Five successful women, each with a nuanced and powerful voice, coming together to talk about gender on International Women’s Day at a time when change – mostly for the better, the consensus seems to be – is well under way.
Their conclusion? Things are getting better.
“A lot of work has been done. The road has been paved. We’ve got an opportunity here. Let’s just walk right into it, and take it,” said Christine Tutssel, co-founder and Senior Vice-President of Strategic Initiatives at Axonify.
Tutssel was one of five panelists on stage Thursday evening at Waterloo’s Centre for International Governance Innovation, or CIGI, for an event called Celebrating Women of Influence in Tech. It was an opportunity for women who are leaders in their respective fields to talk about how they navigate careers, and home life, in a rapidly shifting social landscape. The takeaway?
That decades of work, that pushing against stereotypes, combined with the recent twin accelerants of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, have generated positive and substantive change, and that women are not only now being accepted as equals, but are perhaps beginning the transition to a post-feminist era, one where it would be inconceivable for women to be treated as anything except full partners in a modern, progressive society.
“I haven’t encountered any obvious barriers,” said Jessica McElhone, Senior Director, Strategic Markets Management at Christie Digital Systems, responding to a question from moderator Amanda da Silva of Vidyard about whether or not she had run up against career obstacles due to her gender.
“Would I be further ahead if I wasn’t a woman?,” asked McElhone rhetorically. “Who knows? But I really don’t think so.”
Tanya Bischoff, Director of Supply Chain at Thalmic Labs, said she has been struck by a discernible change in the social zeitgeist even during the past five years. She talked about the way that Thalmic granted her the opportunity to custom design her recent maternity leave, ensuring she remained fulfilled as a mother and as a valued member of her team. There were, she said, “advocates for me who kept me updated but not inundated.
“I work for three founders who are male and very progressive,” she said. When she returned to work, her employers offered her “this amazing package” where she was able to remain at home with her son and talk with overseas clients late at night.
“I didn’t feel like I had to take this pause in my career. That’s thanks to tech, and changes in how we’re thinking in the tri-cities and attracting talent and maintaining talent.
“And not just [for] women. We’re offering paternity leave to males, as well. We don’t have to choose. We can do both. And you can choose how you want to do both. And we’re doing it because our partners are supporting us.
“I’m really thankful for this community here because I think we’re changing things.”
With those words, the room broke into applause.
That’s not to say all the battles have been won.
Hillary Hartley, the Province of Ontario’s Chief Digital Officer, talked about running up against what she termed “micro aggression, the unconscious biases we all struggle with,” she said, “where I’m sitting in a meeting, and am the most senior person in the meeting, but my colleague, who is a male, is sitting next to me, and everybody talks to him.
“That happens all the time.”
Still, by and large, the prevailing sentiment Thursday was that the heavy lifting has paid off, that women are both welcomed and respected in the workplace and beyond.
Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty, Post-Doctoral Fellow at CIGI, told the story of being “visibly pregnant” at a recent job interview, wondering how she would perceived “with this big belly,” and instead was supported, she said, through the interview process, and assigned a consultant to assist her who herself was a mother with three kids and had taken three years of maternity leave.
“So I think things are changing,” she said. “And if we want to focus on those positive things, we can do so.”
Asked by the moderator what advice the panelists would give to women who are just beginning their career journeys, all replied with a variation of: take part, take the initiative, be bold, and believe in a right to do so.
“One thing that I’ve tried hard to do more recently is to let folks know I am approachable,” said Hartley. “That you can pick up the phone. That if you need an introduction, if you want to bounce an idea off [someone], there are so many of us out there willing to be a sounding board and willing to pick up the phone or answer an email.”
So where to from here?
“I think there has been such a change in atmosphere, especially with the #MeToo campaign,” said Bischoff.
“The road is paved for us. Let’s move forward, empowered – without disempowering our male counterparts. I never want anybody to feel afraid to take a meeting with me because I’m a woman, or that I’m not approachable because of the #MeToo campaign. I think it’s a fantastic thing that we did [bringing those issues] to the forefront.
“But now I think it’s time for us as women to move forward and continue to empower all genders, all people, and build something better. I think the road ahead is really exciting.”
Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto. This article originally appeared on their site.