Encouraging career advice from 9 women in tech
Go for it! Profile of women in tech at Geotab and inspiring advice for the next generation of STEM graduates.
Stop and consider these statistics on women in tech. Only 11% of Silicon Valley executives are female and 50% of Canadian tech companies don’t have any female executives at all. In addition, there is a gender pay gap across the age spectrum. The gap is 20% according to American Association of University Women (AAUW), which reports that even as recent as 2016, women full-time workers in the U.S. were paid 80% of what men received.
The stats are enough to make anyone discouraged. However, at one tech company in Oakville, Ontario, these numbers are not holding anyone back. The women in tech at Geotab are doing amazing things in automotive IoT and connected vehicle technology and leading by example for the next group of graduates.
In fact, when asked about their experience, they are excited about the work they are doing and have positive encouragement for others looking to join the field.
Go For It! Women in Tech Encourage STEM Graduates To Be Bold
I asked a group of female employees at Geotab to share their views and provide some advice for new graduates.
Overwhelmingly, the Geotab women in tech encouraged others to jump right in and be bold when seeking a job in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
The Questions Asked
The survey included a few questions about their STEM journey.
- How did you first get interested in STEM? Who inspired you?
- What do you love about working in STEM?
- What advice would you give to other women interested in pursuing a career in the tech industry?
- What has been the most exciting project you worked on? What changes do you see happening in your field?
Meet Some of Our Fantastic Women in Tech
Geotab was recognized on the 2018 Best Workplaces for Women list, being Great Place to Work- Certified™, having a minimum of 15 female employees, and at least 90% of employees agreeing with the statement “I am treated fairly regardless of my gender.” Geotab was also named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies and was a Finalist for the Best Tech Workplace for Diversity award. We have women working across the range of departments, such as Solutions Engineering, Development, Technical Services, Admin, Sales and Marketing, and Operations. Our Business Intelligence team is over one quarter female.
The women in tech interviewed for this article are:
- Caitlin Johnson, Human Resources Generalist
- Emilie Corcoran, Security Operations Engineer
- Fiona Zhao, Senior Data Scientist
- Gordana Jekic Dzunic, Software Developer
- Hilary Becker, Account Relationship Coordinator
- Lisa Zhang, Data Scientist
- Sabina Martin, Solutions Engineer
- Stephanie Voelker, Vice President, Enterprise Sales Solutions
Why STEM Is Great
Many agreed that they love the sense of challenge and continuous learning of working in STEM and the tech industry. Gordana Jekic Dzunic, a Software Developer working on data visualization tools says that “being involved in development, innovation, research and discovery” is the best part about working in IT. Caitlin Johnson, Human Resources Generalist, says the exciting part about her role is learning about new emerging technologies, big data, open source tools, and different academic fields, as well as leveraging technology for her own work in recruiting.
Challenge and Variety
“I love the daily challenges and the fact that every day is different. I'm also learning new stuff every day.” - Emilie Corcoran
“Rewards come with challenges. I have never been more professionally satisfied than when a program I wrote actually worked as designed.” - Gordana Jekic Dzunic
“The industry never stands still, there is always something to keep up with, learn a new trend of technical skills that are of value. There's a fantastic sub-culture of people in STEM that is challenging to tap into, but offers the opportunity to meet a diverse group of brilliant people, passionate about IT.” - Caitlin Johnson
Creativity and Making an Impact
The creative aspect of working in tech is also rewarding, and the ability to make a positive impact on the world.
“It brings a great sense of accomplishment when I see what I built made the user’s life and work easier.” - Fiona Zhao
“The sense of achievement of using techniques to solve problems.” - Lisa Zhang
“Using technology to make clients safer, more efficient and more economical.” - Stephanie Voelker
“Software developers do much more than develop software. They become involved in understanding customer needs, they are generating revenue via application sales, they make sure software works every time.” - Gordana Jekic Dzunic
“I think technology is cool. I love that my role combines my love of technology and my outgoing personality type.” - Hilary Becker
Sources of Inspiration
Inspiration can come from all places, from teachers or even family. Geotab’s Vice President, Enterprise Sales Solutions, Stephanie Voelker, has worked on an incredible range of projects in her career, ranging from experience in the space industry to telematics deployments for some of the largest Fortune 500 businesses in the United States. Voelker was inspired by her father, an industrial engineer.
Encouragement from Teachers
“My art teacher first inspired me.” - Lisa Zhang
“My grade 11 and 12 physics/calculus prof inspired me. He always insisted that I try more difficult problems than what was required, and taught me to enjoy challenges rather than get frustrated by them.” - Emilie Corcoran
“I started my STEM life since my university time and basically fell in love with it since then. There were many people along my path who inspired me.” - Fiona Zhao
Following Your Own Path
Some women in STEM are self-starters who follow their own interests:
“From very young I was interested in gadgets. When we got any new piece of technology at our house, I read the instructions because I wanted to know what it could do. So from a very young age, I have been teaching people how to use technology.” - Hilary Becker
“In high school, I had a passion for science, maths and art and thought that engineering would be a good choice.” - Sabina Martin
“I was always interested in computers and what I can do with them. When I got my first computer, I was so impressed with how it worked, even though it had such bad configuration compared to computers today. In comparison to my friends in that period, who used computers to play games the most, I was more interested to find out how programs work, how they are developed and eventually how I can develop them one day.” - Gordana Jekic Dzunic
What advice would you give to other women interested in pursuing a career in the tech industry?
All of the women surveyed had incredibly positive things to say about pursuing a career in tech. Hilary Becker, Account Relationship Coordinator, whose industrial engineering program had a ratio of 1 women to 9 men, enthusiastically encourages others to follow their passions. One of Becker’s favorite quotes is from Henry Ford, who said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
Go For It
Aim high and follow your aspirations. A career in STEM can bring great reward to those who dream big.
“Be strong and go for it! Don't let anything hold you back and don't be terrified by what the stats say, you are capable of whatever you put your mind to.” - Sabina Martin
“Go for it! I have been in male dominated industries my entire career the only thing limiting you is your mindset. Get the skills and use them.” - Stephanie Voelker
“If you’re interested in being on the precipice of discovery, research, innovation and development, it doesn’t matter which gender you are. As long as you are doing a job you love and you can be yourself, the low percentage of women in STEM doesn’t mean anything.” - Gordana Jekic Dzunic
“I'd give advice to everyone (women or men) interested in STEM to keep working at it, even if you seem to be at a dead-end on a problem. Hard work outlasts intelligence!” - Emilie Corcoran
“If you have a passion for anything STEM, go for it!” - Caitlin Johnson
What has been the most exciting project you worked on?
One of the greatest parts about a career in STEM is the diverse range of projects that you can work on.
Big Data Scientist Fiona Zhao, who was part of the team who helped build the Geotab big data infrastructure, says that one of her most exciting projects was setting up the process that streams over 2 billion data points daily up to Google BigQuery in real-time, which included learning a new programming language along the way. The streaming process has turned out to be robust and has become the foundation of daily data analysis and science work. Zhao wrote a Geotab report on the use of traffic dynamic models as a method of traffic congestion prediction (read it here: Goodbye Traffic Jams. Hello Telematics. Predicting Traffic Congestion with Driving Behavior).
Here are some other examples given:
- Accident investigations for the space shuttle program. (Stephanie Voelker)
- Creating a fully functional hand-held 12 lead ECG as a final year capstone project — participating with a team to design hardware and software, and even started creating algorithms for auto-diagnosis. (Emilie Corcoran)
- Designing a prototype for a device that detects when drivers are falling asleep at the wheel using an EEG sensor to analyze the drivers brainwaves to determine the driver’s level of consciousness. Interestly, Geotab now also has a Marketplace partner, Seeing Machines, that uses driver monitoring systems to detect drowsiness. (Sabina Martin)
- Working on the vehicle usage classification project at Geotab. (Lisa Zhang)
- Teaching people how to use software to benefit their business. (Hilary Becker)
Profile: Dr. Rina Carlini, PhD – Cloud DX Canada
I reached out to Dr. Rina Carlini, who recently was appointed as President at Cloud DX, an award-winning health technology company based in Kitchener, Ontario that develops leading-edge medical devices and offers an integrated, cloud-based software platform. Dr. Carlini is a highly-accomplished business leader, scientist (PhD in Chemistry) and advocate for technology innovation and entrepreneurship, and her perspective on current issues and opportunities for women in tech is very relevant to this article.
Dr. Carlini was previously the President and CEO at Haltech Regional Innovation Centre, a non-profit innovation centre located in Burlington, Ontario where she helped technology startups and entrepreneurs grow and succeed through free business advisory services, learning workshops, and networking events. She is a member of the Board of Directors at Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, Nano Ontario, DeGroote School of Business Executive Education and Concordia University’s Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, and has served on many funding grant review committees including NSERC, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Centres of Excellence and MaRS.
Last year, Dr. Carlini received the prestigious University of Waterloo 60th Anniversary Science Alumni of Honour Award from her PhD university alma mater. Of the ten recipients being honored, she is the only woman. Previously, Dr. Carlini received the 2012 Clara Benson Award from the Canadian Society for Chemistry and Alumni Gold Medal from University of Waterloo.
Paying it Forward
Feeling grateful for the awards and support she received as a grad student, Dr. Carlini is passionate about the responsibility to “pay it forward” and help create opportunities for other women in STEM. “This is a vital role that many professional women should do more of – help one another, bring opportunities to younger women and encourage them along their path,” Dr. Carlini says.
Recognition for work and monetary awards, even small ones, can go a long way in giving students confidence and the “courage to press on and aim for higher goals,” says Dr. Carlini.
In 2018, Dr. Carlini will launch an annual ASPIRE Award for University of Waterloo’s women in Science & Technology entrepreneurship, which will help empower female student entrepreneurs to travel and present their startup work at international conferences, symposia and conventions. The award is a grant that will help open doors to female tech founders, and empower them to keep moving “onward and upward” to reach their goals. She hopes others will follow in her example and do their own part to encourage more women to enter the STEM & tech sectors.
Dr. Carlini shared her key advice for all women in STEM:
- Always stay true to yourself — pursue the goals that interest you only, and don’t feel that you have to do things that other may expect of you because it is a societal norm.
- Be ambitious in your career! It’s good for you and will help change the way women in business and technology are viewed. Seek any and every opportunity to validate your learning and development – be it an award grant, research challenge, business pitch or other. There is not enough support for women in STEM fields, so that means you have to be strong, courageous and continually push yourself to achieve your goals.
- Retain your high integrity at all times. The world has a way of tempting you to steer you off your intended path. Take no shortcuts.
- Pay it forward when you achieve success in your career – mentor a younger woman in STEM, share your experience, extend a helping hand when they need it.
Women and the Future of STEM
The future is rosy for workers in tech and STEM. Job market predictions show growth in STEM occupations. These jobs support innovation and competitiveness on the world stage.
In their quarterly occupational outlook, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that jobs in STEM will grow to 9 million by 2022 (representing an increase of one million jobs over ten years). The occupations expected to have the fastest employment growth are: information security analysts, operations research analysts, statisticians, actuaries, biomedical and petrochemical engineers.
In the automotive and fleet industries in particular, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and self-driving technology are bringing new innovation and opening the door to exciting new areas of study and work. In February 2018, Geotab reached 1 million subscribers worldwide.
As a final question, I asked, “What changes do you see happening in your field?”
“AI has been making significant steps forward to reality. So, more and more routine work could be done by machines and humans are required more for creative tasks. Democratization of AI techniques is speeding up. That means AI is not something that only scientists and mathematicians can play with. More people would be able to utilize AI techniques and make big changes/improvement to daily life of people around the world.” - Fiona Zhao
“There will be more data captured about what is going on in the mobile assets taking in all the sensor data and making it actionable to fleets is the next phase in our industry.” - Stephanie Voelker
“Growth! Geotab and the telematics/electronic logging device market are experiencing tremendous growth. I am so glad to be a part of making that happen!” - Hilary Becker
“Tech is quickly becoming a part of every aspect of life. It becomes more and more relevant to have a background in STEM.” - Emilie Corcoran
“In the field of software development, there are new programming languages, new frameworks, new software useful not only for customers, but useful for us developers, too. Open source softwares are growing rapidly, machine learning is heated up again… Putting the customers first became a trend, much more time is dedicated in researching and talking to customers.” - Gordana Jekic Dzunic
Supporting the Next Generation of Women in Tech
There is more work to be done. The rate at which women leave the tech industry is more than double that of men. You can find many articles discussing the reasons why women are discouraged from careers in STEM and about ongoing gender stereotyping in schools and organizations.
To improve the situation, experts recommend changing stereotypes through positive female role models in and out of the classroom and mentoring. Encouragement can make all the difference. Becker notes, “I graduated high school from Nerinx Hall Collegiate Preparatory Academy, a private all-girls school whose motto was ‘Building Empowered Women Leaders of the Future.’ They encourage everyone to live up to their potential and become whoever they wanted to be.”
Providing girls — and boys — opportunities to use tech hands-on in school is also essential to cultivating interest in STEM. Another benefit to STEM education is that the skills learned, namely problem solving, investigation, analysis, and communication, are highly transferable and in demand. Young people can carry their training with them to find work in different industries or occupations.
Martin says, “Women are becoming more educated and I hope to see continuous growth in this field. My university had a women in engineering club and we held events at high schools and worked with girl guides to engage them in STEM related activities and there was always positive feedback. I hope the youth continue to be educated and supported to join this field, if they are passionate about it.”
WiSE Advice for Women in Science & Engineering
The club that Martin mentioned is the Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) group at the University of Guelph (@WiSEUofGuelph), which actively promotes education and professional development of students in STEM fields (women and men) through various events including financial literacy seminars and salary negotiation seminars, career and mentorship nights, speaking events, workshops, and community outreach.
The organization encourages girls in elementary and high school to consider a career in STEM by holding events such as Go ENG Girl and Go CODE Girl for girls in grades 7 to 12 to learn about coding and software development, as well as opportunities in computing and engineering.
Private corporations can also play a role in promoting STEM education. Disney recently donated $1 million from the money made by the successful “Black Panther” movie to STEM programs run by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
WiSE co-President Morgan Dormer adds, “Companies can assist in the movement to promote STEM education by sponsoring events such as Go CODE Girl and Go ENG Girl. I also believe it’s important for companies to retain their female talent once they are already in the organization. A great guide for retaining female talent is Female Talent Management: Toolkit for Organizations by Mary L. Bennet. This was published by the CPA (Chartered Professional Accountants) and details strategies for companies to attract and retain female professionals and ultimately increase their bottom line in doing so.”
To get the competitive edge in the workforce, young women should actively seek opportunities to work or intern and join community groups. Dormer says, “I would recommend students in STEM fields to get relevant work experience prior to graduating. In my experience, this is the number one thing employers look at. Another way to stand out to employers is to get involved in school clubs or in your community. Volunteering can be a great opportunity to develop soft skills such as communication and public speaking.”
Why is it more important to increase the number of women in tech and STEM fields? For one, jobs in STEM pay more. STEM workers earned 29 percent more than non-STEM workers in 2015, according to STEM Jobs 2017 update from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce Economics & Statistics Administration. This wage gap affects the financial security and well-being of women, impacting also their family and children.
Kate Brodock, CEO of Women 2.0, in her eye-opening Medium article “Why we desperately need women to design AI,” argues that AI and machine learning are currently shaping the world we live in, and if we don’t ensure there is diversity and female representation among designers and developers of that technology, then the result will be a world that is less representative, less fair, and biased. She succinctly summarizes this philosophy as “diversity in, diversity out.”
I’m proud to work at an organization that supports women in tech. We can all play a part in our own lives — through our own professional development, by collaborating and cheering on others, getting out there, or mentoring, to make a difference and change those statistics.
Interested in working for Geotab? Click here to see the list of job openings.
If you liked this post, let us know!
Melanie Serr is a Senior Content Editor for Geotab with an eye on fleet safety and all things tech.
Geotab's blog posts are intended to provide information and encourage discussion on topics of interest to the telematics community at large. Geotab is not providing technical, professional or legal advice through these blog posts. While every effort has been made to ensure the information in this blog post is timely and accurate, errors and omissions may occur, and the information presented here may become out-of-date with the passage of time.
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