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Insights Employee Experience

Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Closing the Gender Gap for Women in Technology

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Symcor April 09, 2021
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The Elephant in the Room is an ongoing series of insights where thought leaders and experts reflect on ideas and trends shaping our world. The metaphorical ‘Elephant in the Room’ draws attention to issues and challenges of today, inviting conversation to effect positive change for the future.

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Despite sustained efforts to address women’s under-representation in historically male-dominated sectors such as information and communications technology (ICT), significant, long-lasting change remains elusive.

Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) reports that women in technology roles are a minority in the Canadian ICT industry. The overall participation of women in the sector, across all roles, has remained relatively unchanged over the years, and in 2020, it stood at 31%.

Symcor, a solutions provider to Canadian industries for 25 years, is an outlier in this regard in the technology industry. Women represent 51% of Symcor’s total workforce, while its executive leadership team is made up of 60% female leaders.

The story behind these numbers is that of determined, strategic efforts to nurture a workplace that is diverse, inclusive, and supportive of women. Symcor was recognized as WCT’s 2020 Company of the Year for these very accomplishments.

So, what does an organization need to do to develop such a workplace? What are the fundamental factors that determine a woman’s success in a technology career? And how do we enable those women impacted by the pandemic to return to the workforce?

In this edition of The Elephant in the Room, Symcor’s Head of Human Resources, Ana Brtan answers all these questions and more while sharing her experiences and the lessons learned while charting a career path in the technology industry.

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Q1: Technology is pervasive and should reflect our society in its entirety, including women and other under-represented groups. Looking back at your own career journey, can you reflect on the factors that supported your path in the technology industry.


Ana: I think a lot of it has to do with the education piece, the society angle and ensuring you set up females to understand that equity is possible – that they should expect it and courageously ask for it.

Sometimes women are limited by their environment and are unaware of the opportunities they can access. I grew up with siblings, both male and female, and being the oldest, I learned early on how to take on tasks that were traditionally gender-specific. I would work with my father, an immigrant to Canada, at his job sites, where I learned how to install windows, put up siding and other jobs that required skills and expertise. I was also responsible for caring for my younger siblings when my mother went back to work, following a pause in her career when she cared for our family. I think the experiences that you're exposed to early in life help shape your view of the world and widen your horizons about the possibilities.

I was also very fortunate to have strong leaders and managers who helped put me on that path. They helped me recognize opportunities that challenged me out of my comfort zone. When doubt crept in, the leadership around me was saying, “You can do this.” Listen to what you’re hearing from your leaders - it helps position you for your future path. I would say that throughout my career, I've had a number of really strong leaders that helped move me along. And they were both male and female.

There were also times when I saw an opportunity and raised my hand and asked for it. It’s about having the courage to see opportunities, to grab hold of them, and show your value and your worth, regardless of your gender.

I think Symcor has been an amazing example of the change we can achieve in the technology sector. I think back to when I first interviewed with and researched Symcor. I recall being amazed by the robust representation of women at the C-suite level within the company. I thought, “Well, that's incredible. I want to work for a place like this”. Companies need to strive to have that visibility at the higher levels of the organization, to drive results and also to attract other like-minded women to join and contribute.

Q2: It has been reported that nearly 100,000 working-age Canadian women have exited the workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to fewer than 10,000 men. We know that maintaining a gender diverse workplace is a company-wide objective for Symcor. How do you keep that momentum during such extraordinary times?


Ana: It has to come down to being very purposeful in hiring from specific talent pools, like women who have taken themselves out of the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and are looking to re-enter.

I do recognize, not everyone has a support network around them to help them juggle their personal and professional lives. I think as a society, we have to do better for females in working environments right now.

As an employer, we have been offering flexible working hours to employees caring for children or elderly family members at home. When schools were shut down, we advised our managers to work with their teams and flex where they needed to. We are committed to supporting our employees to help balance their work-life priorities.

I think there's opportunity for us to potentially leverage certain groups that have evolved out of COVID. I'm hearing about groups of women who let go of full-time jobs but are looking at part-time opportunities to consult. I think we definitely have opportunities there as we look at our recruiting plans in the future.

We have actively supported and enabled a resource group at Symcor called EMERGE, which has done great work during this time. EMERGE has a commitment to empower, motivate, encourage, recognize, grow, and educate Symcor employees on their leadership journey. As our employees have been separated in virtual working environments, this forum has been organizing virtual fireside chats, providing employees an opportunity to network and interact with leaders in the organization and raise awareness around unconscious bias, equal opportunity, and leadership training.

Q3: What is your vision for Symcor when it comes to how we serve the communities we are in?

Ana: Our purpose, our North Star – Connecting for Common Good, is larger than the company itself. We are an organization that represents all Canadians and is firmly rooted in a culture of ‘do the right thing’ for our employees, partners, and communities. Our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy focuses on five pillars of inclusion, education, community, environment, and health. We are committed to conducting business in a socially responsible manner. It’s foundationally part of who we are as a company.

We conduct our operations in a manner that minimizes potential negative impacts on the environment, and we promote proactive environmental stewardship among employees. In fact, for ten consecutive years, Symcor has been recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers.

From an education standpoint, we support and sponsor various non-profit organizations who provide essential skills and training to children and youth to prepare them for lifelong success. This is driven by our signature cause, Possibilities. We want to end the cycle of poverty through education of marginalized youth. Symcor supports various charities under this purpose. Pathways to Education, United Way, TutorMate, STEM Minds are just a few of the organizations we have partnered with in the past year.

Q4: If there was one piece of advice that you would give to your 21-year-old self, what would it be?

Ana: Looking back, I would probably tell myself, “don't stop trying and giving it your all”. Don’t let the doors close in front of you, keep pushing them open. And don't close them behind you to help some of the others who will follow in your footsteps. I think that is key. I try and embody that in my everyday life right now.

I look at how I evolved in the career I have today, which I credit to the environment I grew up in, but also the leadership around me as I progressed over the years in my career. I try and lead in the same way for my teams now, taking what I’ve experienced from my leaders in the past and bringing it forward.

Don't be afraid of taking chances and actively asking for opportunities. You should grab hold of them. There's nothing that you'll regret more than letting prospects pass you by.

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Ana Brtan

Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer

Ana oversees the resources, training and strategy that empowers employees to follow Symcor’s North Star of Connecting for Common Good. In her role, Ana shapes Symcor’s overall employee experience, advances well-being, diversity and inclusion, and champions Symcor’s cultural transformation. Her progressive talent strategy supports Symcor’s business objectives as well as the growth and development of its employees across 9 locations in Canada. Prior to joining Symcor in 2019, Ana held senior positions in organizations across Canada and the U.K., including HP and DXC Technology. Ana earned her Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree from Carleton University in Ottawa, with a specialty in Strategic Human Resource Management. Ana is an avid traveler, exploring new locations with her family and spends as much time as possible on the slopes in the winter months.