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Header-Women working in technology makes a massive impact Why the future of tech is female
• Mar. 27, 2024

Sophia Leung never planned to work in technology, let alone in technology at a bank.

She was just a child when her family immigrated to New York City from Hong Kong, and it was there she fell in love with science after an elementary school teacher introduced her to an after-school science lab.

Leung followed her passion and pursued a science degree at Barnard College, part of Columbia University, studying biochemistry. The future she saw for herself was one of lab coats, microscopes, and research.

But while she was at college, she had an opportunity to travel to Japan as part of a Women in Science tour and met different women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It was that trip that helped her consider that maybe her passions lay elsewhere.

“That experience opened my eyes up to the fact that the world was much bigger than what I knew from spending time in a research lab,” Leung said. “I came to realize a career is like a scavenger hunt for love; you just keep looking for what makes you excited to come to work every day, and technology was it. It challenged me and provided endless opportunities to problem solve.”

Shortly thereafter, Leung decided to study computer programming. As part of a corporate training program, she accepted a job as a technology analyst at a major global financial institution at a time when technology was starting to truly disrupt the industry.

More than 20 years later, Leung continues to work in technology at a bank. Now at TD, Leung is the Senior Vice-President of Protect Platform, where she works to help protect the Bank and its customers’ accounts against security and fraud threats.

“I look at myself as being really lucky, because this career journey wasn’t something I had planned,” she said. “But even having spent this much time in technology, I still feel like I’m learning every day. I constantly feel challenged and motivated by meaningful problems that I get to help solve.”

When Leung started out in the technology space, women executives weren’t as common as today. But now, in an industry that has traditionally been male dominated, the face of the landscape is slowly changing: More women are entering the tech industry and serving in executive positions, bringing with them fresh perspectives to help solve problems, find innovative solutions, and create products that consider the diversity of customers.

“I get a lot of inspiration talking to other people. At TD, we have a great culture of support,” Leung said. “If I have career questions, or need someone to talk to, I can reach out to someone easily at TD and I extend that back to my colleagues. I like to think you should always be ‘learning and returning’ knowledge.”

Changing the landscape

While Leung is a trailblazer in her industry, there is still a need for greater progress, which is one of the reasons she mentors women and girls. Part of her mentoring work includes speaking to high school students about career opportunities and advocating for more diverse leadership teams across TD.

In 2001, women represented 21% of tech workers in Canada, according to research published by the Globe and Mail. In 2023, that number only increased to 24%.

Deloitte reported similar findings. As of 2022, Deloitte estimated that in global tech roles, women represented 33% of the workforce, representing an increase of nearly 7% from 2019.

However, the most notable growth, according to Deloitte, is in leadership roles at large, global tech companies: Between 2019 and 2022, Deloitte estimated that the number of women in leadership positions grew by nearly 20%, meaning that roughly one in four leadership roles was held by a woman.

“Having women working in technology makes a massive impact,” said Abby Webster, Senior Product Group Manager of the TD Intranet and Social Engagement Platform, who manages a team on the corporate technology side of the Bank. Her work focuses on helping TD employees better serve customers through technology.

“If you don’t have that diverse perspective, you are missing out on so much knowledge and lived experiences that can help solve problems from a customer-centric point of view. I always think about who our customers are, and how my team should represent them.”

Webster, who has worked in tech for nearly two decades, has seen the makeup of the industry shift – especially over the last few years. About 12 years ago, before joining TD, she would be in meetings and notice that women’s ideas or insights were not listened to the same way men’s often were.

“When women were assertive, they might be called aggressive, so I had to find ways to deal with that,” she said. “I had to challenge that conduct when it was happening in a way that got men to realize what they were doing and turn them into allies.”

But even though there’s been progress in the field, bias remains.

Recent research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that despite growing representation of women in STEM roles, gender barriers still exist. Stereotypes around STEM being a “masculine” space, unconscious bias in hiring and promoting women, and a lack of female role models are a few of the issues MIT identified.

These barriers are part of the reason why Webster strives to use her leadership role to help create an inclusive environment where everyone on her team has a voice and seat at the table. She mentors women who might be experiencing imposter syndrome by helping them work through their feelings and gain confidence in their knowledge. It’s important for her to help women see themselves as valuable assets in the industry.

“I don’t give my team members platitudes; I talk to them about their expertise and how powerful they can be,” she said. “I share my career experiences with them, but I also want to make them feel empowered to find their own path.”

At TD, career development is a key priority, and colleagues are encouraged to have a development plan and discuss it with their managers. To help support this activity, TD is committed to supporting women colleagues professionally with tangible programs to help them build and grow their careers. There is also a strong group of allies within the Bank focused on promoting inclusion.

One of the ways the Bank helps to foster inclusion in tech is through the Platform and Technology Women at TD Enterprise Resource Group (ERG). This group is focused on helping to create a community of women supporting one another in their career growth through networking and relationship-building with colleagues they might not have connected with otherwise.

The ERG hosts networking events that are meant to feel more casual to help alleviate some of the anxiety that can come with networking. Leung says these TD events help with career progression opportunities and establishing mentoring relationships.

“These Platform and Technology ERG events are also wonderful opportunities to showcase the incredible talent we have at the Bank,” Leung said.

In addition, TD has provided its women employees with access to the WIT Network, an external not-for-profit that provides content, development, and learning experiences for women in tech to help them in their career journeys through training, mentoring circles, community events, and conferences.

The importance of allyship and supporting others

Tayo Badejo joined TD in 2022 and works as a Scrum Master at the Bank, which is a role that helps guide cross-functional teams working on products or services to maintain the goal of delivering value to customers. She coaches employees, helps them focus on their goals by reminding them why they are doing the work, and helps remove obstacles to progress.

With a degree in computer science, Badejo has worked in various roles including accounting, HR, and finance throughout her career, which began in her home country of Nigeria. One of the reasons she chose to pursue a tech career at the Bank is because of its recognized inclusive culture amongst colleagues and customers and the opportunities employees have to advance their career within the organization. The ability to grow at TD – and learn from others – attracted her to the job.

“When I moved to Canada four years ago, I was seeking mentorship,” she said. “But I realized that I also have something to give back. I’ve been at TD for fewer than two years and I have already been part of various initiatives at the Bank, including opportunities to be a mentor and a mentee.”

In tech, Badejo says, it’s important for women to share their knowledge and support each other. It’s also important for her to support other Black professionals both within and outside of the Bank who are just starting to explore a career in technology.

She does this through volunteering with the Obsidi Academy, a program created by the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) and sponsored by TD. Obsidi Academy supports the learning and upskilling of Black individuals interested in tech and helps connect program graduates with a job at the Bank.

Badejo is optimistic that the tech landscape is becoming more diverse and inclusive each year. Through women working in tech supporting and encouraging other women interested in the sector, gender parity will hopefully become a reality.

“One person cannot know everything, and if you’re thinking of solving a problem that affects many demographics, you need to have representation at the table,” Badejo said.

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