Meet our Panelist: Francis Li

Conversations around inclusiveness in the workplace for women and minorities needs to be just that- inclusive. We’re excited to have Francis Li as a panelist for our Women in Tech : A Panel Discussion happening this Thursday. Francis will bring his expertise in IT and management, as Vice President of Information Technology at Softchoice. Today though, he tells us about how balance in life can make you a better leader, the importance of self awareness, and his avid aquatic avocation.

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?

Miranda from YWiB works at Softchoice and is also a member of the Shades of Orange ERG (Employee Resource Group) that I am the Executive Sponsor for at Softchoice. Being the father of a young lady (12 but going on 18!) I have become a lot more sensitive to issues involving women and visible minorities in recent years. I do believe that furthering these important social issues is a responsibility of anyone who seeks change. I also have a very male heavy management team at Softchoice, something that I’d like to see change.

Aside from your role as Vice President of Information technology at Softchoice, how do you like to spend your free time?

I am an avid fish keeper. I have 10 fish tanks in my basement that keep me very busy when I’m not working. Currently I keep fish species exclusively from Lake Tanganyika, which is one of the Rift Lakes in Africa. I like keeping and breeding fish that are uncommon and difficult to keep. Between fishkeeping and my daughter’s synchronized swimming, that takes up a lot of my time outside of work!

Tell me about your story. How did you get to be where you are today? 

I grew up and went to school in Toronto. I graduated from the University of Toronto with a HBA in Economics & Political Science. When I started out in University I thought I was either going to be an Accountant or a Lawyer, potentially in Public Service. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t very good in Accounting and the thought of going to Law School following graduation from University didn’t sit well with me either. So, I completed my degree not knowing exactly what I wanted to do but did feel strongly that I wanted a University degree.

I spent my early working years with Staples, a big box office supplies retailer. The majority of my time there was spent as a Buyer for Technology. As a Buyer I had responsibility for vendor relationships, MDF planning and supply chain management. For the past 15 years I have been at Softchoice in a number of different positions. I’ve spent time in Operations, Marketing/Business Development, Sales and now IT Leadership.

As for travel, I’ve travelled fairly extensively within Canada, the US and the Caribbean. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had jobs that have allowed me to travel regularly during the early part of my career. I’ve also spent some time in Germany, UK, France and Russia!

When you look back on your career to date, what is one important challenge, event, or achievement that stands out as a milestone?

I’ve actually written about the parallels of learning how to be a better husband and father and how this same learning had helped me be a better IT Leader. I was fortunate enough to have a Manager/mentor at Softchoice that helped me look inwards for the answer more often and developing my empathy. When I became more self-aware, it was empowering, and allowed me to grow as a Leader and individual.

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?

I was not always very self-aware. Truthfully it was a bit of a blind spot. My journey to increase my self-awareness would not have been possible without my wife and my Manager at Softchoice.

Keep an eye out for Francis on an upcoming podcast with Neil Hughes, a tech blogger and podcaster on iTunes. 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

Meet our Sponsors: Ingram Micro

In tech, publishing a diversity report is becoming a standard practice. But a diversity report starts with a diversity strategy. When it comes to women in business, celebrating and retaining talent means more than just a seat at the table. We sat down with the team at Ingram Micro to talk about some of their strategies for encouraging women in the workplace. As a sponsor for our Women in Tech: A Panel Discussion event coming up this Thursday, we wanted to get some insight into how Ingram Micro approaches this issue.

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Tell us a bit about Ingram Micro. What kind of products and services do you offer?

As #64 on 2016 Fortune 100, Ingram Micro delivers a full spectrum of global technology and supply chain services to businesses around the world. Our deep expertise in technology solutions, mobility, cloud, and supply chain solutions enables our business partners to operate efficiently and successfully. End-to-end solutions and distinct market insights allows us to forge forward with decades of strong and dependable partner relationships. With sales in over 160 countries and operations in over 45 countries Ingram helps businesses “Realize the Promise of Technology”. More at www.ca.ingrammicro.com

What does it mean to you, to have an employer who supports diversity in the workplace?

“We are trained to find things that are wrong, but we’d be far better off trying to celebrate what’s right.” Lori Scarlett, Director, Human Resources Canada, Ingram Micro Inc. “Empowering women and paving the way to leadership is one of Ingram Micro’s priorities. Each day we strive to support and celebrate women in our organization.”

What kind of engagement and outreach does Ingram Micro make within the GTA community?

Ingram Micro encourages all its associates to participate in volunteer activities. Additionally Ingram Micro aids in United Way collections, events and campaigns.

Why is Ingram Micro excited to support Young Women in Business, and the Women in Tech panel discussion?

Ingram Micro has partnered with IT World Canada since 2011 for the Women in IT Channel event. As well, Ingram Micro Canada recently launched its first inaugural Trust X Alliance (TXA)Canadian Women in IT event to promote unity and inspiration throughout women either just starting off in the field or veterans who need positivity and encouragement to continue to follow their passion, dedication and commitment to work life balance. Ingram Micro believes diversity and integration is a necessity to a great workplace environment and that’s why we are excited to support the Women in Tech event. We are strong. We are motivated. We will be equal.

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

Meet our Panelist : Helen Mitres

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

Meet our Panelist : Heather Haslam

In lieu of our Women in Tech event coming up next Thursday, let's get to know a bit more about our panelists. Our first panelist, Heather Haslam works for ADP, a leader in payroll and human resources software and services. As the Senior Director of Marketing, Heather will be sharing her experiences from the perspective of enterprise level marketing expertise. Today though, we're talking about her interdisciplinary background, her non-linear path to where she is today, and her unexpected motivation for choosing business in the first place.

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'm currently working with one of your members Zahra, and she’s shared the exciting things that YWiB are up to.

Aside from your role as a Senior Director Product Marketing / Market Insights at ADP, how do you like to spend your free time?

I'm kept busy raising two young boys, volunteering in my community and playing hard on either the slopes or in the yoga studios.

Tell me about your story. How did you get to be where you are today? 

That’s a pretty big question. Simply put, I got into business to prove to my father that I’d hate it. That was after studying psychology, sociology and social work. After finding our quickly that I loved the business world (despite starting out on the phones in a call center) I moved around across functions. Starting in service, I’ve also been in IT, Mergers and Acquisitions, Sales support, Operations and Marketing. The only consistencies in my career have been working in technology and focused on the Canadian business market.

When you look back on your career to date, what is one important challenge, event, or achievement that stands out as a milestone?

When I first realized that fear would only hold me back. I use the “1-minute, 1-hour, 1-day… trick” all the time. How much will this matter in X time?

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?

I’ve never been afraid to admit when I don’t know something, or when I’ve made a mistake. Humility makes it easier for people to work with you.

How can women interested in tech and marketing get their foot in the door?

Network. Pick up the phone. Ask. People inherently want to help others. But if you don’t make it easy for them to do so or don’t ask in the first place, they won’t. and take control of your career. Nobody is more accountable for it than you are. And who cares that you’re a woman. It won’t have any impact unless we let it.

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