Challenging the Gender Gap and Empowering Women in Automation

A Fireside Chat in Celebration of International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day, The Burnie Group hosted a fireside chat in partnership with Bell on empowering women in the technology and automation industry.

Watch the recording from our conversation on closing the gender gap in automation.

 

The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is #ChoosetoChallenge. Though the technology and automation industry has come a long way in gender equality, there remains a gender gap three times larger than that in other industries. The World Economic Forum estimates that more than 70% of professionals with artificial intelligence (AI) skills are men.

From challenge comes change, so let’s choose to challenge the gender gap in the technology and automation industry.

Key topics covered in this webinar:

  • Why it is important for organizations to promote opportunities for women in automation throughout the career cycle.
  • How women in tech and automation can develop a long-term career plan.
  • Advice for young women who are considering a career in Automation.
  • How young women can find mentors, and how we encourage women to dream bigger.

Transcript

SPEAKERS

Hiba Abdou, David Burnie, Jenya Doudareva, Danielle Hurst, Sherry Shao, Shirley Zhang

Jenya Doudareva 

Hi, everyone. It’s noon Eastern time, and we are ready to start our webinar. Very quick. There’s a slide up for some housekeeping items. First of all, thank you, everyone, for joining us today. So the session is being recorded for replay. During the presentation, we do have listen-only mode available right now. Feel free to ask your questions. There is a chat functionality, so you’re able to submit your questions. We will be monitoring the chat, and you will be able to submit and give your questions to the panellists today. And it’s very nice and brief. Aside from that, we are ready to begin. So I will stop the screen share and start introducing our panellists for today.

Alright. Hi, everyone. So thank you, everyone, for joining us at our fireside chat. Happy International Women’s Day. Happy Monday, everybody. And thank you for joining. So today we’re being joined by Shirley Zhang, who’s a Senior Developer with Robotic Process Automation at Bell, Sherry Shao, who is a Senior Manager of Robotic Process Automation at Bell, Danielle Hurst, who is a Manager of Back Office Robotic Process Automation at Bell, Hiba Abdou, who’s the Global Head of Automation at The Burnie Group, and David Burnie, the founder of Burnie Group. So, hi everyone. And myself, I’m also part of the Burnie Group, part of our automation team.

Today, the topic of our discussion is, of course, International Women’s Day and how does that relate to the field of automation. So, of course, the industry has come a really long way since we first started our engagement with Bell, who have been on their automation journey now for over seven years. So in the field, by some estimates, including by World Economic Forum, over 70% of professionals with artificial intelligence or AI skills are men. So there does still, of course, remain a gender gap that is three times larger than in other industries. And therefore, we thought it would be very important to highlight an organization and organizations that have been very successful at having women leadership within the automation field. So I will dive straight into the questions today. So my first question for our panellists is going to be why is it important for organizations to promote opportunities for women in automation throughout their career lifecycle? And what would be your thoughts on how to best accomplish that? And if you don’t mind, I will pick on Danielle first. And you’re on mute, Danielle.

Danielle Hurst 

There we go. I think, Jenya, we don’t have a choice. If you look at some of the demographic trends that are starting to hit, we have the tail end of the Baby Boomers that are about to retire. We have the whole group of young people coming up that are part of the FIRE movement. If you don’t know what that is, it’s Financially Independent, Retired Early. So they don’t plan on staying in the workforce as long as their parents. And we have a growing field. So I think we have to look at other places to get more women into automation. Because at some point in time, you’ve maxed out the men that want to do it.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you, Danielle. Anyone else from the two teams would like to add more of the commentary to this answer?

Hiba Abdou 

I think Danielle points to a really good challenge that we have as a society where we truly don’t have a choice. And you know, as AI and intelligent automation become more prevalent, it is very important that ideologies and diverse ideologies are brought to bear when we’re looking to increase AI capabilities and AI reach. We know today that there’s bias in data, for example, and it’s crucially important that what we as a society and as humanity, how we develop AI is representative of diverse ideologies, which is why we need more women represented in the sector.

Danielle Hurst 

And I think, Hiba, I think you bring up another good point. Data analytics used to be completely male-dominated. And then two things happened. Women realized it was a very high-paying career, and they started to get into it. And we started to promote the educational programs in the college and universities, and we got more women in it. But the other thing that happened where the one area where AI is already ahead is the software became easier. We went from FoxPro and dBase and Fortran and C++, to being able to have stuff like Alteryx and SAS, where it’s a GUI-based data analytics, and we can teach it to people quite quickly. A lot of the RPA programs are already there. So it’s going to allow us to teach people that we might not have originally thought of as a good fit because they didn’t have a computer science career. We’re going to be able to teach them and ramp them up much faster.

Jenya Doudareva 

Good point. Thank you both for these answers. Related to that, getting women and getting people into automation is, of course, a topic of recruitment. So my question for the Bell team: what has your experience been in terms of diversity in recruitment and retention at the Intelligent Automation CoE or center of excellence at Bell? And Sherry, would you like to go first?

Sherry Shao 

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Jenya. You know, my personal experience is just that with Bell, it’s been wonderful. You know, I can’t ask for a company that is more inclusive and respectful and diverse. So I’m very fortunate to be here. As a hiring manager myself, I think there are some very common practices that we can take with our HR stakeholders to make sure that we’re always recruiting for diversity. You know, just to name off a couple off the top of my head, you can do blind resumes, or you can make sure that the job posting is in an accessible environment or location where it can be found by multiple diverse communities. And you can encourage your employees to refer their connections, and you know, just these little tips and tricks we’ve tried to take on as we recruit. But you know what, I’m actually gonna put Shirley on the spot, and she’s been with our team the longest. Shirley, maybe share some of your experiences from, like, a development perspective?

Shirley Zhang 

Yeah, for sure. Thanks Sherry. So, from my perspective, in terms of my experience at Bell, working in automation, also I can’t ask for more. It is a supportive environment that allows you to grow and learn. And I feel, to give you that space is the most important because, at the end of the day, it is up to the individual to develop and learn. But we have to be given the space to do so. So and I found what is available at Bell is definitely that is to give you that space to learn and develop your skills, according to maybe your expertise. And throughout the different years that I worked at Bell – and now I believe it’s close to the 11th year – so I have moved from many different teams, to finally where I’m at now at automation.

So because, just going back to what Danielle and Hiba were talking about earlier, the barrier to entry into tech is a lot different compared to before, as I do not have a background in computer science. I actually come from, I actually did science back in university and really moved from different fields and into projects, learning more about the business, process automation, and then eventually moved to back office automation. So I find that career path is probably helpful for some of the young ladies out there. It’s not necessarily that you have to have a background in computer science and programming in order for you to develop in this field. This field is vast, and it needs that diversity from different areas from different perspectives, to give more, to provide more to the fore, because automation is really a process-driven, process design type of field. And you have to understand the background or the inner workings of that in order to better your programming in order to to help your customer to make things more efficient.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. Thank you, Shirley. Thank you, Sherry. Those were great perspectives on this question. Now a bit more of an open-ended question for the entire panellist team. So the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChoosetoChallenge. So what does that phrase mean to you? And let’s start with Hiba.

Hiba Abdou 

Sure thing. You guys can hear me okay? Yeah, perfect. For me, the choose aspect of the theme #ChoosetoChallenge felt especially poignant this year given the pandemic, and the fact that job losses, as well as supporting children learning at home disproportionately impacted women. In Canada, for example, we have almost 900,000 jobs that were lost in the economy and disproportionately, it’s been women that have been impacted. The choose aspect of the theme, to me, underscores that work towards equality and equity must not be passive or performative. It requires real engagement and an authentic commitment to action. It’s also an important reminder to those of us that are in a position to choose, that choice really is a privilege unavailable to many, which makes it even more important for those of us who can take a stand to do so.  The challenge aspect of the theme is a little more open to interpretation. And no doubt means different things to different people. For me, in particular, what resonated most in the context of challenging certain stereotypes and societal norms. The pandemic has given us a great opportunity to challenge how we work, how we learn, what we value, and our priorities as Canadians. So that’s what #ChoosetoChallenge means to me. Did we lose Jenya? I think maybe Jenya is frozen. Anyone have any thoughts?

Danielle Hurst 

I think Sherry was next on the list. But I’ll go, and then Sherry can go. I agree. I mean, if you start looking at the questions we’re asking here, there’s an opportunity to train a whole bunch of women to enter this field. And rather than having to go to school and drop 100 grand, there’s a really good business case for companies putting in their own training programs. And maybe, okay, let’s say it pays about $100K a year. Now, let’s say we start them off at $50K the first year, and they go up by $10K every year as we train them. They get certified at the end. The company has saved almost a year and a half worth of salary by putting that program in. Plus, they have loyal people that might want to stay. And even if they don’t want to stay, if they were able to get some sort of incentives from the different software companies like Blue Prism, you now have a whole bunch of people in the industry that are all trained on one software, and that software gets a better chance to dominate. So you can create a nice win-win situation where everybody benefits.

David Burnie 

Danielle, I think that touches on a theme that for me for #ChoosetoChallenge resonates, which is I think we’re using the wrong criteria. Whether it’s your academic background or really thinking about diversity, the criteria that we’ve used to find great people, I think we need to revisit that.

A book that comes to mind, a bit strange but, Moneyball. You know, the Oakland Athletics knew they found that their criteria to find baseball players, that everyone was using the wrong criteria. And they use that to find amazing baseball players and basically dominate their league. And I view that the same way I think that because you’re a white male, maybe over six feet tall, perhaps played football in university. Now, it doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be a great person for the role. Could but you know, I think that we need to go beyond and not just, you know, we do need to challenge people that when we’re interviewing people, when we’re trying to find people, we’re not just especially for I’ll speak on behalf of males. We need to open up to be open to diversity and thinking about different ways to bring people on. To your point, Danielle, may be different. It doesn’t have to be a computer science degree. But what I do know is that at The Burnie Group, you know, more than 50% of our automation team is female. And some of our strongest leaders, some of our best team members, have been women. And so I think that you know, if we open ourselves up as a society and as a business to think of different criteria that we use and challenge those norms, we’re going to do much better. And I know that, for me, as I think with Burnie Group is a huge competitive advantage if we’re really considering diversity in our hiring practices.

Danielle Hurst 

It’s interesting because the Oakland A’s launched a whole industry on analytical sports statistics as a way to develop your teams. And it’s now used in almost every major sports team in sports other than baseball too

Hiba Abdou 

Agree that the Raptors – I know we’re going off on a tangent, but they hire more statisticians than your typical, you know, sports backgrounds managers. Totally agree. Sherry, what does #ChoosetoChallenge mean to you?

Shirley Zhang 

To me, you know, when I think about #ChoosetoChallenge, I’m going to echo what Dave said earlier. The one phrase that came to mind – and I learned this in business school many years ago – it’s to lift while you climb. So choosing to challenge is not just challenging ourselves. It’s also about continuing to open doors for other women as we climb. Or it’s also about how we mentor and develop and challenge other women along the way so that they keep climbing too.

Hiba Abdou 

I love that. Shirley?

Shirley Zhang 

Yes, I definitely echo the view that Sherry just mentioned. Because a lot of time, our stereotype is very ingrained. And that is, and I definitely find that is what is also preventing me from from challenging myself to believe in more, right. So as you see these different opportunities that comes up, but there seem to be so few for women, that worries me for the future. So for me, you know, #ChoosetoChallenge definitely is challenging our own stereotypes, that stereotype of the society, and then try and just like what Sherry mentioned, by doing that, you know, we try to open doors for others as well.

Hiba Abdou 

That’s great. Jenya, I stepped in for you while you had your technical challenge.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you so much. So #ChoosetoChallenge today for technology was challenging the bandwidth! And I trust that everyone was able to answer the question. I’m very sad that I was not able to hear all of your wonderful responses. But let us actually continue moving on with a webinar. So my next question was, what do you find is the most important to professionals working in automation today? And a related question, are those priorities changing? And might I ask Sherry to answer that question?

Sherry Shao 

The Intelligent Automation industry is a fast-paced place where, you know, I think your long-term goals and objectives, they don’t stay – sorry – they don’t change. But it’s the day-to-day operations or the day-to-day execution that does, you know, and I think that’s especially true in the pandemic world. Our priorities are always changing with what’s going on to the businesses and to the external environment. So, you know, I think to answer that question, our priorities changing, yes. And what is the most important for professionals? I would say, you know, we need to ask questions, we need to be agile, we need to take the time to listen. And when I say listen, I mean really listen, and we need to collaborate. And I think above all, we need to challenge the status quo.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. That’s a wonderful answer. Does anyone else have anything to add to this? Alright, I will move on to the next question. So um, now a question specific, a little bit, more to women. So how can women in tech, generally, and very specifically, in automation better enable each other? What needs to change for example, in your opinion, Danielle?

Danielle Hurst 

I really don’t think that much needs to change. I think women are very good at helping each other be better, you know, and lifting each other up. Let me now look at the team that we work on, and like I’m actually on a different team, but I worked very closely with Sherry’s team, and our team is great at doing that. And I think one of the reasons is because there are so few women in the industry in general, we get used to looking out for each other. Now, hopefully, that’ll change because we shouldn’t be having a conversation about women in tech. We should already be at a 50/50 split like we are in other industries. We have work to do. But the fact that we haven’t gotten there has more to do with some of the things that Dave was talking about earlier. We’re just not looking for the bright people from other industries that we can bring into tech. Because if you think about it, what do you really need to be good? In automation, in programming, in coding, you need a logical mind. If a person has a logical mind and is good at logic, we can teach them the rest. And there’s people that went to school for computer science that don’t have a logical mind and struggle. So it’s about changing how we look at people, I think, in general.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thanks, Danielle.

Hiba Abdou 

And I completely agree with Danielle. I think my perspective is, you know, continuing to look for and provide women with opportunities. What I find, you know, very fascinating, and automation is, you know, unlike other specific fields and tech, where, you know, the question was, “Well, how technical are you?” before you’re invited to apply or to take on a role. With automation, to Danielle’s point, we’re getting into low code, no code, you know, really, what we’re looking for in automation is that broad mindset that understands operations, understands how to look for efficiencies, understands how to optimize and make things better. And so we’re not looking for a one-track mind, we’re looking for a broad, and general expertise in “I know how to make something better, I know how to make something more efficient.” And so, looking for opportunities to bring women that have that, you know, emotional quotient, if you will, can think broadly, can think, you know, “How do I optimize?” you know, is eager to learn new technologies. And you know, bring them to these opportunities. The other aspect as well is, you know, automation in the grand scheme of things is newer than technology in general. And so, like my thinking is that we need to look for leadership opportunities for women and automation, too, because of the multifaceted skills that they have, you know, they can serve on a board, they can take on additional leadership opportunities within organizations. So that’s, I think, some of the things where, you know, we can create additional opportunities for women to get them to rise within the automation space.

David Burnie 

Yeah, I would echo, Hiba and Danielle, your points. The fact that the technology is new and ever-changing means that we can bring people into this space that, you know, haven’t had that experience before. I think about when we started working with Bell in automation back in 2014. You know, Jenya was originally part of that team, and she had never worked in automation before. But that was okay because no one had. So this is a great opportunity, as the technology is constantly shifting, everyone is being retrained for introducing new ideas, new concepts. If we can find great people who have that operational mindset, and who can learn fto be inquisitive, ask questions, that’s what you mean. And that opens up the door for us to really speak out and bring women into the automation space that in past times because you needed ten years of experience would have been difficult. But now, you know, that isn’t the same requirement. So I think that that really opens the door for us to expand our scope and really seek to balance out that gender gap.

Jenya Doudareva 

And a very related question, what advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in automation? And perhaps, let’s start with Shirley.

Shirley Zhang 

Just going back to what everyone’s saying earlier, automation RPA is a very new field that just developed in the past ten years or so. So because of that, the exposure to this field is really not well known, among all the tech fields. And I find that that is the number one thing that is preventing people, especially young women from entering, because they don’t know about it. How can you enter into a field that you don’t know? So, and to me, like, what I try to do is always promote what I do and explain to people what this career is, like, what my career is, what I work in, trying to promote that so more people are aware of this.

And because this is a growing field, when you look at all the Fortune 500 companies that are moving into the RPA space, an advantage of automation, and especially RPA, is that how agile it is. When you compare it to traditional IT projects that could usually run six months, with the post-op type of testing required for those types of projects, the capital and the investment invested in those to the resource investment in those projects are just massive. Whereas with RPA, most of our projects are super agile. And you can even spin out some changes within weeks when something happens. And that is just not the type of efficiency that you see in other types of projects. And especially with RPA is mainly coming from the business perspective, versus a lot of IT projects are based on the existing IT structure. They have a lot of inputs but not from the business. So that is a change in the mindset of how projects are being launched as well. So, I mean, it’s a fascinating field. I love it. And I hope more people, more young women are in it.

Jenya Doudareva 

I love that. Danielle, what do you think about this topic?

Danielle Hurst 

It’s fun. I’d like to touch on something that Shirley said is we can launch our project so much faster. I think back to probably about 25 years ago when I worked in banking systems at CIBC. And we would be crammed trying to get changes done in a tax year. Because the government would change something, and then we’d have to roll a bunch of changes to our systems with the stuff that was written like old school, two-digit days, you know, so it was very hard to change. Now, with RPA, you can change marketing programs you can, your ability to adapt as a company is so much greater. And what it does, it creates a lot more opportunities. So if I was talking to someone, I would tell them: never be afraid to change. Be willing to shift industries because you could be shifting different industries and be in  RPA. So and have fun. I mean, this is fun, exciting technology. So that’s what I would tell them.

And I was also supposed to touch on how to get more women into tech. And I think we have started looking at untraditional sources. Now women who maybe left the workforce, went and had a family and are now ready to come back in. Again, we can retrain someone like that very quickly. I also know a group – and this is men and women – the computer nerds that dropped out of high school but ran companies doing HTML programming for people. You know, they have the right mindset, they have the right skill set, but we never considered people without degrees before. And I think that’s a really untapped resource, especially given how easy RPA programming is.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. Thank you both.

David Burnie 

I think about what can we do? Not only what can we do to get women into the field, but also how can we keep them in, and I think pandemic has shown that we can be really flexible as organizations. If you think about how everyone who’s moved, shifted and is working from home, and that can open up a lot of opportunities. A lot of, you know, women who have families who need to go and drop their kids off at school, pick them up at school. Hopefully it’s a partnership with their significant other as well. But you know, I think that if we can be more flexible as organizations and be less rigid than it needs to be, you know, nine to five, I think that can help to, you know, open this up to more women and break down some of the barriers that traditionally cause them to perhaps leave.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. So I’m related question, what advice would you give to all women who are juggling between home and work? And, of course, that’s not an easy task. Perhaps, Hiba?

Hiba Abdou 

Yeah. I mean, I would say, first and foremost, choose your partner and choose your employer wisely. And when I think back to, you know, when I was raised, and now that I’m raising my children, I think, you know, there’s been a sea change in terms of how much more hands-on, you know, fathers have become. And I think disproportionate, though, the responsibility of teaching children and, you know, being the CEO of the house, if you will, continues to fall on the shoulders of women. And so it is very important to establish the appropriate support network that involves everybody that you can pull on around you. So be that your partner, your family, you know, the broader the support network, the better and also making sure that you work with your employer to identify your boundaries that you need to have left sacred so that you can attend to whatever it is that you need to attend to in your personal life.

This is not just about, you know, being a mother. Some people have hobbies, and it’s very important for them to maintain those interests, because it makes them better at work. You know, when they play their music, or when they go out and get to their hockey game, or whatever it is, we all have our priorities. And sometimes it’s children. Sometimes it’s other interests. And it’s important, yeah, to establish your support system and to establish those boundaries. And, you know, I think it’s the old-fashioned companies now, to Dave’s point earlier, that expect, you know, your undivided attention from nine to five. Work has become ubiquitous. Sometimes we’re working at 9 pm because this is when it makes sense to do so. And so having that trust, a trusted relationship is very, very important to establish.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you, Hiba. That’s a fantastic response. Does anyone else have any other thoughts or ideas on the topic of juggling home and work? Naturally, it’s has become a really big topic during the pandemic.

Shirley Zhang 

I guess I can speak to it a little bit. Regarding juggling between work and home, I find that, you know, as women ourselves, we have to also prove that this is a workable model to have a flexible work hour that when you when you’re able to deliver more, compared to maybe having a station at the office from nine to five, that prove to our employer as well, that this model works and is more humane. It works for both parties. So and definitely going back to the work-life balance, that is also very important as well. And as women, we, from the society, we are expected to do more. And it’s not easy to just say we’re not going to do it. You know, all of the women on this panel, I’m sure you feel that obligation to take on those responsibilities. So it’s not easy to say no to everything. But at the same time, I feel that, you know, with this pandemic, although it has brought so much havoc. One good thing that it has provided is to show that the ability to do work remotely and still be a very viable is actually the more beneficial model for both the employer and the employees.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. That’s a fantastic answer. And to switch gears a little bit for women who are considering a career in automation, or perhaps who have entered the field of tech and automation, how can they develop a long-term career plan? Who can they talk to? And who can they get advice from? And I will pick on Danielle for this one.

Danielle Hurst 

Well, in terms of who you can talk to, it’s very important to build up a big LinkedIn network and join some of the RPA communities that are on LinkedIn. That’s going to help you stay current. And as you get to know some of those people, they’ll be able to give you advice. Now, as far as developing a long-term career plan, I don’t think you can. And the reason I say that is because technology and automation are developing at such a fast pace that whatever plan you put in place is probably not going to work. So my advice would be to develop a short-term career plan. What’s the next one or two jobs you think you want to have? And what’s the trajectory for that? Just keep one or two jobs ahead because a long-term career plan for automation, I think, isn’t going to work. Because who knows what automation will be in 10 years from now; it might be something completely different. So I would suggest just keep looking after, what’s the next big step I can make?

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. And Sherry, what do you think about this topic?

Sherry Shao 

No, I echo Danielle’s sentiments 100%. I think before we even kind of get to her feedback is, you know, the first thing I’d ask you is: is it even the space that you want to be in? You know, it’s cool, it’s fast-paced, there are job opportunities, but if it doesn’t align with your values, if it’s not the opportunities you want to seek for yourself, then right away, that’s not a fit. So once you rule out that first question, then the second thing I would ask you is: where do your own expectations lie? You know, you can’t expect opportunities to be handed to you. And so, you know, are you proactively reaching for it? Are you looking for networking sessions, where you can learn from industry leaders? Are you reaching out to people on LinkedIn and establishing those connections? Are you starting these conversations with the leaders that you admire? And the ones that you want to learn from? You know, I think it’s one of those things where to answer your question, how do you know who to talk to? How do you know where to get advice? I would implore you to seek out those opportunities; you cannot wait for that to come to you.

Jenya Doudareva 

That’s a really good answer. And does anyone else have any thoughts on this topic? Alright, then, in that case, actually wanted to follow up on the topic that Sherry has just brought up with regards to networking, participating in events, really wanting to learn. So an important aspect of that is, of course, mentorship. How can young women find mentors, whether it’s in automation or in general in their career? How can we ask for mentoring? And Sherry, again, I will turn this back to you.

Sherry Shao 

Yeah, I think anybody who knows me personally knows that I’m all for mentorship, and it’s an area that I’m really passionate about. I think we have the responsibility to develop and to mentor anybody who asks us, but the most meaningful mentorships are the ones that are grown organically. So I’m gonna maybe spin this topic a little bit. How do we find meaningful mentorships that stick around? My advice to you is that you don’t just blindly, you know, ask your average Joe off the street to be your mentor. You have to reflect on what it is you want to learn, then you have to kind of – to Danielle’s point earlier – look at your social circles, and even your professional circles as well and figure out who are the people that can help me get there, that can help me achieve my objectives, or who can teach me what I want to learn? And then this is where the hard part comes in. You have to be brave. You have to drive the conversation, you have to reach out to those people. And you have to ask for advice. But in addition to that, you have to be raw. You have to disclose what it is that you want to learn. You have to be vulnerable. You have to be able to confide in this person. Lastly, just a reminder to everybody, you have to be realistic too, right? Like, not all mentors can help you with every single problem for the rest of your life. Some mentorships just naturally fizzle out, or you learn that thing that you want to learn, and there isn’t any more value. And that’s okay, you know. So I think it’s being able to navigate that space where it’s: who are people that I want to learn certain things from? And if you are able to grow a relationship organically, then that’s something that matures and transcends time.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you, Sherry. Dave, what do you think about the topic of mentorship?

David Burnie 

I think what Sherry said really resonates. And the one word that I would encourage people is that the one word that says me was brave. And I know it’s really, it can be scary to reach out to people who you admire, more senior leadership, and ask for help, guidance, mentorship and support. But I can, you know, having mentored many people over the course of my career, I can say that people actually find it very, very big compliment. If you reach out and say, “I admire the way that you work, I would love to be mentored by you.” Or just say, you know, “I’d love to get your feedback.” And let’s set up some time, maybe every month, let’s find half an hour, every couple of months, find an hour. I would encourage everyone to, you know, if that is you have to be brave, you have to be courageous. But I think that you’ll be surprised at the outcome. And you know, take the plunge, you’ll find that I think that those people who you ask, if anything, they will feel honoured, that you did reach out to them.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. Thank you both. And related to the topic of mentorship is my next question. If you are to reflect on what helped you get this far in your career, what are those key ingredients? And how would you mentor young girls to dream bigger? Danielle, we’ll start with you.

Danielle Hurst 

Well, I think for me, it was a willingness to accept any challenge and accept any change. I went from being paid political organizer, to a consulting firm to working in banking systems, to working at British Telecom in Australia, back to banking systems. And here I am, again, in telecom, after taking a little detour through secondary technology market. So for me, it was always looking for what’s my next big challenge. And it’s funny, because my VP regularly jokes with me that I take on the roles that everybody else runs away from. And it’s because I never wanted to be the person that showed up at work and did the same thing all day, every day. So find something you’re passionate about. For me, it’s fixing things. Like I want, whatever processes is most broken, give it to me, and I’m gonna fix it. So that was the big thing.

As far as how can we mentor young girls to dream bigger, we have to get to them earlier. Because if we’re waiting till high school, college, university, society has already set their goals for them. If we start talking to the girls that are in elementary school, middle school, and showing them the type of things they can be, especially in low income areas, because if you grow up in a privilege, white privilege, or any other privilege, you have a different set of expectations put on you by the society you’re in. What I’ve seen over the course of my career is people that grew up in less advantaged areas, they aren’t given that set of expectations until they don’t expect it from themselves. And I think that’s one of the things we really have to try and change if we want women to dream bigger.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. And Hiba, what would you say?

Hiba Abdou 

Yeah, I mean, everything Danielle said definitely resonates 100%. I am reminded of the title of this book, I cannot remember the name of the author now. But the title is Brave, Not Perfect. [Editor’s note: The author is Reshma Saujani.] Which is such an important notion for young women that are growing up in STEM and technology, and even girls that are considering any type of career frankly. It doesn’t even apply to automation and STEM in general, is to be brave, to put yourself in situations that are ambiguous. You don’t need to have all the answers figured out. I mean, we all know the anecdotal stories about women not applying to certain jobs because when they read the requirements, they don’t have 100% of everything that it’s asked for. Men, on the other hand, if it’s 60 percent, “Great, I’m a fantastic candidate!” and then they apply. So it’s about taking risks, and being brave and not aiming for perfection. So that’s the only thing that that I would add.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. Sherry, what would you add?

Sherry Shao 

Honestly, I think the two of them stole the words out of my mouth. It’s really hard to dream when you look out there in the world. And you see people where they have the same dream, but their dreams don’t materialize because the opportunity isn’t there. So, you know, I think going back to what I was saying earlier, lift while you climb. Open up those doors for people and show them that their dreams are possible.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you so much. And Shirley?

Shirley Zhang

I’m talking about books. I just thought of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. So she talked about how, you know, as women, we, you often underrate yourself, right? So you don’t try to achieve everything so and just echoing what everyone is saying about it, don’t see it like right now, when you look at the most successful entrepreneur, how many of them are women? You don’t see that you don’t – it’s hard to imagine that for yourself. So I find that, you know, with all of these changes with the pandemic, and everything is important to dream a different future for herself. Maybe a future that is not yet navigated before. So I hope that is what is available out there for us, not just for young girls, but for every one of us as well.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you, Shirley. And Dave?

David Burnie 

I would say from the other side, you know, for men, I think that men need to challenge their unconscious biases. And, you know, I think it’s very natural for people to think about, you know, they want someone like them, right, they have the same experiences, they can go for a beer after work. I think that, you know, we need to be conscious of that bias. And we need to actually make an effort to see the value in people that doesn’t relate specifically to what we know. And I think with that, then we will open more doors, and we’ll have a more diverse workplace. And you know, everyone will benefit.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. And we have just over 10 minutes remaining, obviously a lot of time. So I have one final question, and it is a little bit more broad. And just to close the discussion off. But if you were asked about how to ensure Canadian students and workers are equipped to thrive in the modern digital economy, and what technology’s role is in creating and enabling the workforce of the future, what would you say? And let’s take Sherry first.

Sherry Shao 

You know, I think we talked about this topic through – it’s come up through the previous questions. And I think to summarize, we need to teach STEM courses to non-STEM students. And it can’t be something where you need to start earlier. You know, I think we all know that it’s really hard to be hired for a full time job when you don’t have the professional experiences. But as a student who just graduated from university or from high school, even, how could you possibly have professional experiences when you’ve been in school your whole life? Right? So I think as leaders, it’s also our responsibility to provide these opportunities. And maybe we just have to be creative. Maybe we have to do co-ops, or we need to do more internships.

Danielle Hurst 

Thank you, Sherry. Dave?

David Burnie 

You know, I’m very excited about how technology is just going to enable everyone, and how it’s going to increase productivity in society as a whole. And I think if we embrace that, then you know, we can really lift all boats, as they say. And so we need to think about how everyone can participate in that and find ways to, you know, educate, train and enable people who don’t, you know, don’t fit the traditional mold or who haven’t followed the traditional path. And I think if we can do that, and we will, you know, really open things up for everyone, and will be a great benefit to both our own organizations and society as a whole.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thanks, Dave. Shirley?

Shirley Zhang

it’s great that you asked about Canadian students and workers because right now, we are in a global workforce environment. So it is no longer the borders around countries no longer can protect you, or prevents you from moving to different places, and also remote working as well, it basically allows you to really work from anywhere. So to me, what is the advantage of being Canadian? What is the advantage of being in this country? Right? So I just thought of this, I think the news that I saw over the weekend that Canada just became the most desirable place to visit compared to the United States. So I mean, there’s definitely a lot of people who look to Canada for that. Right. So that is the desirable part.

I feel that, you know, being Canadian working in Canada, how can we utilize that, you know, for the future? At this point, this is a bigger topic than I can speak to. But that is what I constantly think about. Like, how do we take that advantage of being Canadian and use that to make a bigger influence in the future global workforce market, or just in the field of innovation? Because right now, I feel that we usually have good ideas. But it’s hard to realize that to a massive market, to a greater global market. And we always seem to have that challenge. How do we prove that barrier? This is probably a question that I can ask the rest of the panel.

Jenya Doudareva 

Yeah, that’s a good point. Hiba?

Hiba Abdou 

Yeah, I mean, I just love what Shirley is touching on. And, you know, as we think about the field of automation, which is all about innovation, and infusing artificial intelligence, document understanding, machine learning, into operations so that things are done a lot more efficiently. Then humans are enabled to be then more creative and use their cognition to do more higher-value work. And when you look at the landscape in Canada – and Shirley’s point – there’s a lot of innovation that starts out. But I think – and there are many reasons for that, this is a topic for another webcast – why it doesn’t take the foothold and attraction.

And I think, again, the more that we demystify STEM in general, but also artificial intelligence in particular, the more we demystify it, the more we enable women to feel confident that they can enter this field just as much as the other person. I think this is when we can have hope that some of that stickiness over time happens because, you know, women typically bring a level of strength and commitment, which is required for the long term for something to have longevity. So that is my hope. And, you know, the more especially with us here, I mean, we’re working this field day in, day out, and we’re always evaluating how does automation become more intelligent? I would, I mean, we’re always at The Burnie Group, we’re always looking out for new partnerships. And, you know, very important as we look for those partnerships for innovative new technology solutions that complement RPA. I would love to see more women leading those artificial intelligence offerings. So the more we make it easy for women to do that, I think we all win.

Danielle Hurst 

And, I think Shirley touched on a really good point when talking about technology. I think if you want to be able to work from anywhere, we need to do a better job as Canadians at making sure that all our areas actually have internet service. Right now, we have a lot of rural areas that don’t even have cell phone service, and your only internet is very, very slow satellite. So that’s one of the areas where I think technology’s really going to come into play because some of the newer satellite technologies can give you 50 gig and 100 gig speeds. They’re not at market yet, but they’re pretty close. And I think that’s going to be a game-changer.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. These were all absolutely fantastic perspectives. Any last final thoughts from anyone while I’m taking a look to see if we have any questions?

Hiba Abdou 

I’d like to say it’s been such a wonderful dialogue, such a wonderful group, and lots of really enriching perspectives. I mean, I am going to take away quite a number of freely pointed messages that resonated with me and reflect on those in the days and months to come.

David Burnie 

And I think that it’s, you know, and it’s so helpful to spend time thinking through, you know, how we can enable women. And so days like International Women’s Day help people to pause and think. Hopefully this reflection and the focus, you know, will help us to enable women going forward.

Jenya Doudareva 

Thank you. Alright, so it appears we do not have any questions from the audience. If anyone who has joined this webinar, if you do have any final questions or comments for the panelists, feel free to throw them in the chat. And if not, I believe we will be able to close, just shy of the hour mark.

Alright, it doesn’t appear there any more questions. Thank you very much to every participant who joined us today. I hope you found this discussion, illuminating, helpful and useful on International Women’s Day this year. And of course, thank you very much to every single panellists that we had today for taking your time to reflect upon your career, career progression of women, and our space of automation – the small cul de sac of tech, but of course, a very important one. Thanks, everyone.

Hiba Abdou 

Thanks Jenya. Thank you, everyone.

Jenya Doudareva 

Happy International Women’s Day, bye bye.