One of the things I love best about my work is that I am always connecting with people, on campus and elsewhere, each and every day. I interact with people in (a lot of) meetings, sitting on committees, presenting at conferences, leading engagement sessions, facilitating learning and development programs and leading strategic planning and implementation efforts to advance our McMaster IT Strategic Vision. I draw so much value and energy from these interactions – they are jet fuel! And, regardless of the method or forum, it is up to me to make each interaction a true connection.
In order to make genuine connections happen, I try to get beyond the superficial and show up as my true self. Because I am an obvious extrovert, this probably seems like a ‘no brainer’ and should be super easy. That isn’t always the case, however. Every now and then, my personal insecurities and imposter syndrome try to hold me back. That was even more of a challenge earlier in my career. I had this very persistent voice in my head that could drown out reality and fill me with uncertainty.
While that voice still whispers to me now and then, I have learned that the fastest way to quieten it is to turn that inner voice out by asking for help, sharing my challenges, and finding mentors and coaches that can encourage me and give me strength and support to achieve my goals. Like grabbing onto a rope, making connections is the way up and out of the self-doubt pit. Thread by thread, each connection builds an even stronger rope. The most amazing side effect to making connections for our own benefit, is that we create a stronger rope for those we connect with, too. We need each other, in the workplace and in our personal lives, and our mentors and coaches also learn and reap rewards from our shared connections.
Last year on International Women’s Day (IWD), I wrote about how fortunate I am to have had so many opportunities and successes in my personal and professional life. I have benefited greatly from the connections I have made throughout my career and from my mentors and coaches. As a result, I have made a point of paying this forward by making myself available to mentor and coach others. I value these connections and can attest to the rewards I gain from giving my time and support to those around me. At the start of 2020, I set a goal for myself to consider how I could do even more to foster a culture of mentorship and gender equality here at McMaster and as we celebrate IWD this year, I am pleased to share some of the ways I am fulfilling that goal.
At our 3rd Annual IT Forum in February, I had the honour of hosting the President and CEO of Cisco Canada, Rola Dagher, for an armchair discussion on the ROI (return on investment) of diversity and equity in the workplace. Rola exemplifies vulnerability and authenticity and her candid and inspiring life story had an impact on all who were present. She is proof that even the most successful people face adversity and that it can result in stronger and more empathetic leadership. Rola’s leadership position at Cisco provides her with a platform from which she can help and support others to achieve their goals. She openly shares of herself to create those opportunities and has won many awards for her leadership as a result. During our conversation, Rola talked about the importance of sending ‘the elevator back down’ so that others can advance as well. That is what it means to lead and foster a culture of mentorship and gender equality.
To fulfill my own goal of contributing to the advancement of gender equality at McMaster, my office, in collaboration with the AVP Equity and Inclusion, Arig al Shaibah, developed a new initiative to amplify the voices of women in technology across campus. McMaster Women in Tech aims to create and highlight a network of women who are working to enhance equality, connect community, and transform technology at the University. We kicked off this initiative at the IT Forum, and announced our first Changemaker in this series, Assistant Registrar Nevine Chawra. This has coincided nicely with IWD 2020 and I am thrilled that Nevine is receiving recognition for her efforts as part of McMaster’s #IWD2020 celebrations.
Over the course of 2020, we’ll be profiling one changemaker per month (including students, staff, faculty, and alumni). Anyone can nominate a fellow Marauder, and I’m really looking forward to reading each of their stories and gaining new insights from these tech changemakers along the way.
In addition to the launch of our #WomenInTech series and its resonance on this International Women’s Day, I spent a day last week celebrating #IWD2020 at two separate events. One was The WIT (Women In Technology) Network’s IWD Conference 2020 at the Brickworks in Toronto. Paula Brown-Hackett, my acting Director of Campus Infrastructure Services, her daughter Maia, and I shared a table with other women in IT and listened to many inspiring stories about creating stronger allies and connections. The WIT Network focuses on supporting women and girls to study STEM and/or pursue careers in technology, to attain leadership positions and career advancement, and to ‘change the landscape of gender equality. It takes men and women together as allies to make this happen. One of the speakers recommended a book that focuses on this which I will be adding to my reading list: Karen Catlin’s book ‘Better Allies’ Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces.
As a fitting bookend to my IT Forum keynote with Rola, the other event I attended was Cisco’s Women of Impact 2020 event, hosted by Rola and her daughter Stephanie. This event highlighted a panel of speakers, including Rola and Stephanie, as well as Lisa Lisson, the President of FedEx Canada and her daughter Hailey, and Goldy Hyder, President and CEO of the Business Council of Canada and his daughter Azana, to talk about raising daughters to be strong and empowered individuals. Along with Paula and her daughter Maia, my stepdaughter, Kate, and I were fortunate to be invited by Rola to participate in this event. We sat transfixed along with the rest of the audience as we listened to this inspiring group of people delve into their personal stories. They shared the value of multi-generational efforts to nurture young women to have the confidence to achieve their goals and contribute to a gender equal world. They also focused on the way in which our younger generation is nurturing their parents and helping us to be more aware and enlightened. It was funny, it was emotional, and it was very inspiring. Everyone on that panel made connections with the audience by being extremely open and vulnerable as they shared deeply challenging life stories that have contributed to their resilience and success. It was a celebration of family connections and the potential of young people to create a gender equal future.
This coming week I will also attend a Canadian Women in CyberSecurity event in Toronto where I will sit on a panel to speak about ‘Developing Diverse, Innovative Teams’. I am participating with a number of local GTA female leaders to share ideas and experiences for leading diverse teams and to explore how we can help to expand cybersecurity teams to embrace more diversity. While the numbers are improving, there is a long way to go. Part of the reason for the slow growth in equity may be that this is a new area of discipline which is still maturing. Unfortunately, it can take a long time for women to catch up if our Higher Ed CIO equity statistics are a relative example: from the inception of CUCCIO, the Canadian University Council of CIOs, in 2006 through to 2014, female representation was at 9%, and now 14 years later it is 29%. Better, but not where we would like it to be just yet and relatively slow growth. The demand for cybersecurity professionals is very high however and this critical need for more people may accelerate the balance in diversity. Making connections at an event like the one this week, where 500 people will be coming together to talk about women in cybersecurity, will certainly help. I am very happy that Marissa Benson from our McMaster IT Security team will be in attendance so she can connect with her peers and advance her own network and encourage others at the same time.
Whether it’s developing digital moments to help us talk about the McMaster IT Strategy or sharing what life experiences we have in common, I am a strong believer in the power of authentic storytelling to help us connect with each other and to strengthen team performance and the advancement of diversity. So many strides have been made for women in the workplace, and there are countless reasons to celebrate #IWD2020 this year. I’m proud to share McMaster Women in Tech as one avenue for our campus tech community to continue the conversation and amplify the voices of women. I hope you will join me in the coming months by submitting a nomination and sharing the valuable contributions of women within our community so we can continue to hear authentic stories from our peers and colleagues from which to draw inspiration and empowerment.
That’s how I see IT for this week! Have a great week, everyone.