Reflections from the Only Girl in the tech room

Change isn't pretty - Zii travel Technologies

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind – Anthony Bourdain


Change isn’t pretty

Diversity, inclusivity and equal opportunity in the workplace.

After being inspired by the various social movements surrounding recent events in regards to diversity, equity, inclusivity and in honor of February’s Black History Month across North America, our marketing team set out to create and publish a video on the subject of diversity and acceptance in the tech workplace. What came of it was a video that features Nelson Kana, Software Development Engineer at Zii Travel Technologies. Originally from Cameroon, Nelson joined us, a week after landing in Canada, and has since become an integral part of the team.

The testimonial speaks of hope for better times to come. It also covers our approach to inclusiveness in the workplace. It appeals to the next generation, driving the importance of being part of the movement that is encouraging diversity and the representation of visible minorities in the tech industry.

This dialogue needed to be continued and extend the discussion beyond February. I wanted to share my own experience and work philosophy, which emphasizes transparency, diversity and pushes the boundaries of the common workplace culture that we all know too well, and which is unfortunately in great need of a shake-up. I invite you to continue reading, hoping that you will find several parallels between; what I try to convey to my employees and the version that already exists within your own company.

What does diversity look like in a work environment? Why is it important? How does the emotional connection add value?

I started as a young woman entrepreneur over 30 years ago. A year in, I realized that I was usually the only girl in the room. Not only was I the only girl, but all the decision-makers were white, male, and practically all from similar origins and cultures. “Hmmm, why?” I asked myself. After reflection, I quit on the “why”, and focused on the “what” and the “how” instead. My goal was to develop my organization with as much diversity as I could, in order to enhance perspective. At the time, 40% of my customers were women, across a multitude of nationalities, the LGBT movement was starting, and our borders were open to immigration, which increased the need to understand and market to people from different backgrounds.

I believe that the longevity and success of my company are attributed to how authentically we embrace difference. Along the way some of my people were discriminated against, and I had to make some difficult choices. One which was firing a customer. Changing the world is not always pretty.

My favorite quote from Anthony Bourdain, the late world-renowned Chef, makes a great parallel to embracing difference.

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind                                                                                                                                                                -Anthony Bourdain

I think that travel exposes you to the beauty of being out of your comfort zone. It cradles you with abundance.

Why is it so difficult to just accept everyone? Why are we so afraid of the unfamiliar?

As an entrepreneur, I see and act on POSSIBLE. We can do anything we set our minds to; we can make empathy a business value, we can shun racism and ignorance, or instead, we can educate and demonstrate the value of embracing difference. It’s one thing to say you are going to do something, it’s another to actually do it. Ours [at Encore/Zii] is a rich community that engages together on an empathetic level and intentionally recognizes as well as honors difference. When it comes to social movements, the pendulum, first must swing all the way before it comes back to center.  So, for now, organizations that aren’t diverse or face racism and discrimination in the workplace have no choice but to impose diversity in hiring and promoting.  We have seen many announcements about board appointees that are not white males and the emerging role of the Chief Diversity Officer. Role models are a great source of inspiration for our youth to relate and imagine what is possible.

Technology has broken the barriers to entry for anyone that wants to get into the tech field. Knowledge is now accessible through non-traditional channels. The tech industry is burgeoning, available and thirsty for talent.  What is required is not new:  a goal, some drive and above all persistence.  I recommend to anyone planning their entry in the workforce, to find an organization that looks like they embrace difference and provoke personal growth.  Check out who works there and choose the culture that’s right for you, above and beyond the role.

A great story is Carly’s, one of our team members that joined us as a graphic designer.  She wanted to learn to code. The team embraced her, coached her and celebrated her achievements.  She is now a full-fledged and highly valued member of the Zii development team.  Her approach is very different as she applies her design knowledge to her work and now the sharing is bi-directional.

This is a perfect example that does justice to the fact that giving creative freedom, a platform, a voice, the opportunity for professional development for our employees, in addition to guaranteeing; diversity, equality and acting against lack of representation, actually pays off.

It should be recognized that the uniqueness of each individual is a source of richness for the team. I’m instituting a slightly different work ethic from the traditional models. We get together and discuss the problem to be solved and the freedom to design these solutions is left up to the teams. You have to have the audacity to encourage failure to bring about real innovation. Everyone has a role to play, and they come together like a world-class jazz band.

This team evolved and succeeded because of the space they have to create, which is underpinned by irrevocable respect and admiration for one another. We recently had another great example of letting the magic happen, we celebrated the work that has been done by our beloved data scientist, Azadeh, for publishing a research paper on her expertise. [Investigating design anti-pattern and design pattern mutations and their change- and fault-proneness].

If there’s one thing to take away from who we are as a company, it that our creativity is fostered by the 32 nationalities that come together each day.”

“A strong culture is like a healthy immunity.  It autocorrects as needed. There is no need for policies and training on what’s right and what’s wrong. The immune system is so strong that it self-advocates.  The anti-bodies do what they need to protect the core.” – Monique Mardinian

This is exactly my version of what a modern high-performing culture looks like.

So let’s continue these conversations. Turning possibilities into opportunities. Let’s learn and educate each other within the business community. Let’s strive to listen and learn. Racism is just ignorance. Celebrate role models from all backgrounds and make diversity the new normal.

This new engaged generation continues the movement for openness and acceptance. I see a future that embraces rather than discriminates.  It is up to us to write the next chapter of corporate history, that revels and recognizes individuality.

The month of February lasted 28 days, progress is eternal!

– Monique








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