In the April 2018 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine, we highlighted excerpts from our interviews with several influential women in the tech industry in Canada. Every Friday, we'll be publishing our full Q&As with each of these women, as well as additional women in Canadian tech. Here, we chat with Ruth Casselman, COO and co-founder of Alert Labs, a Kitchener, ON-based start-up that makes smart water sensors.
Name: Ruth Casselman
Job Title: COO and Co-founder, Alert Labs
Years in the Industry: 19
The Quote That Most Inspires You: "I didn't come this far to only come this far."
What drew you to a career in consumer electronics?
The status quo frightens me. I need to be challenged. I need to see the possibility of a better future. And to me, technology is the way to make this happen. I started my career right when the Internet was beginning to impact mainstream society, and technology was the most exciting, challenging, and growing sector for a career. The broad scope and potential for technology to make things and life better is exhilarating, and I find that many people that are attracted to tech are gregarious, welcoming, and open to broad change.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
Challenges are a part of growth, both personal and professional, and they can be extremely frustrating, especially when they come from something as arbitrary as gender. I've definitely encountered old-school folks who assume that my gender negatively affects my ability. I choose to ignore these folks, and their opinions, and continue building an awesome company.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
I try to ask the Why and How questions in our organization, not just the What questions. How is this going to impact our employees? Why does Feature A better reflect our customers' needs compared to Feature B? How can we make our work environment more inviting? Why should our customers buy our products?
Having women on leadership teams, regardless of industry, provides balance and a different perspective, and this can only result in a more open-minded organization.
Technology is historically a male-dominated industry, yet the use of tech is fully embraced by women, and many studies even suggest that females are the primary buyers of tech in the home. What do you feel the technology industry needs in order to attract more women, particularly into high-level positions?
Even though technology has been dominated by men, there are so many women who have made historical contributions (Marie Curie, Katherine Johnson, Jane Goodall, Roberta Bondar, and many more). For me, I have been drawn to the many benefits of technology - how can tech help me or my family? How can tech make improvements to quality of life? How can tech help the environment? How can technology be an equalizer across races, genders, or socio-economic barriers? These are the types of questions that keep me engaged in tech. In order to attract more women and women leaders to tech, the industry needs to focus less on the feeds and speeds (which I could care less about!), and more on the benefits of technology.
If you had to sum up what it is like being a woman in this male-dominated technology industry in just a few words, what would you say?
Empowering, challenging, with a world of opportunity.
Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you?
I'm inspired by entrepreneurs in general - people who keep overcoming even in the face of all of the reasons why we could fail. Being a visible minority (women, people of colour, etc.) in the already tremendous role of entrepreneur is massively admirable.
What are some of the misconceptions/myths about women working in the technology space that you'd like to dispel?
My kids think I'm Wonder Woman, but I don't want to dispel this myth. ;)
Your question applies to more than just women. We could substitute the word "women" with any other minority group and the answer should be the same; everyone deserves the chance to be assessed on individual merit, and not only one aspect of their whole self.
The biggest misconception about women in tech is that they don't have the same commitment to career as their male peers, and in reality, this misconception can impact how managers view a woman's career growth potential. Earlier in my career, I sat in meetings where it was openly discussed about whether a given woman would likely be having children in the near future and how that affected her eligibility for a promotion or opportunity.
While it is a misconception that women are less committed to their careers, there are greater demands on many women's time when it comes to family and children. This is changing, especially in tech, as it becomes the norm for fathers to take paternity leave and to share in child care responsibilities.
What's one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
Equal pay for equal work is my number-one concern for our industry (and most industries!) I don't "wish" it was done differently - it HAS to be done differently. My hope is that the tech giants will lead in embracing transparency and equality in compensation regardless of gender and race, and then this will trickle (or explode!) down to the rest of the industry. Until then, I challenge leaders in tech to be vigilant to ensure that pay is equally distributed, and I challenge women in tech to keep demanding pay that is equal to your peers.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
In today's political climate, optimism can be fleeting. But for me, the only option is to hope for, plan for, and build a better future. When industry and political leaders have equality and inclusiveness as goals, then our joint future is welcoming and bright.