Tech” initiative to recognize women tech changemakers within the McMaster community and provide them with a platform to share stories and inspire others.   

This International Women’s Day, McMaster’s Office of the AVP and CTO is sharing the voices and stories of several women working in technology at McMaster. See below to read their insights and perspectives on digital technology and gender equality.  

Photo of Paula Brown Hackett, Director of Campus Infrastructure Systems at McMaster

Paula Brown-Hackett

An important part of celebrating International Women’s Day is acknowledging the critical role that women play in the technology industry. As a leader at McMaster, I am committed to empowering and advocating for women as we bring a unique perspective to our industry. All of us have a responsibility to promote a diverse and inclusive workforce. It is not only essential for driving innovation, but it is also the right thing to do. By supporting women in the technology field, we can drive real change and create a more equitable and inclusive future for all.  So, I challenge you to not just celebrate and acknowledge women in technology on IWD but to do that every day and to pay it forward by being a mentor, coach, or sponsor.

Photo of Nevine Chawra, Associate Registrar at McMaster's Registrar Office

Nevine Chawra

Progress and innovation in technology require challenging the status quo and embracing new ideas, perspectives, and approaches. Women may feel intimidated by the idea of working in the technology industry. But we all need to understand that women’s perspectives are critical for us to build and design holistic, inclusive, and meaningful technology solutions. As a leader in the technology field at McMaster, I am committed to creating a more inclusive and supportive environment that motivates engages and empowers all students. I am also a member of the board of the Groningen Declaration Network (GDN). As part of this role, I am focused on promoting digital student data portability projects that work towards a more equitable education system for all students, including displaced women and girls.

Photo of Marissa Benson, Systems Integration Specialist at McMaster's Information Security Services

Marissa Benson

I fell in love with the tech world during my university years when I worked part-time in the IT department. At the time, I was studying Psychology and Social Work and I loved seeing the ways in which human behaviour relates to cybercrime investigations. This pushed me to study computer programming. Since then, I’ve spent two decades working in the IT field, with the last nine years in Cyber Security at McMaster.

Outside of my regular work, I participate in Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) events to track down missing persons and detect child exploitation offenders. I also aspire to create content for high school kids to attract females to the Cyber Security field.

I am excited to see a growing presence of female-identifying groups in the tech field. I feel it is important for all of us to acknowledge intersectionality and the marginalized experiences of female identifying individuals outside of our home country. This helps us become better leaders and increase the number of women in the tech field.

Photo of Sophia Holness, Associate Director of Digital Student Experience at McMaster University

Sophia Holness

As the Associate Director, Digital Student Experience leading the Current Student CRM Initiative, I am dedicated to leveraging technology to improve, enhance, and support student success. With 17 years of experience as a graduate and employee of McMaster University, I am keenly aware of the inequalities and barriers faced by racialized people in the IT industry. As the chair of the Black, Indigenous, and Racialized Staff Employee Resource Group at McMaster, my mission is to collaborate with others to address structural barriers, advocate for change, and provide career development opportunities to promote the advancement of racialized staff. By leveraging technology, innovation, and diverse perspectives, I am committed to building a brighter and more inclusive McMaster community.

Photo of Jessica Blackwood, Accessible Digital Media Specialist Supervisor at McMaster

Jessica Blackwood

I have been very fortunate that my role as the Accessible Digital Media Specialist Supervisor in the Faculty of Science has allowed me to explore the intersections of technology and equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (IDEA) every day at McMaster. Through my position as the Co-Convener of the Disability Inclusion, Madness, Accessibility, and NeuroDiversity (DIMAND) working group and a member of the UNIFOR Pride Committee and the Gender and Sexuality (G&S) working group, I have also been able to collect and amplify the voices and stories of numerous equity-deserving individuals about how technology has either fostered inclusivity or prohibited it. It has been wonderful to watch the continued development of inclusive practices and mindsets at McMaster since I became a student in 2012, and I cannot wait to see the ongoing inclusion of all communities on campus in our decision making and service provision moving forward.

To hear more voices from across the McMaster community sharing their insights on the need to make digital spaces more equitable and remove barriers for women, please see here.