Women Who Crush It

We wouldn’t be who we are without our people.

And it just so happens that a lot of our people are women. At Intersect, we pride ourselves on fostering a culture of inclusiveness and growth, but it’s no secret that women in technology face unique challenges. We asked some of Intersect’s leading ladies to share their experiences and keys to success in tech (and life). Here’s what they had to say.

Izzy Bonnici
Product Coordinator

Play An Active Role

Don’t just sit at the table, be a part of the conversation. The best way to learn is to intensely involve yourself in situations that force you to punch above your weight – all while exuding a confidence that signals to your team that you’re well-equipped to deliver.

What I Want To Tell Other Women

It’s not easy to do – especially when you’re, most times, one of the only females in the room and a fraction of everyone’s age. It was hard for me not to feel like I didn’t belong. I overcame imposter syndrome by addressing it early – confiding in other female coworkers with similar experiences who unwaveringly fought past the feeling, and working alongside male counterparts who not only actively called out when I was wrongly doubting myself, but also pushed me towards precisely those kinds of opportunities where I was forced to build confidence, think independently, and join the conversation.

Keely Nugent van Tol
Operations Analyst

On Becoming A Mother

Change is unavoidable. In the tech industry, things change quickly and often, and keeping on top of current trends, best practices, and keeping your skill set sharp takes work. When I knew I would be taking maternity leave, I immediately began to feel overwhelmed about my ability to keep up when I was away and once I returned. I knew that becoming a mom would fundamentally change my life and I anticipated a great deal of tension trying to balance everything.

The thing is, you CAN have it all (if you want). I’m now a “working Mom” in an industry that is predominantly male. I’ve never (ok, RARELY) heard of a man who is worried about being able to “balance” being a Dad and having a career. It’s not even a question. You don’t often hear the term “working Dad.” So why should I take the term “working Mom” to mean anything pejorative or negative? The main reason I had these doubts before I came back is because there’s still a stigma around career vs. family when it comes to women. But many have been able to manage it before, and many more will after me. I’m still trying my hardest and showing up to work everyday with my “business hat” on – which is exactly what is expected of me.

What Helped Me Get Through It

There are three things that have helped me stay on course (oddly enough they also apply to motherhood):

  • Be flexible and open to change. Be the type of person who can accept change and roll with it. Seek ways to help yourself or your company adapt, or look ahead and plan for changes before they hit.
  • Accept that you don’t know everything, and that it’s ok that you don’t. Ask questions. Ask for help. Ask if there’s a better or different way of doing things. Don’t resign yourself to tunnel vision or think that reaching out shows any sign of weakness. Being obstinate alienates you – being resourceful makes you indispensable.
  • Listening and empathy are skills that will never go out of style. No one experiences things the exact same way and some people may struggle with things you find easy (and vice versa). Listen with the intent to understand. And empathize with those who are having challenges. If you are the type of person that can show these qualities, people will seek you out and look to you for help.
Kyri Paterson
Backend Developer, Machine Learning

Stand Up For What's Right

I tend to be seen as “one of the boys” – I’ve had almost all male friends and work in a very male-heavy sector within tech (which is male-heavy to begin with). This can sometimes lead to others thinking it’s okay to make derogatory statements about women and/or disrespect other women in professional situations. I’m not a quiet person, so I speak out when I see something like this happen, even if the other person isn’t prepared to hear it. Regardless of how the other person takes it, I never regret my choice to say something because at the end of the day I feel like I am doing the right thing.

What I Want To Tell Other Women

  • Stand up for yourself – and stand up for other women. There’s this bias where you gloss over what a woman says. We all do it, but work to know when you’re doing it.
  • The first thought/reaction you have is the one you’re conditioned to have, the second is really you. Be patient, take your time to get to the second, thought-out response to any situation. Works professionally, socially, and morally.
Kali Gieben
Marketing Specialist

On Being The Boss

Being a woman in any workplace is full of catch 22s. It often seems like there is no way to be assertive without someone insinuating (or directly stating) that you’re ‘bossy.’ As a manager, you need to sometimes be more firm to ensure the success of the team, and it’s important to keep that top of mind and let negative the connotations of “being bossy” roll off your shoulders. Keep your eyes on the prize.

What I’ve Learned

Fear of being labelled a certain way gets in the way of getting s!@# done!

Gabriela Gonzalez
Administrative Assistant

Seize Opportunities

You could say I was at the right place at the right time when I was approached to work at Intersect. I look at it as seizing an opportunity and taking a risk by having the confidence and ability to succeed in such an unknown industry to me. What caught my attention in tech was the fast-moving processes, a unique culture, and the constant opportunity to learn. I am still learning A LOT and loving it!

Being in such a fast-paced environment you never know what’s coming your way. Sometimes you can prepare and expect things to go smoothly, but that’s not always the case. Other times you just have to roll with the punches, be flexible and open to change. Things will usually work out as long as you put the effort in.

What I’d like other women to know:

  • Don’t let other powerful women intimidate you. Embrace them and even ask to learn from them.
  • Always do you. Speak up for yourself and what you believe in. You shouldn’t act differently to please others, so don’t add that emoji or exclamation mark if you don’t want to.
  • Do not let your kindness be mistaken for weakness.
  • Seek opportunities for yourself and practice negotiating.
Susan Shao
Solutions Architect

Always Validate Your Assumptions

People tend to make assumptions and jump to conclusions about me. When I was in elementary school, I skipped grades to learn Math. I did so because I was practicing teaching myself at home, but people commented, “She’s good in Math because she’s Asian.” When my friends noticed that I’m the only one heading to UW, they concluded, “You’ll be all alone with no friends.” As a tech consultant working onsite at a client’s office, I was mistaken for being the CIO’s “new cute receptionist“ by the CFO. The man that said that hadn’t realized that in this growing day and age, there are female tech consultants (the CIO went on to tell him, “She’s too expensive to be my receptionist!”).

When I gave birth to my two kids, I decided to park my career and dedicated roughly 3 years to focus on their growth. During that time, the salary gap between my husband and I widened even though we were on similar grounds right after graduation. My father-in-law commented, “He’s supposed to make more money than you.” My mother-in-law tried to comfort me by saying, “Girls can take it easy.” While she has the right intention, I believe there is nothing wrong with wanting to not “take it easy”. I enjoy family life and coming home to my kids brings tremendous joy to my heart, but I also enjoy working. Becoming a mother did not change my passion for technology. I disagree with the older generation’s male vs female family obligation projections wholeheartedly and my husband makes more than I do because I purposely put my career on temporary hiatus. Plus, he’s a great programmer and his company recognizes his value.

What I Want To Tell Other Women

  • Anyone with dedication and discipline can achieve things others might think they can’t.
  • Accept yourself for who you are and let that drive you to be special and unique.
  • Let people’s misperceptions fuel your growth.
  • Don’t feel guilty for wanting to have it all. Family and career can be equally important.
Noorain Noorani
Product Designer

On Working In A Male-Dominated Industry

Having been in Engineering at the University of Waterloo and holding various jobs in tech, I’ve learned that working in a male-dominated environment is going to be a reality for me. My response to this reality has been similar to my approach towards the poker table (or in other words, the ultimate bro environment) – I know I’ve got what it takes, but the fear of being judged has kept me from proving it. I find it’s sometimes easy to bash the things we’re afraid to approach, but for me, that strategy meant missing out on experiences I wanted to be a part of. So, I took steps to brave the situations dominated by my male peers, but also to pave a different path when I needed to. For me, this meant sometimes doing my own thing, but also learning to play poker and approaching the environment I feared most.

What I Want To Tell Other Women

  • Be who you are, not who you think you’re expected to be.
  • Lean in to the fear and anxiety with an open mind. You’ll surprise yourself.
Lucy De Oliveira
VP, Global Marketing

Hot Tips

  • It’s all about attitude. Not the nasty or undermining kind, but the kind of attitude that people take notice of and respect.
  • Be you. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and ideas!
  • Maintain integrity in what you do. Be willing to put in the necessary hard work, have the ability to truly listen, and above all, respect and encourage others around you. If you exude this type of attitude, you can accomplish anything.
  • Surround yourself with people that inspire you and that you can learn from – not only in tech but in anything you want to know or learn about.
  • Don’t ever sell yourself short and always respect yourself.
  • Always be helpful and encouraging to other women around you.
  • Remember you are your own “brand”.
Leigh Billinghurst
Director of People

Breaking Into The Industry

My background over the past 10 years has been predominantly within the marketing industry. I recently transitioned into the tech world with very little knowledge or experience. I’ve had to devote a lot of time getting to know and understand the new language, culture, and practices. This will not be a world that I become specialized in overnight, this will take months or even years before I can confidently say I have a comprehensive understanding, and that’s okay.

What I Want To Share With Other Women

  • Don’t be scared to move outside of your comfort zone and try new things.
  • If you have the passion, drive, and dedication to achieve your goals, then anything is possible.
  • Connect with someone you respect that can provide guidance and coaching. My most valuable mentors have been powerful women in a Sr. Leadership capacity. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support, knowledge, and guidance.
Helen Garcia
Senior Product Manager

Find Your Tribe

I have always worked in male-dominated environments and have learned to grow a thick skin in order to move forward in my career. Working in the midst of a “boys club” is not easy and can be de-motivating, but it’s something most successful women learn to navigate over time. The key is finding your tribe; the brave, inspiring, smart, and supportive women (and men!) who will not only share your experiences but mentor you and become a part of your journey. Yes, we have to face inequality as a daily reality but we don’t have to put up with it or go through it alone.

What I Want To Tell Other Women

  • Find your tribe. Talk to your peers about your experiences. Ask for their guidance and support. Find a mentor. Be curious.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you experience any kind of inequality, sexism or harassment of any kind, say something, or, if you don’t feel safe, tell someone. You’re not alone and you’ll be surprised to find out others have experienced similar situations. Be brave.
  • Be patient. This is something I practice on a daily basis. Some days it’s not easy, but practicing patience – especially when the shit hits the fan (and it will) – is a lesson in itself.
  • Be a good person. It’s easier than you think. Know that everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes, and not everyone realizes they have even made one. Have compassion – for others and yourself.
Vanessa Martins
Product Strategist

Saying Yes To Tech

I don’t think that tech really ever crossed my mind as an industry to get into, because it was that disassociated with women when I was in school. There was a computer science class that I was in for a day in highschool, but it was just all guys so I dropped it pretty quickly. The biggest challenge for me has been entering the industry a little late, and playing catch-up. There’s an incredible amount to learn, but it’s such an interesting and exciting field that I think more women need to learn about.

What I Want To Tell Other Women

  • Fake it till you make it. Seriously. People can put you into this category of being this young girl and then change their expectations of you based on the category they put you in.
  • You don’t deserve to be treated any differently, so pay attention to any small ways you think you’re being treated differently, or being put down (even if it isn’t intentional).
  • Stand up for yourself if you’re uncomfortable, and rock it. Because you’re awesome.
  • Get a female mentor, someone who’s confident and inspiring. It really helps when you’re building up your career.
Amber Foucault
VP, Product Management

Build Confidence

It’s smarter to not try to do everything on your own. Look for mentors and advocates that will help you build confidence. Find people to work with who can remind you of who and what you are. That way when moments of insecurity roll around, you can lean on them to remind you of the knowledge and strength you’ve acquired. If you are sure of yourself, you can instead focus your attention on being and doing what you do best. Don’t let asking questions and being curious come at the cost of how you are perceived.

My Keys to Success

  • Take the time to practice confidence. Building confidence may be hard, but fighting to earn respect without it is even harder.
  • Fake it till you make it. Address imposter syndrome early. It’s a hurdle that will only impede your career progression.
Saaqshi Sharma
UX/UI Writer

Silence The Negative

Everyone deals with Imposter Syndrome now and then – even genius people who seem to have it all. Remind yourself that you’re not a fluke and you worked hard to get to where you are. This wasn’t an accident, it was years in the making.

How To Succeed

  • Create a positive environment for yourself. Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with people that boost you up. Learn how to recognize and tune out toxic people.
  • If you can’t find a mentor to physically show you the ropes, take the initiative to create a proxy mentor. Read a lot, watch videos, and follow people that inspire you. Always learn and soak it all in however you can. All of these little things contribute to a better version of you.
  • Pay it forward. Don’t forget that someone probably looks up to you as well. Being a mentor for someone else is immensely valuable.
Kim Liu
Director, Engineering

Establishing Clear Boundaries

In the 10+ years I’ve worked in the tech industry, I’ve had to deal with two recurring challenges: boundaries and credibility.

Being ethnic, female, and short, I’ve always played the hard-mode in the video game of life – an education in engineering, a career in software, and hobbies in sports a.k.a. The Boys Club. I’m frequently labeled as a “guy’s kinda gal”, a constant reminder that I always have to be on the lookout for the lines that cannot be crossed while drawing the lines that protect myself.

My job requires me to defend, justify, and persuade on a daily basis, and sometimes I know I need to fake it until I make it, trapping me within Imposter Syndrome. The moments where I break out of that cycle and find my voice again, I am faced with the reality that the credibility I deserve is not within arm’s reach. Each time, it’s my belief and my patience that let me be heard.

What I Want To Tell Other Women

  • Don’t humour the idea that you can be teased easily, enforce the level of respect you deserve.
  • Believe strongly in yourself, it shows organically through body language and tone of voice that you are beautiful, intelligent, and worthy.
  • Put on a thick skin and develop the patience for the long game, let yourself be heard even if it means repetition with increased volume control.
  • Never look down upon the gifts of emotions we have, they are our strength. We cover more grounds in analytical and critical thinking than our male counterparts.
  • There is no bitch scale that anyone has the right to measure us on, don’t let anyone let you think otherwise.