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The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business in Canada is Susy Martins, Global Head, People & Culture, ApplyBoard, a Canadian educational technology company.
Name: Susy Martins
Job Title: Global Head, People & Culture, ApplyBoard
Years in the Industry: 20 Years
The Quote That Most Inspires You: “If we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.” – (Malala Yousafzai)
What drew you to a career in the consumer and/or business technology industry?
This is my first job in the world of tech. In fact, my background consists of working for global corporations within different functional areas like business operations, human resources, and finance. I didn’t start my career journey with ApplyBoard because it was in the tech sector, I chose it because I’m highly connected to the mission of the company and I’m strongly aligned with ApplyBoard’s goal to democratize access to global education.
When I first heard about the mission of ApplyBoard, I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of that team. Before I started, I asked myself questions like, “Where do I want to make a difference?” and these questions led me here to this purpose-driven company.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
In STEM and tech, you’re often surrounded by a lot of men, so you have to speak up often in order to be heard. I have always been strong at speaking up for myself, especially if I feel I’ve been treated unfairly for any reason. As a woman, it’s important to bring this confidence to the table. I also think it’s integral to your career happiness to surround yourself with strong leaders with admirable values and work for an organization that upholds values that you believe in.
If you’re working for a leader with high-integrity values, most of the issues that arise can be resolved through open conversations and candid discussions. ApplyBoard’s values (like caring for one another) are underscored in everything we do and are a big part of the hiring process. These values resonate with each of the team members and are at the heart of our purpose.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
I don’t necessarily see myself as specifically a “woman in tech.” Instead, I see myself as a business professional with a strong global lens, with experience working in more than 20 countries. I worked half of my career in various business functions (like operations and finance) and the other half on the human resources side, giving me a unique perspective. As the Global Lead for ApplyBoard’s People and Culture team, I’m deeply passionate about helping people and driving employee engagement.
I believe that mentorship is an important pathway for every team member to consider and invest time in. Early on in my career, I had the benefit of working with mentors and it helped me land new positions throughout my journey. For example, I received my first post-graduate job offer following the completion of an Asia-Pacific internship program that I networked to have created specifically for myself and future students.
I have always stayed close to my Alma Mater at Western University and currently sit on the university board. I have volunteered as a mentor for the Women in Communications and Technology and I even started my own women’s network when I worked at General Electric in Europe. The success behind women mentorship is building relationships and developing a network with women with strong career experiences and backgrounds.
My favourite part about mentorship is building your relationships with new contacts outside of your circle and deepening your understanding of each other’s perspectives.
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 attract more women, particularly into high-level positions?
There are many ways the tech industry can attract more women, particularly into high level positions. In my opinion, workplace flexibility is the best draw for women to any organization. It’s no question that the pandemic has changed the future of the “workplace” and proves that there are a lot of ways to “get the job done.” In fact, we remotely onboarded over 900+ team members since March 2020. One of the biggest trends we’re seeing from working from home is the flexibility it has offered. Flexibility in the workplace is not just a win for women, it improves the work/life balance and it will foster an environment that promotes a strong work environment.
Companies that continue to offer more flexibility in terms of the hours, schedule, location, vacation, et cetera will help all employees, not just women, have a more harmonious and less rigid relationship with work. The pandemic forced the world to be more flexible and will continue to have an impact on the future of work.
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?
I’m super proud to work at ApplyBoard during this exciting time in tech. I have been lucky enough to work for companies in both my past and my present that were all champions of diversity and inclusion. I’m extremely grateful for the mentors that helped me early on in my career journey and since then, I have made it a priority to seek out opportunities to support women and become an accessible partner for other women, whether it’s with students at Western University or with the ApplyBoard team.
Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you?
There are so many amazing women in the tech industry that I’m a big supporter of and one that comes to mind is our very own Alexa Abiscott, our General Counsel and Secretary. She’s an amazing woman who I’m constantly inspired and driven by here at ApplyBoard.
Alexa is an experienced general counsel, governance leader, and privacy officer with complex in-house organizational expertise. I admire Alexa for her solution-oriented thinking, collaborative approach, and change-making attitude. Alexa is also a big champion of other women and is the Co-Founder and President of Women General Counsel Canada. Women General Counsel Canada is led by Alexa and incredible senior women in general counsel and legal executive roles from across Canada with diverse professional backgrounds. Alexa prioritizes working with other women in the general counsel community to grow, connect, and contribute across Canada.
What’s one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
There’s a lot that can be done to diversify the candidate base and grow the prospective talent pool. Here at ApplyBoard, the leadership team has always been a big advocate of diversity and supporting women’s career development. ApplyBoard’s mission is rooted in educating the world by democratizing access to international education, which in turn, helps to build a diverse candidate pool right at the source.
It’s no secret that a big factor standing in the way of those interested in a career in tech is the lack of financial access. That’s one of the main reasons we launched our new STEM for Change Scholarship Program this year. We wanted to drive diversity and inclusion by empowering international women to pursue an education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The merit-based scholarship awarded up to $100,000 in scholarships to seven finalists from Nigeria, India, Barbados, and Pakistan.
I’m a huge supporter of helpful pathways, support systems, and resources like this that are focused on building diversity right at the source and at the first step of a candidate’s journey: education.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
Absolutely. The future of tech is bright and continues to evolve. I’m constantly inspired by tech companies driven to help one another, solve problems, and break down existing barriers. ApplyBoard is a perfect example of this. ApplyBoard has fundamentally changed what the study abroad experience used to be and gives the power of choice to students.
Martin Basiri, CEO and Co-Founder of ApplyBoard, was once an international student himself. He faced several challenges and difficulties during his journey applying to school and moving to Canada from Iran. Martin’s experience as an international student formed his deep appreciation for how the right educational experience can transform your life.
ApplyBoard’s streamlined tech platform encourages more students to pursue an international education simply because it has lowered a longstanding barrier and does it well. In only six years, ApplyBoard has grown to a team of over 1000+ people around the world and has helped over 200,000 international students with their educational journey.
It’s remarkable and exciting to think about what the tech industry will be capable of in the near future.