By WiFi HiFi
The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business in Canada is Mary Peterson, Vice President, Enterprise and IT Solutions, Samsung Electronics Canada
Name: Mary Peterson
Job Title: Vice President, Enterprise & IT Solutions, Samsung Electronics Canada
Years in the Industry: 30
Quote: “In the future, there will be no female leaders, there will just be leaders.” (Sheryl Sandberg)
What drew you to a career in technology?
I have never considered myself a “techie.” In fact, I didn’t spend time early in my career, or in school, being hands-on with technology. However, I’ve always enjoyed understanding how technology can solve business problems and drive business results. I’ve been fortunate to have a career spanning a very important period of time in the evolution of technology.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
The roadblocks I have encountered in my career have less to do with being treated differently as a woman and more to do with the reality of pressures of working career women – whether we expected it or not! My roadblocks came at that time in my life where the demands of my home and young family began to weigh on me. I was conflicted with the concept that “maybe I can’t have it all?” I always pictured myself as someone who would have a career and a family, and that it would all work out together, happily ever after. I was forced to make some personal decisions that I hadn’t anticipated, but they were the right decisions for my family and for my wellbeing at that time. I jumped out of the workforce for four years when my kids were young and then jumped back in. At the time, it was a difficult decision to leave, and an equally difficult “re-entry.” But in hindsight, it was the right thing to do for me and my family. And in the long run, I don’t believe it negatively impacted my ultimate career path.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
I don’t believe the characteristics I bring to my organization are valuable just because I am a woman. However, I do believe that women and men approach situations differently because our brains are fundamentally wired differently, and our experiences have also made them different. The same can be said regardless of gender – we all approach situations uniquely. And, the key is to be able to understand that, and work with people accordingly. Communication, empathy, integrity, and leadership are all key characteristics for being successful in leading teams, and working with other people.
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?
I recently reflected on the progress of women in leadership positions and in the workplace in general during my 30-year career, and I am disappointed to tell you that we haven’t made much progress at all. There have not been any significant changes to the support provided to women during the years when their children are young. This is when we lose women in the workforce, and we need to create environments to keep them at work: i.e. job sharing, part-time options, parental leave, affordable daycare, et cetera. If we can support women through these crucial years, they will be able to stay in the workforce and ultimately be our future leaders. I have been fortunate to work for an organization like Samsung Canada that empowers all employees, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education and religion, to be who they are and bring their best self to work each day.
We should also support girls and young women to embrace STEM education – grass-roots organizations like Girls Who Code as well as mentorships, scholarships, and public education-based programming.
Finally, the 23 per cent wage gap is unacceptable, and the technology industry needs to take an aggressive stand on correcting this or we will continue to see a declining population of women in technology.
If you had to sum up what it is like being a women in this male-dominated technology industry in just a few words, what would you say?
There are no line-ups for the ladies room at tech conventions! Joking aside, women have the same opportunity to be successful in the tech industry as men do – there just aren’t as many of us.
Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you?
I’m still close with a group of women who started in the “early days” of the industry with me. We were pioneers in this business, and I am so proud of all that we have accomplished, and all that we went through. Not only were we early successful women in the industry, but the industry itself was young, and we played a part in creating what it is today.
What’s one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
I wish that, after 30 years, I could reflect back and see that women have made progress in this industry – to see that we represent 50 per cent of senior management roles, 50 per cent of the workforce, and have equal pay for equal work. However, that’s not the case, and I wish we had embraced this mission and moved it forward with us. But it’s never too late!
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
Yes! The pace of innovation within the technology industry has never been quicker, and Canada is playing a key role in the industry. I am also optimistic that, with the maturity of the industry, we will see a better gender balance and that more women throughout the ranks, who have built the industry over the past several decades, are the women who will take on senior executive roles now and in the future.