CIOCAN Members Reflect On This Year’s ‘Choose To Challenge’ Theme

Catherine Chick considers herself lucky to have worked with a number of kind, compassionate men who would never knowingly patronize or discriminate against their female colleagues. When she heard this year’s International Women’s Day theme of “Choose to Challenge,” however, it reflected a call she believes she and many IT leaders need to answer.

“Working as a visible minority female in the technology industry, there have been so many times when I ignored uncomfortable comments or words, and kept quiet in order to fit in,” says Chick, one of several CIOCAN members who shared their reflections on IWD 2021. “The #MeToo and BLM movements inspired me to deeply reflect on my own experiences and understand my own responsibility to take a stand — not just for myself, but as a role model for the generations coming after me.”

As a senior technology executive with stints in both CIO and CTO roles, Chick has come up against many of the challenges of being among the few women in a male-dominated technology profession.

This includes being left out of social norms such as going to the bar after work, participating in the sports pools or joining the hockey league. Perhaps an even bigger concern, though, is the ongoing lack of adequate representation .

“I see more women in IT than ever before but there is still a huge gender gap, particularly in the management ranks,” Chick says. “There are many IT departments with no women in mid or senior management positions, and thus, no women in the succession plans.”

This is despite the fact that women have arguably more reasons to be attracted to IT leadership roles than ever before. As more organizations recognize the value of technology in helping them achieve business objectives, CIOs are at the forefront of leading digital transformation projects that enhance both the employee and customer experience.

In fact, IT leaders might view the “Choose To Challenge” theme through a more specific lens, suggested Catherine Mendonsa, CISO at Finning International Inc.

“In IT, every day may present a challenge in one form or another, and that is one of the factors of working in IT that I enjoy,” she said. “(It was) the realization that IT is not just coding and hardware delivery. IT is more about secure business process automation.”

The Power Of Mentorship And Continuing Professional Development
Like many successful women, Mendonsa credits her success in part to the role models and mentors in her life, but these weren’t always other IT leaders. Instead, the first person that comes to mind is her mother.

“She was not in IT, but led a family business with my father in the greenhouse industry that was very much male-dominated,” she says. “She demonstrated to me that if you worked hard to accomplish your goals and could demonstrate you were good at what you do while treating people with respect, success was inevitable.”

Along with identifying and learning from mentors, CIOCAN members also recommended being proactive in developing their skills. That way, they can be well-positioned when career opportunities open up at organizations that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Strive for breadth of education — you need to not just know your area of expertise but also what is important to the decision-makers and funders,” says Helen Wetherley Knight, president of CIOCAN’s Calgary chapter. “I always try to be enrolled in at least one class all the time to keep growing.”

CIOCAN members said they also feel a responsibility to look beyond their own ambitions and support their peers.

“Since becoming the first female board member and then president of the Calgary chapter, I immediately added two more women to the board, and now I’ve noticed an increase in women participating in our events,” Knight says. “When you find yourself able to make changes to pave the way for others, do it!”
Chick agrees.

“In the spirit of ‘Choose to Challenge,’ all women should use their voice for good,” she says. “Speak up when you see things that aren’t right, advocate for those who cannot and have confidence that your voice is valid.”

Discover new opportunities to connect with other IT leaders, develop your skills and advance your career by registering for CIOCAN’s upcoming Peer Forum, April 7 to 29.