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The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business in Canada is Andrea Bartlett, Director of HR, Humi, a Toronto-based human resources technology company that provides HR software for SMBs.
Name: Andrea Bartlett
Job Title: Director of HR
Years in the Industry: 6 years
The Quote That Most Inspires You: “Better an ‘oops’ than a ‘what if.’”
What drew you to a career in the consumer and/or business technology industry?
My whole life, I have been drawn to technical industries and I have always seen things through a people lens. I started my career in a small business and have evolved over the years to work exclusively with startups, and I absolutely love it. The Toronto start-up ecosystem in tech is thriving, interconnected, and challenging. It’s an industry that is constantly evolving and presents new opportunities to grow and be exposed to new experiences. This makes every day different and exciting.
This is especially true working in the startup tech world as a Director of Human Resources at Humi. I’ve always liked working in ambiguous environments, where the problem is clear, but the way to a solution is not. I’m drawn to this industry because growth is non-linear and I like the challenge of understanding new situations and solving problems by focusing on the people. It’s a rare opportunity to have a seat at the table leading HR for an HR software company. As the subject matter expert that solves problems every day for my team and for our clients, it makes me feel like I am a part of the change, and it’s exciting.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
As a woman, you are always more in tune with passive comments made about your gender. I have been fortunate to find myself working at Humi where I feel equal, respected, and supported by all members of the team – and especially the leadership and founders. In past roles, I’ve faced questions about my family status, future plans, and my age. There are the overt comments I’ve witnessed from past colleagues about women being harder to manage because they’re more vocal, or male team members refusing to hire women on their team because their wives wouldn’t like it. Those are (infuriating but) easier to navigate. But the nuanced and structural barriers are not always as easy to navigate.
Lack of female leadership, longer working hours not being suitable to working women because of family needs, lack of female representation in a candidate pipeline – addressing those take commitment and time. Learning how to navigate those questions and conversations is a learned skill. Unfortunately, it’s common for women – especially in the financial or technology industries – to be asked very personal questions. It’s a fine line I try to balance, to own the stage I am at in my life, without oversharing – especially if I believed the question could come back to bite me as I moved through my career. However, these instances have reminded me that my voice matters and that as a leader in tech and in HR, my role is to continue to support women to feel empowered. I’m fortunate to work with a leadership team at Humi that works to remove these barriers and elevate women at work; and enables me to use my voice and platform to do that.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
I have realized that my superpower is to be the business’s gut check. Specifically at Humi, I am the first female director and I bring an important perspective to practices that otherwise would be created by men. I sit at the table with women’s best interest in mind. It isn’t about accusing anyone of building practices that don’t support and enable women at work, not at all. But ensuring that it is part of the conversation, a perspective that is shared and understood as an opportunity for education, is the perspective that I bring. Humi is an exceptional example of a male-led tech startup that is constantly looking for ways to lead the industry to be more equal, more empathetic, and to actively listen to its people and be a catalyst for change.
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 to do in order to attract more women, particularly into high-level positions?
I fundamentally believe that change starts from the top of the organization. The conversations that drive change need to be had among board members, the C-Suite, and the leadership team. Historically, the technology industry has gotten the reputation of having a “bro culture.” This is partially due to the significantly lower number of females founding technology companies.
When women aren’t part of the leadership group early on, it becomes challenging to create an inclusive workplace for women, as businesses – or entire industries – grow. It’s pretty well known that our personal networks reflect who we are, where we live, and the type of people we associate with. For a start-up, this means the first few hires of a business will be represented by talent who are similar to the founding group. Having this awareness at the forefront of all hiring discussions, especially in the early days of building a business, will help technology leaders build a diverse group of talent at the leadership level and across the entire organization.
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?
Trust your gut and dive in head-first. There is no right or wrong way and there is definitely no benefit in holding back. Being open and honest in the early stages will go a long way to building trust and communicating where I’m at in my professional development has helped me find advocates, mentors, and new opportunities for growth.
Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you?
Yes! There’s such a long list. But outside of Humi – Tamar Huggins. I think the work that she does to support girls and children of colour in tech through education and innovation with her company Tech Spark is incredibly important to the Canadian ecosystem of the future. At Humi – Ying Soong who is one of our Board members. She’s someone who somehow manages to do it all as a leader in a male-dominated industry, Board member, and mother (of five!) It’s almost intimidating how intelligent she is. I consider myself really lucky to have her to look up to and learn from.
What are some of the misconceptions/myths about women working in the technology space that you’d like to dispel?
Women do not need to adjust their tone or shrink themselves to fit into a room dominated by men. If you feel like you have to do that, you may be in the wrong room. I’ve done that in the past, and it changed me. I was lucky enough to have mentors who called me out and supported me through change, and I’ve never felt that I have had to be anything other than my true self at Humi. You can’t go around dimming your own light, just to walk around with others (thank you, Oprah).
I’d also like to dispel the perception that all tech startups and companies have a “bro culture.” There are a tremendous number of companies that are leading the charge towards improved representation and diversity in the workplace and hold space for women to feel included.
What’s one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
I wish all startups would talk more openly about the overall health of the company and what future success looks like, especially early on in the recruiting stages. Is the company appropriately funded? Is it set up for success? Is there enough funding to support our people? The answers to these questions are too often disguised, which makes it hard for potential new hires and employees to understand the growth of the business. People are excited to get into the tech industry! We’re seeing a shift of people choosing to walk away from stable jobs to enter high growth startups and be a part of a change, to have an impact. We’re talking about people’s lives and livelihoods here and being transparent about the overall health of the company needs to be talked about and understood, early on. If we aim to be more transparent with the company’s health, we can better support and inform our people, which will build a more sustainable technology ecosystem.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
Yes! I am extremely optimistic for the future of technology. With recent news of some of the largest tech giants choosing Toronto as home base, it is a really great indication that we are building a healthy and competitive ecosystem that people are excited to be a part of.