Paulina, a Senior Recruiter from Canada’s Digital Factory, sat down with Monica, Digital Accessibility Lead at Scotiabank, to talk about challenging norms and achieving your goals.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Put the kettle on, pull out the morning paper and read the news as I drink my coffee. Early mornings are my quiet time — no one else is awake. I’m actually still trying to adjust to that quiet time because the last of my three kids just moved out.
What was your first job?
My first job was at McDonald’s. I started there when I was 15 and by the time I was 16, I was a manager. It was a great experience. I remember winning a contest and being named the ‘French Fry Queen’ for all of Toronto. Being a manager at such a young age was very unique and I learned some big life lessons.
How did you land a job out of university?
My first job out of school was with a company called DADA (Designing Aids for Disabled Adults) — run by a fellow female engineer and her husband. They designed the first alternative input device for a personal computer, which allowed people to use Morse code and single switch scanning (instead of a traditional keyboard). I worked a little on the development side of the tool, but also setup an assessment program that provided people with disabilities technology that matched their profile. It was pretty innovative at the time. DADA was a small, non-profit company, which was challenging because we constantly lacked the sufficient funding to run it. It eventually collapsed, but my co-worker and I realized that the work we had done was too important to let go so we started our own consulting practice. In order to support our venture, we both took on part time consulting jobs — mine was at the University of Toronto Accessibility Services office.
What made you get into accessibility?
I’ve always been good at math and science, but couldn’t figure out what to do with it — it was either psychology or engineering. Eventually I found a program that combined the two, called Systems Design Engineering, which was an innovative program with a human factor component. I wanted my education to have a focus on people. When I was starting out, I never thought that I’d work in accessibility. While searching for a topic for our term project, a professor asked us if we wanted to help find a technical solution enabling people with a disability to write letters to their families on their own. So we built a solution. My interest in human computer interaction grew from there. Not a lot of people get to see things on the ground level — what works, what doesn’t — it really shapes your problem solving and how to overcome barriers with unique ideas.
Why is accessibility important to you?
Accessibility is about living the principles of inclusion and diversity. From a business perspective, it is ensuring that we are empathetic and are considerate of a wider customer base. Everyone has financial needs and goals and they should be able to meet them independently without having to ask someone else, such as being able to pay for things on your own. We can’t afford to leave any customer behind. But it’s also important from an employee perspective, because being an accessible organization allows us to attract and retain unique perspectives. If we aren’t accommodating our employees then we aren’t going to get those unique voices. One of the members of my team at Scotiabank needs assistive technology, and as a bank we have a policy that we will accommodate, which means buying that technology. If people have valuable skills and knowledge but there’s a barrier to execute, then we need to provide them with the right tools, so that they can perform and we can benefit from their knowledge.
Tell me about what you and your team are doing at Scotiabank. What do you hope to accomplish?
We want to make thinking about accessible design and development a foundational piece in everything that we do, so it is considered to be just as vital as privacy and security. We want to expand that conversation out to innovators in the inclusion space. What can we provide and communicate to our customers that differentiates us in truly being an inclusive bank?
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Very early on I was told that girls aren’t Engineers and that women don’t go into science. I had professors that told me that girls just don’t do Engineering. So the perception that I’m a woman and should be at the table in technical conversations is a challenge. It’s about taking a place at the table and challenging the norms and perceptions of what you can and can’t do, and not being afraid to take that stage.
What inspires you?
People who stand up for what they believe in, challenge norms and work to create a more inclusive society.
What advice would you give to someone starting out their career?
Don’t limit yourself. Try as many different opportunities as possible and don’t shy away from non-traditional jobs and workplaces. Take risks! See each experience as a learning opportunity and use them to shape and build a career that matches your skills, interests and that is meaningful to you.