- By Colleen McNamara
The new realities of the tech-centric workforce has, in many ways, required a reassessment of how well values of equality are played out in the public space. Through its exponential growth in the last decade, tech has been prodded to take a step back, and ensure that its hiring practices and company cultures are propelling the values of equality forward, not backward.
In a slew of reports published in the US last year, the number of women working in the tech industry was only 30%, despite the fact that women account for 59% of the total workforce. Despite the challenges that face the industry, SweetIQ surpasses the industry average by 15%. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be celebrating our bright women leaders as we near International Women’s Day.
Meet Emilie Fournelle, Director of Product at SweetIQ. Emilie began her journey as a Program Manager at SweetIQ nearly a year ago, and was promoted to Director not long after. She leads a team of nine people, and is the key strategist for the development of SweetIQ’s platform. Emilie sat down with me to answer a few questions about her career development, her day-to-day, and how women in tech can be crusaders for equality.
1. Tell us a little bit about your background: where are you from, and where did you go to school?
I’m from a small town near St. Sauveur called Prévost. I went to highschool in St. Jerome, and did my degree and my MBA at Université de Quebéc à Montréal in Fashion Marketing. It was a great program; students were given plenty of opportunities to understand the realities of the workforce.
2. How did your background lead you to where you are today?
Well, I should mention that during my time at university I started a company with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. We launched Raphaël-U while I was in CEGEP (in Quebec, that’s a couple of years of college after high school), and the company is actually what inspired me to pursue fashion marketing. I wanted to get better at my “day job” as a fashion entrepreneur!
3. Wow. So you ran a company and attended school at the same time? How did you make that happen?
It’s all about the team: I had a great team at Raphael-U and we were experiencing very intense growth; we were doubling the size in our market every year. We specialized in school uniforms. I jumped in and helped in every way I could — so that means I worked in a warehouse, drove a lift, managed a team, just to name a few, all in between the ages of 18-27. During our rush right before the school year begins, it wasn’t uncommon to work for 24-hours straight. Needless to say, good training for those long-haul tech hours!
4. What happened next — how did the jump from fashion to tech happen? Was it accidental or purposeful?
When I finished my degree in marketing, I went to do my MBA right after. I knew I wanted to transition out of fashion eventually, simply because I was passionate about learning more about the digital sphere, and I wanted to really expand my skill set and knowledge base.
When I was finishing up my MBA I applied for a job at Yellow Pages on a job hunting site. I wasn’t expecting anything. The entire transition into the tech world was actually very organic. I applied for a Go-To Market position and got it. My job there was to oversee SEO and website — where I planned pricing, training and collateral for product.
5. What was the company there like, did you work with people who made a big impact on your development?
Well Yellow Pages has been around for over 100 years; it’s a matured company, so it’s very structured. In comparison to the typical start-up environment, the pace isn’t as crazy. So this is all to say it’s a great place to learn a ton in a tech environment, while there’s some breathing room to ask questions and take slightly more time with your projects if you need to. There’s plenty of training available too, which is also great for young, eager people. And when I was there, I met two women in particular who have become key mentors for my career.
6. What were the qualities these women had that made them “mentors.”?
The delivery of constant and open feedback; both negative and positive comments. There was a clear sense of openness, and a willingness to give me projects and let me grow into the position. I was a afforded a lot of liberty, freedom and trust to run with it and learn along the way.
7. Tell me about your jump to SweetIQ: why did you choose to take the next step, and what’s it like developing a platform in such a competitive industry?
I met with the executive team and I loved the vision they had — there was a clear direction toward the future and I knew of their strong influence in a niche market. I also saw how much potential there was to grow, both as a professional and along with the company. I was very excited at the potential to contribute to something that was going to evolve greatly and have the freedom to implement my own ideas.
As for developing a platform in a competitive industry, it’s always challenging, but that’s what makes it fun for me. And I would say that there’s a big reliance on the team aspect, too. Your team needs to be your central motivator and your reason to push forward. In this industry, there’s a lot of pressure to perform and constantly evolve — but if you keep looking towards the future, you’ll be in a good position.
8. What qualities do you try to use in your own leadership?
Transparency is key for me. From my first mentors, I really learned the value of feedback. But I also want my team to feel like they can approach me with anything. I work on instilling a strong sense of team; always cover someone else’s back.
9. Do you think that equality has been achieved in the workplace for women, or is there more to do?
I think we might be getting closer. But there’s so much more to do, particularly within emerging tech environments. I think tech could take some lessons from the jobs like notary or a lawyer; I think that where there is more structure, there might be more room to implement protocols and strategies towards a diversifying staff.
On the other hand, with less structure there’s more room to grow — but that might only be for a certain personality type. There’s pros and cons to each, but taking certain elements from hyper structured companies may be a good solution.
10. What advice do you have for women going into a tech environment who want their career to grow?
Just roll with it — you are smart, you can do it. If someone beside you is capable; that means you are capable. At this point, I think one of our biggest challenges is the widespread problem of Impostor Syndrome. We need to believe in ourselves and ask for the things that we want, and trust in our own intelligence and value.
11. How do you recommend we go about overcoming the challenges we face in a concrete way?
As I said before, the most important thing is to be confident. Don’t be held back by the past. Go for whatever you want and just do it. I also think it’s key that women hire more women and other minorities. We need to sponsor each other, mentor each other, and push for progress from within our own companies. Also, know your target when you’re negotiating at work: be firm and stand your ground.
12. Do you see the current political climate in the US as a setback?
No — I think the opposite. The demonstrations around the world are showing solidarity. It’s inspiring for me and shows we have the potential to keep pushing towards diversity. The sense of camaraderie I’m witnessing is something I feel within the tech industry as well. We need to keep doing more of this and moving forward. That’s the key.
Want to work with Emilie at SweetIQ? Check out our current openings right here.