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CDN Women of IT event explores empowerment

Anne Sado, President of George Brown College, was the keynote speaker at the CDN Women of IT Channel event.

When Anne Sado first graduated from her industrial engineering program more than 30 years ago, she didn’t want to be known as one of a rare breed – a woman engineer.

Now the president of George Brown College and a member of the Order of Canada, Sado said at the time, she was one of just three per cent of women graduating from her program.

“When I entered the workplace, I resisted being called an engineering woman. I was an engineer,” she said, addressing about 100 attendees at the third annual Women in the IT Channel recognition event, hosted by Computer Dealer News and Ingram Micro Canada.

Yet Sado’s perspective began to change when she began to realize how much resistance she was truly encountering from her male colleagues. They branded Sado and a small group of women engineers as the “knitting club,” she said – leading her to realize more had to be done to close the gender gap.

The problem is, in some ways, there is still a glass ceiling for women looking to move up higher in their companies, said Carmela Orlando, president of Insight Canada, during a panel discussion held earlier during the event.

“We’re tapping at that glass ceiling, but we haven’t broken it yet,” Orlando said during a panel discussion, held during a luncheon at Graydon Hall Manor. As one of the panellists, she said she believes women are becoming more and more recognized for their abilities and expertise, but there are still lingering perceptions about women, preventing them from making more of a mark.

Women definitely have external pressures that men do not necessarily face, like raising families and believing they have to take on everything alone, said Nympha Lee, vice-president of marketing and communications at FlexITy Solutions Inc. As another panelist, Lee said she believes many women still choose to opt out from their careers because of those pressures.

Yet Jennifer Anaya, Ingram Micro’s vice-president of marketing in North America, said she doesn’t believe there really is a glass ceiling. During the panel discussion, she said nowadays, there are many women in CEO roles at IT corporations, and women shouldn’t feel they are limited or forced to choose between career and family.

Yet all panelists agreed that women in IT should be encouraged to build a community that supports its members through networks like LinkedIn and events gathering women in one place. Mentoring one another is also a great tool to encourage women to pursue greater roles in IT.

And that was true more than 30 years ago too, Sado said during her keynote. She and the other members of the “knitting club” are still close friends who have developed successful careers, despite all the opposition they encountered when they were first starting out.

And she’s optimistic about women’s opportunities in jobs that have been traditionally reserved for men. When her son graduated from his geological engineering program this year, she was amazed to see his class photo – about half the graduates were women, she said.

“I wanted to frame that photo and put it in my office,” she said, to applause from the attendees.

“Only in the last decade have we started seeing a more level playing field,” she added. “We don’t have equal pay or equal opportunity yet, but we have greater respect and co-existence with our male colleagues.”