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. We've published our full Q&As with each of these women, as well as additional women in Canadian tech. Here, we chat with Melika Hope, Head of Product, Small Business & Self Employed Group, QuickBooks Canada
Name: Melika Hope
Job Title: Head of Product, Small Business & Self Employed Group, QuickBooks Canada
Years in the Industry: 8
The Quote That Most Inspires You: "If you can walk you can dance, if you have talk you can sing" - (Zimbabwean proverb)
What drew you to a career in the consumer and/or business technology industry?
I had a very non-traditional entry to the tech industry - I fell into it. I originally went to school for music, and then transitioned to business school with the goal of becoming an accountant. After I got my designation in accounting, I was looking for a new challenge and was attracted to a tech role that was looking for someone with an accounting background.
In the back of my mind, I had always intended on going back to finance or accounting. But since entering the industry and embracing my current product management role, I haven't looked back.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
I wouldn't say that any of the challenges I've faced in my career are roadblocks stemming from my gender. Like many women, I've experienced situations where I've felt uncomfortable or been painfully aware of a level of unconscious bias through being the only female in the meeting room. But I haven't let situations like this hold me back or limit my career.
One of the most important things we can do to proactively eliminate roadblocks is be vocal, and to ask the hard questions.
For example, during an all-hands with our CEO, I asked (in front of the entire company) what tactics and strategies we were employing as a company to improve diversity and gender equality. This led to a 1:1 with the CEO where I could continue the discussion. In this situation, you could say it assisted my career rather than held me back.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
There's no one contributing factor to the perspective that I bring. Rather, it's the combination of my experiences.
First and foremost, being a woman of colour- a massively underrepresented group in the technology sector - I believe allows me to bring a unique lens and approach to the work I'm doing.
But there are other contributing factors. For example, part of my unique perspective comes from my non-traditional, non-tech background.
Working at a tech company, more often than not you are working to design products that are accessible and relatable to as many people as possible. The more diversity you have at the table, the more experiences and perspectives you get, which all works to design products that will better fit the people they're being built to serve.
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?
One of the most important factors to succeeding in this task is to ensure that we have the full ally-ship and mentorship from men who are currently in those high-level positions.
When roles are open, more often than not people will look to their networks first to fill them. It's natural to have your network filled with people just like you. Unfortunately, this can also promote a cycle where we see a continued lack of diversity.
This is also true with mentorship. When looking for a mentee, you will often look for people who remind you of yourself, which will produce a specific type of candidate.
By having men make a conscious effort to bring women to the table, to seek out female mentees, and foster future leadership skills, we will be setting up long-term success.
Moving outside of the workplace, it's also about getting people excited about the industry sooner rather than later.
There is a big focus these days on getting more women into STEM which I think is hugely important, but I also think it's true for the overall business landscape as well. When I was in business school, my classes were only about 30 per cent women. I think that starting to engage girls at a younger age, and having young girls think "I want to be a CEO and run a company one day" will make huge strides for women in every industry down the road.
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?
It never gets boring.
Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you?
I have recently started to learn more about Melinda Gates. I find there is a trend of spectacular women who happen to marry men who are in the public spotlight, and therefore appear to take more of a ‘backseat.' However, her contributions to Microsoft's success were significant, and in any other circumstance, she would have been a name in her own right.
Recently she announced that she is committing $1 billion to promote gender equality in the U.S. I found this especially inspiring because it's a direct example of how she believes that women's potential is worth investing in-and how she is taking direct steps to make the changes that are so desperately needed.
I think it would be difficult to find a way to describe Melinda - a woman who helped shape a hugely successful company, run a global charity and also make the decision to be a mother - that doesn't include the word inspiring.
What's one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
Tech is interesting because in some ways it's so accessible and anyone can build an app in their basement with limited resources, but it can also be incredibly inaccessible.
I wish there was more diversity, and more opportunities for diverse candidates to get into the tech industry and be successful. Whether it be from lack of funding opportunities, being at the right place at the right time, or getting into the right schools I think there is still a way to go to ensure that we're giving everyone equality of opportunity, and hiring teams that are representative of the communities we're serving.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
I try to choose to be optimistic over pessimistic. I think that as technology is getting more and more accessible, it has the potential to change and improve the world for the better. We are starting to see countries and communities with limited infrastructure and resources become more independent and provide their citizens with more opportunities through innovative means.
As well, kids are starting to learn how to code from a young age, and with the socially and environmentally conscious Gen Z starting to grow up and come into the workplace, I am hopeful that we're in store for some significant and positive global change.