Advancing women, one conversation at a time

Roxana Brongo
Oct 20, 2017 · 4 min read

Here is a conversation between Marilyn Cooke and me.

Even with a massive shift and integration in the the labor market almost 70 years ago, women still have a hard time in some sectors. In workplaces within the digital technology sector for example, the recent news of a culture of harassment at Uber combined with sexist remarks by an engineer at Google — a company that prides itself on its culture of diversity — seem to underlie a much more widespread problem .

Taking on this problem and overcoming it is no small task, but we do celebrate those women that take on the challenge. Our very own Roxana Brongo, Creative Lead — Innovation and New Technologies — at Valtech Montréal, has created an inspiring space within our digital agency, advancing women one conversation at a time.

Why have you created a group at Valtech Canada that is focused on addressing issues faced by women?

RB : The idea was seeded after creating a women’s group within our internal communications tool, Slack. That virtual environment gave us the opportunity to share articles and other sources of information about women in the labor market and the issues facing us, particularly in the digital world.

We found we were wanted to go further than just reading and sharing articles about these issues; we wanted to create a discussion, an exchange of ideas and share challenges in a more intimate way. Hence, we had the idea of ​​creating a group that would meet regularly. We called it 50 + 50. Often, through group discussion, people realize they are not the only one with a particular problem, and that by listening to someone else who has already had the same problem, it can be overcome. Solutions can be shared.

What happens during the group meetings?

RB : We do it in the form of an informal “5 à 7”, a term that means “Happy Hour” in Quebec. It’s an informal meetup. We start by choosing a contextual theme, and we incorporate a practical workshop, a brainstorm session on solutions or an open discussion. Sometimes we invite panelist or watch an inspiring video. They key to it is to advance an idea, to boost the evolution of our professional lives and inspire our colleagues. We invite our male colleagues to join us, thus the name: 50+50!

How do you see the evolution of women in digital?

RB : I think there’s a certain momentum on the topic currently. The number of crisis’ in U.S. companies, and certain proposals by the White House have illuminated the behavior and culture of corporate culture that is toxic for women.

More optimistically, on our side of the border, the egalitarian government formed by our Prime Minister has made waves around the world. We have to ride this wave to ensure that we continually talk about diversity. We need include men in the discussion and leverage this for change. Inclusion is not just a burden that should be held by women and minorities! Everyone needs to work together to create inclusive environments where women can have a place to move up the ladder.

What do you have to say about women leaders in high tech?

RB : When we think about startups, IT companies, or even agencies located in Quebec, we still do not see spaces where there is parity, or a diversity of people. I think Valtech Montreal is an exception to this. When we present our leadership at 50% female, it’s always surprising to others, in a positive way. It also inspires … especially women, who often lack role models. At Valtech, 55% of all employees are women. This is a good mix and adds a richness to the exchanges we have in developing our projects.

Do you have any advice for women starting out in this domain?

RB : What I would say to the new generation of women is that we realize, through our meetings, that there are benefits to having a space dedicated to talking about these topics among colleagues. It’s very different from talking to family or friends, who do not necessarily live the same issues. If these groups do not exist in your workplace, create them! Unity is strength, so it’s important not to isolate yourself: many women live the same challenges that you live. While helping overcome them, groups like this can help you network and improve other soft skills. ;)

Designer & Illustrator. Creative Lead at @ValtechCA. Founder of 50+50 women’s group. Love tech, art, travel, animals and third-wave espresso.

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