Janelle Hinds is the December 2020 changemaker in the McMaster Women in Tech series. Developed by the Office of the AVP & CTO, ‘McMaster Women in Tech’ is a project that highlights and recognizes women tech changemakers within the McMaster community. Check out how our latest changemaker discusses the role of a Changemaker, how technology can be used for social change and how positive change can make a difference, large or small.
Name: Janelle Hinds
Role/Current areas of work (both volunteer & career):
Founder and Executive Director of Helping Hands; Equity Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and Public Speaker; Founding Member of Diversity and Equity Committee at the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers; Board Member of Futurpreneur, the only national, non-profit organization that provides financing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners aged 18-39.
Area of Expertise:
Try to make the best of anything instead of waiting for the best for everything.
Recommended read/ podcast:
“The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table” by Minda Harts.
“The Michelle Obama Podcast” by Higher Ground on Spotify.
Tell us about Helping Hands? How did this organization come to be?
Helping Hands is a registered, non-profit/social enterprise organization that works to increase youth community engagement through workshops, mentorship as well as through an app we built in house.
Ontario high school students have to complete 40 hours of community service in order to graduate. When I was in high school, I noticed how my peers were struggling to get meaningful placements. I led a club that helped students figure out where to volunteer, and I arranged group volunteer opportunities. I did not realize the problem was widespread. When I got to McMaster, I consulted with students who came from schools across the province and realized how similar people’s stories were. I started working on Helping Hands during my undergrad. Flash forward to now, and I have been working full time on this endeavour for more than three years.
How is Helping Hands operating during the era of social distancing? Has this changed the way you and your volunteers connect?
It was actually interesting for us. We were a very rare non-profit organization in that we were partially remote pre-COVID. I believed that technology could create efficiencies in the workflow as well as allow us to hire people that face systemic barriers in the workspace. It was difficult as some programs like co-op/placement programs didn’t believe in our structure. When COVID started to become a reality, I sent my team to be fully remote before the mandates went out.
We quickly shifted all our programs to be online. I gave pro-bono consulting to nonprofits and other grassroots groups on how they could utilize technology in their operations. It’s been hard to match volunteers as many non-profits have not been able to shift all their operations online especially concerning virtual volunteer opportunities.
I encourage those looking to give back to see how they can volunteer some of the technology skills pro-bono to non-profits, charities and grassroots groups.
During your time at McMaster, you also founded PhaseOne, a student tech club that runs hackathon for change. What compelled you to leverage technology to make a difference on campus?
I saw the impact that technology was having on our lives. I started at McMaster in 2010. The iPhone came out in 2007. I believed in the impact new technology could have in the healthcare sector, and that is why I chose Biomedical and Electrical Engineering. I realized there were so many problems across sectors where technology was useful, and here I was on campus with so many diverse students with different passions and in various educational programs.
PhaseOne’s goals were to teach students new skills (for example we ran Intro to GitHub workshops) and let students feel empowered that they could use their knowledge to create real products. We arranged several free trips for students to compete in hackathons, which are 24- to 48-hour technological competitions where students can make an app, a website or an embedded/robotic device. We arranged trips across Canada and the US, including schools like Duke University, Harvard University (where we brought Faculty of Health students to a healthcare themed hackathon) and McGill University.
PhaseOne organized DeltaHacks, with delta being for change. The idea was to show students here at McMaster but also from schools across Ontario that they can use technology for good. We were one of the first socially focused, student-run hackathons in North America. In the first year, a group of first-year students designed software that could analyze if a video had patterns that could trigger an epileptic seizure. It’s a story I share frequently with high school students to inspire them to see what campus life can be like.
Within the context of the technology landscape, how can women help other women?
We need to recognize we are in this together. We need to encourage each other. You see a woman doubting herself and playing into imposter syndrome. Be her “hype woman,” and encourage her to apply for that job or promotion. Take time to listen to her and offer advice where you can.
With co-workers, ensure that you are on the same page. If you see someone being held back, strategize with them. While this may seem lofty, it’s manageable. When I was 22, I had a job where I supported a coworker negotiate a change in job title to reflect her job duties.
What is one key thing that men can do to be allies of women?
Start to recognize what systematic oppression looks like and how microaggressions play out in the workplace. Once you recognize them, you are able to use your power and privilege to address the issue. One simple example, you recognize that in meetings women are constantly overlooked for their ideas or someone else repeats it and they get credit. It happens subtly but happens in many workplaces. Speak up and say, “I like Jenny’s idea, let’s hear more from her” or “Brad, great idea but I think Jessica actually started to talk about that earlier. I would like to hear Jessica say more about it.”
The other one I would ask is to be a sponsor, not just a mentor. Sponsorship means looking out for opportunities for that person, be it a co-worker or a friend. Looks for chances for career progression from them. If opportunities come up in a discussion, and they are in the room, make sure you advocate on their behalf.
What are some misconceptions that women might have about working within a technology-focused field?
I think we are tricked into this false belief that you have to live and breathe technology to belong. You hear the stories about people who have been coding since seven or started building their own computers when they were nine. Interviewers will ask about what you do in your spare time and expect you to answer that you spend time coding outside of work. While that’s great, it should not be expected. Answer those questions about what you do and how it makes you a well-rounded person. I love to bake. I learned a lot about science and thinking about procedure and processes. It’s also challenged me on how to fix mistakes quickly and a lot of time without the resources I may have if I was in a full bakery. This creativity helps me in the workplace. Figure out what is unique to you, what transferable skills that brings and be proud of that.
As part of McMaster’s IT Strategy, stakeholders across the university shared ‘Digital Moments’ vignettes that capture what technology could look like for Marauders of the future. What does the future of technology at McMaster look like to you?
I think the future of technology is equitable. We have figured out how to ensure that students are digitally literate and ready for the future. (Students should really check out the Thode Makerspace, a project I got to start during my time at McMaster and is open to all students). We ensure that students have access to technology regardless of what faculty they are in or their socioeconomic status. Technology will become ubiquitous. We aren’t doing things because technology exists, we are solving problems through technology.