I asked three women CEOs – Jeanette Dorazio, CEO of Leadpages; Nadia Tatlow, CEO of Shift; and Barbara Berry, CEO of Delivra – about what inspired their careers in tech, the paths they took to cultivate their leadership skills, the value of mentorship, and how women in tech can make their voices heard in male-dominated STEM fields.
The Spark: Inspired to Tech Careers
“Being in the “right place at the right time,” began Dorazio. “I was working on a project for Target’s Logistics Routing Department and was assigned to be the Business Analyst working with a 3rd party Logistics Software company to represent the requirements of the team. During the project, I realized that I loved solving problems with technology and building applications for improving processes. Shortly afterwards, an opportunity came up at Retek, a retail technology company based in Minneapolis, MN, for a Product Manager to manage their Store Inventory Management product. I had no idea what a Product Manager did, but I had domain expertise in retail and a passion for technology, so I applied for the job and got it!”
Berry shared, “I signed up for a computer course in high school and was hooked. I knew then that I
would be in tech, so my parents bought my first computer as a Christmas gift – a Commodore 64! I went to college to learn about computer information systems and have been in tech my entire career.”
Keys to Success: Mentorship + Leadership Resolve
Currently leading three industry-disrupting companies at Redbrick, a Canadian portfolio of digital companies, each woman capitalized on mentorship or challenging work experience opportunities to develop tech and leadership skills to succeed.
“I am very lucky to have a lot of amazing mentors and a strong support system that I lean on heavily –[which] keep me grounded and make the challenging times a lot easier and less lonely,” said Tatlow.
Added Tatlow, “I work closely with an executive coach, which has been critical over the last couple of years—running a startup is hard, and if I have any advice to other leaders, it’s to invest in a trusted coach sooner rather than later.
“I am also part of a few amazing peer groups in town. One example is my Wolfpack, which is an incredible group of woman-identifying CEOs, business owners and leaders here in Victoria, founded by Tessa McLoughlin of Kwench. I am also an investor in Women’s Equity Lab (WEL), a group of all woman-identifying angel investors founded by Stephanie Andrew. WEL actually invested in my seed round, so it has been an absolute honour to join them on the other side of the table.”
Similarly, Berry responded, “I am lucky to have stumbled upon a wonderful mentor early in my career. He encouraged me, coached me to step outside my comfort zone, and helped shape the type of leader I am today. I still seek his guidance at times, and he always has insights to share.”
“More recently, I joined Chief and regularly connect with amazing women who are focused on supporting each other,” added Berry. “This is a fantastic group of women who share knowledge, provide guidance and support, and are willing to help each other succeed.”
“I’ve had many challenges in my technology career that have tested my resolve,” replied Dorazio.
“One of the most challenging times was when I worked for a technology company in the automotive industry and led a team of 50 automotive technicians with an average tenure of 15+ years repairing vehicles,” said Dorazio.
“I was the first female leader of an entirely male team and was not a certified technician with ‘formal’ experience repairing vehicles,” explained Dorazio. “In the eyes of the team, I had zero credibility. Two strikes against me! However, I grew up in an automotive family, had experience with technology, and was a very skilled leader, so I knew I could lead this team. I approached the challenge by demonstrating how technology could improve the team’s results, created partnerships with original equipment manufacturers to get the data they needed to do their jobs, streamlined work processes, implemented career pathing, and helped create a culture of ‘one team, one mission’. For the first time in many years, the team members were engaged, felt appreciated, and were able to bring their best selves to work in an industry they loved.”
Summed up Dorazio, “The lesson here is that even in traditionally male-dominated industries, it is possible to succeed as a female in technology by providing great leadership and support for your team.”
Women Role Models in Tech
All concurred that having women role models in tech is critical.
“It’s so important to have female role models in technology, especially in leadership positions typically dominated by men because it shows aspiring young women they can do it,” stated Berry. “I think it’s inspiring to see women succeed in highly technical roles, and the more we see women successfully navigating this space, the more we send the message that it’s not just possible, but it’s well worth the effort.”
Said Tatlow, “Female role models in tech are critical, and we need many more of them. I firmly believe that if you can see it, you can believe it. We need women rising up and seeing all possible diversity, and the vast range of paths they can take to be successful to be able to envision it for themselves.”
“We’re all looking ahead and pulling pieces of inspiration from around us,” remarked Tatlow. “It’s important for everyone-especially girls-to see that there is no one path; the world is your oyster, and there are so many ways to build an exciting and rewarding career in tech. We have a long ways to go to reach that critical mass, but it’s exciting to see more conversations happening, and, most importantly, more action and policy to drive results.”
Shared Dorazio, “Female role models in technology, especially those in leadership positions and entrepreneurs who have founded technology startups, are very important because they pave the way for opportunities and allow women to see the possibilities.”
Advice for Women in Tech
I asked each to share some advice on how the voices of women in tech can be heard.
Replied Dorazio, “One of my mantras is ‘never give up’ and if one path doesn’t work, then the universe is telling you to find another one. One way to find that path is by building relationships and having mentors who will make space for you to have your voice heard. They will also open up your world to a future of possibilities that you didn’t know existed.”
“The experiences I’ve had with gender bias during my career journey have resulted in me being a better leader,” Dorazio also noted. “It also made me realize the importance of workplace diversity, inclusion, and belonging. I work very hard to ensure that I’m making space for people of all genders and cultures to allow them the opportunity to thrive and feel safe to succeed.”
“Trust your gut,” offered Tatlow. “If you get a bad feeling, don’t overstay your job when you know something’s off, whether it be a behavioural, political, or cultural issue. As scary as it is, you have two choices. You can choose to confront those issues head-on and make a decision once you see the response from the employer. This can be incredibly daunting when you’re early in your career and don’t think it’s your place to speak up. The other option is to leave. The real cost is your time and your opportunity cost. Go where you connect and then where you see misalignment, cut the cord.”
Said Berry, “It’s important for women to have hard conversations with those in power when we perceive an injustice has occurred. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to bring awareness to the problem and pave the way for yourself and others.”
Added Berry, “My advice is to step outside your comfort zone and speak up. If you don’t get results, whether it’s actionable change or a better understanding of the situation, try again using a different approach. And if your voice isn’t heard, don’t be afraid to decide it’s time to look elsewhere for a new opportunity.”
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