Take A Chance On Yourself - Sooner Than Later

#HerStory is a series of conversations with some of the best women in tech in all areas of business and at all levels. They share their stories on their career path, lessons learned and points of success and failure. I hope they inspire, resonate and help you on your own journey. 

Today we’re speaking with May Tsang-MacIsaac. She is the Director, Sales Operations and Effectiveness at Adlib Software a growing tech company located in Burlington, Ontario. May considers herself late to the startup tech world but fortunate to have found her way there now. Here, she shares a bit about that journey and offers advice to women considering a career in tech - take the chance sooner rather than later. 

May, you describe yourself as a late bloomer in tech. Can you tell me how you made your way to where you are now in tech?

My story is that I’m late but not too late. I joined the tech scene in my early thirties, after starting my career in automotive marketing and finance. I find a lot of women enter the software industry right out of school. I would encourage women who have even a vague interest in technology to try it early; you won’t regret it. But don’t feel it’s too late if you start somewhere else – it just means you bring other valuable perspectives, skills and knowledge to the table. Don’t be intimidated.

Women often describe a breakthrough moment in their career; a point where they knew they had to make a change. What was the catalyst that propelled you in a new direction?

The last five years of my career have been extremely rewarding, and it all came together when I was fired from a previous job! The ‘AHA’ moment came when I called my Dad – a company man, who built a career by working hard – thinking he would be upset that I “couldn’t make it work.” And you know what he did? He laughed and said, “Thank God they let you go. That job was going to kill you – it made you miserable. Go. Be happy. Be valued. Do good work. You’ll be fine.”   I’m pretty sure he hung up on me too!

Looking back, it was the worst two years of my professional life - I was sitting in a stale industry, with no growth or support. I just couldn’t see it because I was too stubborn to admit it. It was my “quicksand job” – the more I moved and tried to figure things out, the more I sank and suffocated.

So, I decided to roll the dice. I went to work for a startup that was huge globally but didn’t have much of a North American footprint. They needed someone who understood the broad vision from HQ, but could also be grassroots and tactical in the field. After that I worked for a fast growing tech firm for two years. It was there that I worked with some great people who fostered a supportive environment that allowed autonomy and mistakes. In my experience I find the tech industry extremely collaborative and supportive, across departments and companies. In tech I’ve been fortunate to work with people who offer insight, help or support when you’re trying to solve a problem. There’s an inherent ‘bootstrap’ mentality – at an aggregate level - of “we’ll figure it out together, we’ll get through it together.” No one approaches success like a zero-sum game. It’s refreshing.

What have you learned? How as your approach changed? If you could go back, what would you tell yourself?

My favourite takeaway lesson from the last few years is “imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.” I can’t recall who said it… J/K, thanks Dan Marcus and Mark Jaine. It took me a while to embrace this mindset, but sometimes you must just act quickly and take some calculated risks. 

I wish that I had found tech sales and the Toronto tech scene ten years ago, but am thankful I found this field after an unhappy chapter in my life. It forced me to answer questions we all face at some point, “What matters to me as an individual? What do I bring to the table?” The experience taught me to embrace my weaknesses just as much as my strengths. 

As a woman, it took a while to find a happy middle ground between professional success and being true to myself. I grew my career in traditionally male-dominated industries and when I was younger, I felt I had to be “one of the guys” or the “token woman/visible minority” in the room. It was exhausting. In the end I realized, that if I was in the right place, I didn’t have to be either. I wouldn’t have to join the ‘boys club’ to find success, I could just be myself...or better yet, build a girls club! 

How has Adlib Software supported your career growth?

I love that we are a tech shop in the Halton area as that’s where our family has decided to build our lives. It reinforces what a great fit this move has been for me; I don’t have to sacrifice meaningful, challenging work to be close to home. I also feel there’s some great stuff brewing west of the city (and this comes from a born and bred Torontonian!), especially with so much talent migrating to the Burlington and Hamilton region. 

Adlib is an exciting place to be: We are growing. We are changing. We are solving big problems for our clients. We have visionary leadership that walk the talk in hiring and retaining female talent. This is the first time I’ve worked with a sales team that is predominantly women - which is amazing and unfortunately rare. But hopefully, with more programs, leadership, mentoring and education we can change the ratios in tech, both on sales teams and on leadership teams.

If you’re looking for a diverse and inclusive culture and shorter commute Adlib Software is hiring!

Why Companies Struggle With Hiring and Retaining Women in Sales

By: Lia Gibson

Wednesday night we hosted our eighth Next Generation Talent Acquisition Meetup, a panel discussion on how to hire and retain women in tech sales at Rangle.io head office. The panel was composed of Angela Payne, SVP & General Manager Canada at Monster; John Bodolai, former VP and Country Manager at Workday; Jesper Bendtsen, Chief People Officer at Top Hat and Wendy Lucas, President of WenWill Consulting. Moderated by our CEO, Kim Benedict, the panel tackled why the number of sales roles held by women is a staggering less than 20% and companies can fix it. Although the event was packed with wisdom and innovative ideas three main ideas resonated with me the most.

It Starts with the Job Description

A study done by Hewlett Packard found that women will only apply for a job if they feel they meet 100% of the criteria, men will apply if they feel they meet 60%. Right out the gate we are deterring women from applying to our jobs. Kim suggested the use of Textio, a website that scores job ads in terms of how they would appeal to the female job seeker. Job ads are scored in terms of language, layout, use of cliches and other factors that change how a job seeker reacts to the ad. In Kim’s experience, 45% of job ads are mediocre and masculine in tone. Angela pointed out that job ads that use words like superhero and ninja, a new trend in attracting talent, tend to not attract female applicants because women don’t identify with those words.

She iterated that companies need to stop letting their job ads be a hurdle in hiring talented women. Angela commented that many organizations are starting to showcase perks like parental leave, work life balance and even fertility benefits to attract more women to the top of the funnel.

Let’s Champion Each Other, Not Challenge

Fostering strong talent goes beyond just mentorship. Wendy pointed out that a lot of companies are baffled as to why their mentorship programs don’t work. It's because mentorship is so much more than just sharing playbooks Wendy explained. There is no denying that women need mentorship, male or female, but they also need an ally, someone to support both formally and informally. Prior to the panel John did some extra homework. He interviewed women that had worked for him in the past. One women commented on the male cliques that made her feel less included in the workplace at a previous employer. This is not a reflection of the women’s confidence or sales ability, John commented, it is a reflection of a cultural problem. Changing these often deeply ingrained ways would be an uphill battle for one person but having an ally or wingman would make starting the change easier.

Your Brand Matters

The top reason people leave their jobs is company culture. Angela and Jesper both suggested that at the end of the day the lack of women in sales is a cultural and company wide problem. When we do get the women in the door we can’t keep them there. Why? Because companies sell something they aren’t. The more transparent the company, the better the retention rates. That all points back to company values. All our panelists drew on the fact women look for strong leadership, flexibility and growth potential in a company. So why are companies not better at offering it? Building a brand and company values that attract what women are looking for will help change our retention rates and our businesses will be better off. We work so hard to get women in roles but then we stop giving them reasons to stay.  

If you are interested in the panel discussion in its entirety check out the live stream: http://bit.ly/2JBNcQ4

Stay tuned for our next Meetup this September! If you are not already part of our Meetup group follow the link to make sure you are updated on all our upcoming events.

‘Returnships’ help stay-at-home mothers get careers back on track

This Article was orignially published in The Globe and Mail on May 7th, 2018

Author: Saira Peesker

Something big happened in the world’s workplaces while Laura Boisvert was at home raising kids: The internet. From 1999 to 2011, while Ms. Boisvert was a stay-at-home mom in Toronto, the internet went from a fast way to send letters to the ubiquitous backbone of most workplaces.

She had used computers in her previous job at the Sears Canada head office, but so much had changed that she was way behind.

“I felt stupid,” said Ms. Boisvert, 52, describing her first attempt back into the work force, doing administrative tasks part-time at a friend’s law office. She had to learn so many new technical skills that she felt like a drag, and says she never really settled into the role. “It was challenging and frustrating.”

Toronto startup ThinkData Works has made it a priority to help women in this situation and is challenging other companies to do the same. Co-founder Bryan Smith said his data analysis firm is offering a “returnship” – a short-term paid placement aimed at helping women relaunch their professional careers after extended stints at home.

“We’re looking to provide the opportunity to people who may be more senior and experienced in the world they’re coming from but who require short-term, contract or part-time work as they transition back to work,” he said, noting there is no specific job description, salary or term because they will develop a role around a successful candidate’s skills. “We want to respect the knowledge of people applying.”

It’s not just the new employees who will benefit, Mr. Smith says. He sees it as a way to attract skilled senior people to the startup world while addressing the significant gender gap in tech at the same time. Shortly after posting the opportunities on the ThinkData Works’ website in April, the company began to hear from potential applicants, even though it has not advertised the positions at all, Mr. Smith said.

“A lot of the initial feedback [from applicants] is, ‘Is this really real?’ We have to say, ‘Yeah, it’s something real!’ ”

In the United States, returnships have become an increasingly popular option for women looking to brush up on skills and ease back into the work force, particularly in the startup world of Silicon Valley. Large companies such as IBM, Goldman Sachs and Deloitte all offer such back-to-work programs.

Toronto’s most prominent returnship is Women in Capital Markets’ Return to Bay Street, which works with a broad group of financial institutions to help women relaunch careers. In four years, the initiative has placed 42 women back in the industry.

Critics of returnships have said slotting experienced female workers into internship-type roles can undermine their skills or delay their search for a permanent job. But sometimes a taste of success is just what a woman needs to feel confident and ready to commit long-term, says Beatrix Dart, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

She believes a truly helpful returnship involves meaningful work and could lead to a permanent position.

Dr. Dart, who teaches strategic management, says when women are out of the work force for a long time, they often experience the collapse of their professional networks, which can make it harder to find the right opportunity. Other common hurdles include doubts that employers would hire someone who has been off for so long, guilt over stepping back from family responsibilities, and uncertainty about what types of jobs to pursue.

“Many women say, ‘I know what I don’t want to do, but what is it that I do want to do, and am I good enough for it? Can I prove that I have a skill set that is relevant for today’s world?’ ”

Dr. Dart is the executive director of the Rotman Initiative for Women in Business, which runs a Back to Work training program that gets hundreds of applications for 35 spots available each year.

“You have to allow women to work through all of those issues,” said Dr. Dart, adding the program concludes with participants giving a professional presentation to representatives from real businesses, which often leads to hires. “[These workers] have a different level of maturity and experience that shows very quickly, but might need some extra support finding their niche.”

For Ms. Boisvert, that niche was a multifaceted role at recruiting firm TalentMinded, which initially hired her for a short-term project that rolled into a permanent position, which she still holds.

TalentMinded is now helping ThinkData Works recruit for its returnships. Co-founder Kim Benedict has done a lot of thinking about the best ways to increase female participation in sales and tech, and says one solution is to address the language used in job postings. She says terms such as “rock star,” “ninja” and “relentless” can give the impression of a male-focused office culture, as can phrases like “don’t take no for an answer.”

Several mothers who recently returned to the work force have found employment at TalentMinded, which offers flexible hours and allows staff to work from home.

Ms. Benedict is excited about ThinkData Works’ returnships and hopes other firms offer similar positions. She cautions that increasing a company’s gender diversity takes conscious effort. Employers should start by thinking about how a woman with a family might feel about working there. Are the hours flexible? Is part-time work an option?

“Part of the problem is that there are just more men in the funnel,” she said, explaining businesses in a huge rush to hire are less likely to get diverse candidates. “You need to try harder, and it will take longer.”

Your job postings for sales positions are boring and full of clichés, expert says

By Alex Coop @itsjustalexcoop

After running 66 sales job ads through an online scorecard, recruiting expert Kim Benedict discovered nearly half them fell into the same traps – they were too long, masculine in tone and riddled with corporate clichés.

These mistakes are actually very common, says Benedict, who is the CEO of TalentMinded, a company that provides subscription based, monthly managed recruiting programs. Benedict, who led a workshop during ITBusiness.ca sister publication CDN’s Top 100 Solution Providers gala event in Toronto about how to attract more women to sales, used Textio, the online tool for creating better job applications, as a jumping off point.

“Why do we still stink at hiring women in sales?” she asked workshop participants.”Well, the reason is because we haven’t changed how we go about recruitment.”

The lack of effort around how businesses recruit has caused women entering sales positions in Canada to slow down to a crawl. In the last decade, the world has only experienced a three per cent growth in the number of women entering sales positions, according to a LinkedIn study.

“We need to walk the talk,” said Benedict, citing the conversations she’s had with company executives who frequently tell her they want to hire more women but then actually fail to build strategies to make that a reality.

So what can businesses do? Quite a lot, says Benedict, and it doesn’t have to break the bank either. In addition to avoiding the common job application cliches, Benedict says start by answering an applicant’s primary question: why should they apply in the first place?

“We rarely ask what the applicants, and women, want from these jobs,” she said. Opportunities for leadership roles in the future, maternity leave – these are a couple of things people want to know about right away.

The sales position itself is associated with many misconceptions, Benedict pointed out. People often believe salespeople need to be aggressive and that they want to make money by tricking people into buying something they don’t need. These misconceptions might take time to stomp out, but Benedict quickly pointed out that emotional intelligence, leadership and strong networking skills are actually some of the key drivers behind a successful salesperson. She also suggested companies audit their recruitment departments and treat them as a core part of their business. Companies should also consider video job ads, which she said leads to five times more engagement.

“Form strong partnerships with your recruiters,” said Benedict. “This relationship is broken in so many organizations.”

Other tips for better recruiting strategies include:

  • Use data to make decisions, not your gut feelings.
  • Use real people instead of stock photography in your job ads. Authenticity goes a long way.
  • Explore returnship programs. Returnship programs, similar to internship programs, help people who are returning to the workforce.