Few people make diversity in the workplace (and beyond) one of the main tenets of their role like our next panelist, Helen Mitres. As a Learning Consultant & GTA focal for Women in Technology Initiatives at IBM Canada, Helen is co-chairing IBM Women’s Networking group and leading the new IBM GTA Women in Technology Initiatives. She’ll be moderating our Women in Tech: A Panel Discussion event coming up this Thursday. In anticipation of that event we talked to Helen about her passion for teaching, the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone, and the some of the incredible work she’s doing for girls in STEM right here in the GTA.
We’re so excited to have you on our panel. How did you hear about YWiB, and what inspired you to participate in our Women in Tech panel discussion?
I had initially heard about YWiB through my network friends in the IT industry at Oracle and had seen a few of your events being featured. I immediately began to follow along on your Social Media platforms and was really impressed by the vision and work by YWiB. That same network of friends recommended me as a future panelist.
Aside from your multifaceted role at IBM, how do you like to spend your free time?
I really do enjoy travelling and am fortunate that my current role sends me to a few different places annually in addition to my personal family travel. Exploring different local communities really brings to light the importance of diversity in thought and an appreciation of my own community. Recently I made my first trip to East Coast Canada to Fredericton ,NB! ….and of course, top of the list is spending quality ‘down’ time with my teenage daughter reconnecting, cooking and binge watching our favourite tv shows!
Tell me about your story. How did you get to be where you are today?
I started IBM 20 years ago as a new University grad thinking this would be a temporary role as I prepared to apply for teachers college. What I did not factor in was the various roles I would be exposed to at IBM. I have had the pleasure of working in roles in Operations, Business Management, Sales Management and HR. A few years ago I did some soul searching that led me back to my passion for teaching. I went back to school through distance learning to increase my skills and became a Certified Adult Instructor, leading to my current role as a Learning Consultant at IBM.
When you look back on your career to date, what is one important challenge, event, or achievement that stands out as a milestone?
In 2015, I was selected to represent Canada in IBM’s prestigious pro-bono Corporate Service Corp program, living and consulting in Belgrade, Serbia for one month partnering with NGO SMart Kolektiv delivering expertise-based service to improving their economic and societal challenges. This leadership opportunity was a truly life changing experience both professionally and personally.
When you think about your journey, what would you say was the one trait that helped you get you to where you are today. Was this a learned trait, or did you have it from day one?
Saying yes when new opportunities were presented in front of me. Sometimes they seemed out of my realm or scope of expertise, but I learned to trust the people that champion for me and dive into new areas that have been the best growth and learning. Getting out of your comfort zone is not easy but the benefits always pay off!
How can women interested in the tech industries get their foot in the door?
Networking is huge – but look for ways to network outside of traditional channels. Start small, follow companies or influential people on twitter or LinkedIn- engage in conversations then build from that. Know the trends, keep your skills up date and participate in any local events happening to get involved. For those recent University graduates, your alumni groups are also a great source of contacts in the industry that could be willing to help. Organizations such as YwIB is a great starting point to expose you to people and corporations that may be looking for new talent. Events such as Information Technology Association of Canada – ITAC/WCT – Women in Leadership Speaker Series, Catalyst regional events, and those hosted by Women in Communication and Technology are also great local opportunities.
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Start with people you know and trust, ask their network to be your network and seek introductions. You’d be amazed at how much people are willing to help those that are willing to put the effort in.
Tell me about the IBM GTA Women in Technology Initiatives – the vision, and your role.
The IBM STEM 4 Girls initiative empowers girls with STEM knowledge to unleash their unlimited potential and open more doors for their future. It is designed to include content covering all parts of STEM. Workshops include Design Thinking sessions, DNA experiments and opportunities to learn and ask questions about IBM Watson, The Internet of Things, Cybersecurity and cognitive computing. Girls gain experience with circuits,robotics and coding. Participants learn about engineering through hands-on challenges such as tower building and shoe design. We also run a workshop on self-esteem which is integral to ensuring girls have the confidence in themselves to pursue studies in STEM, which is typically considered “for boys”. In January we held private screenings of the movie Hidden Figures, for middle school girls across Canada where we also conducted a dialogue about women in science and overcoming obstacles one may face. I manage the IBM Canada STEM 4 Girls initiative in the GTA, which:
- Focuses on encouraging girls from grade 6-12 to explore STEM subjects in school
- Delivers workshops, camps and content specifically developed and given by IBMers
- Cultivates partnerships so IBM STEM 4 Girls can help enhance existing programs through additional resources and volunteers
Will you be speaking at any events in the near future, or have any other projects we should look out for?
There is a lot going on with our IBM STEM4GIRLS program all the time! We are just coming off a few IBMSTEM4GIRL events in the GTA in recognition of International Women’s Month. You can follow along using the #IBMSTEM4GIRLS or my twitter handle at @HelenMitres. We are planning some exciting things in celebration of Canada’s 150th Birthday and IBM Canada’s 100th birthday over the coming months.
Check out our Women in Tech: A Panel Discussion on Thursday, March 30th at RED Academy to keep the conversation going. You can buy tickets here