The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business in Canada is Emily Jones Joanisse, CEO & co-founder, Connected Canadians, a nonprofit organization that promotes digital literacy skills amongst seniors and older adults.
Name: Emily Jones Joanisse
Job Title: CEO & Co-founder, Connected Canadians
Years in the Industry: 15+
The Quote That Most Inspires You: “Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality, per se.” (Charles Eames)
What drew you to a career in the technology industry?
My father introduced me to programming at a very early age so studying computer science and going into the technology industry was a natural choice for me.
I founded Connected Canadians, an NGO to connect seniors with free digital technology training and support, with a former colleague and fellow female in technology. We both saw the need for a more scalable solution. Many Connected Canadians volunteers are new Canadians who are highly skilled technology workers and collectively, they speak 12 languages. Since the onset of COVID-19, Connected Canadians has shifted to a remote-support model and we currently have volunteers from coast to coast who serve seniors nationally. In many ways, it is the most complex technology project I have ever taken on, and with the most diverse and interesting team and customer base.
Connected Canadians is the result of all my technology experiences and also my time spent in STEAM-focused youth charities, including Shad Canada, an organization that was transformational in my life. It became apparent to me some years ago that Canada’s senior population was being left behind and was vastly underserved in digital literacy development and ongoing digital support. Leveraging my background in technology, management, and education to address this inequality has been an all-consuming passion since we founded Connected Canadians. In today’s world, particularly post-COVID-19, digital literacy and accessibility is no longer a luxury; it is now a basic human right.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
Yes. Working in technology has been a character-building experience in many ways. While sometimes it felt like my gender was a contributing factor to me being hired or being asked to join leadership teams at tech companies, I frequently found myself butting heads with leaders (often male) who resisted yielding control to myself or other women on meaningful issues. And this left me feeling perpetually underutilized.
In contrast, Shad Canada was really refreshing as an organization, as from a gender perspective, the campuses were fully balanced in terms of male to female participants, collaboration, and contribution. Unfortunately, this was not really representative of the way things worked in the tech sector 10+ years later. Because of this realization, founding Connected Canadians with another woman was a deliberate choice on my part.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
I would say that what I bring is based less on my gender and more on my cultural background, life experiences, and upbringing. Connected Canadians is unique in that we’ve consciously made it a place where gentleness is a characteristic that’s sought-after and highly valued. We believe that to create the most successful environment for senior learners to thrive, they must feel safe and they must feel heard. This means that our team members must be highly intelligent and experienced in technology, but also be humble and self-aware.
This was certainly inspired as well by my time spent at Shad, both as a participant and as a staff member, where it became clear to me that in order for many intelligent people to truly blossom, a very specific type of open, collaborative culture needed to be cultivated and reinforced.
In my experience, this approach is quite different from the world of corporate tech, where aggressive opportunism and bravado are often rewarded, and gentleness is looked upon as an undesirable trait.
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?
The technology industry needs more female founders. As I’ve experienced, the positive impact of placing more females in higher positions at male-dominated companies can be limited when organizational leaders are focused on maintaining the status-quo. Creating environments where real feedback loops are in place can certainly help attract more women. True leaders, male or female, want input from all levels to improve their organizations. This requires leaders who can convey genuine humility, accept and act on feedback, and have an earnest desire to help all team members become the best versions of themselves.
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’s been a goldmine of learning experiences, both positive and negative. Everything I’ve faced has motivated me to think deeply about organizational culture and what brings out the best in people and teams.
Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you?
My co-founder Tasneem Damen is an ongoing inspiration to me. She kept her day job as a software architect in the tech industry while supporting our mission at Connected Canadians. As someone who faced a number of barriers to success and overcame all of them, she cares as deeply as I do about breaking down barriers for those who are marginalized. She works tirelessly to make the world a better place.
What are some of the misconceptions/myths about women working in the technology space that you’d like to dispel?
I think the biggest myth that I’ve encountered is that women care less about career progression than men do. When fighting past employers for raises for women on my team, I heard senior leaders say things like, “She doesn’t need a raise, her husband makes a high salary.” That thinking is arguably sexist and totally misses the fact that salary should be a tangible acknowledgement of work well done and nothing else.
Women have the ability to care deeply about a multitude of aspects of their lives, including career. While they may deeply care about their families and interests outside of work, this does not detract from the importance of their career in their lives. It’s very short-sighted to assume that all of these aspirations cannot coexist.
What’s one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
One of the things I’ve struggled with most in my previous management roles is the tacit acceptance of unpaid overtime. Even though I’m an admitted workaholic, feeling that I needed to use my influence to make others work unpaid overtime on evenings and weekends was an ongoing source of angst for me. Of course, many individuals in tech are as driven as I am to produce high-quality work but exploiting that desire among team members is highly objectionable to me. I believe that many provincial labour laws need to be modernized to reduce the ability of large companies to exploit high tech workers for their own financial gains.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
As our industry and society in general becomes more attuned to the need for diversity and inclusion, I am certainly optimistic about the future. As more and more innovative partnerships start to form between for-profit tech companies and not-for profit/educational organizations, I think that fresh ideas and more holistic approaches to improving user experiences will start to permeate the way tech companies operate, increasing empathy and making the world a much better place in the process.