We had the privilege of speaking with Joanne Helm, Lead (Senior Vice President) of Strategy at iQmetrix, about the most practical ways to achieve equal representation of women in tech, keeping in mind that women’s leadership entails much more than just running a company, the role iQmetrix has played in advancing women in the field, assisting in closing the gender gap and giving them the favourable working conditions they deserve, and the most frequent challenges they face.
Joanne has been with iQmetrix for over 12 years where the majority of her tenure has been focused on leading the company’s Strategic Partner Alliances. Recently, she now oversees iQmetrix’ People Operations and Acquisition Success. Joanne is known for her energetic optimism and genuinity. Outside of work she holds a love for gardening and gushing over her nieces and nephews.
How would you describe your 10 years at iQmetrix, working in Integrated Solutions, Business Development, Enterprise Omnichannel Sales, and now as the Lead (SVP) of Strategy, focused on steady growth and experience within iQmetrix’s current partner ecosystem?
I would describe my 10 years at iQmetrix as exciting and challenging, filled with incredible and deep relationships.
The last decade of iQmetrix has seen tremendous growth within our SME retailer base, securing us as the number-one point-of-sale software provider in the North American wireless sector. This was followed by a market shift to focus directly on enterprise and carrier business, which paralleled the industry’s aggressive consolidation as well as new entrants into the industry. The telecom industry undergoes a great deal of change annually, let alone over a decade, and it’s been our job to ensure that our products and services continue to provide value enabling our retailers to stay ahead of these changes. They rely on our foundational products to keep them innovative and adaptable.
This is what makes iQmetrix both an exciting and challenging workplace – between our workplace culture and the changing nature of our industry, we have organically created the opportunity for iQers: to wear many hats of responsibility, gaining experience and making an impact across many areas of the business; to be comfortable and confident with change in prioritization, product expectations, accountabilities; and learning quickly from both our wins and our failures to become stronger.
What makes iQmetrix different from most tech companies is the relationships that we have with our colleagues, clients, and partners. Our business is focused on hard work, lifting each other up, being humble, and being kind. This resonates through the industry and has been a linchpin of our success, no matter what the change in the industry. Looking back at my decade-plus of memories, it’s these extraordinary relationships and moments that resonate the loudest.
What do you believe are the most practical approaches to achieve equal representation of women in tech, considering that women’s leadership entails much more than only managing a business?
There are hundreds of initiatives that can be used in striving for an environment of equal representation, not only for equality of women but for a fully DEIB-led organization. I believe this strategic thinking needs to be led by two macro-pillars. First, this needs to be led from the very top; you need a board and/or executive team that truly wants an equally represented workforce. Secondly, you need a culture that uses diversity as a superpower, enabling all voices to drive value in your business. A culture of equality is not something that happens naturally, unfortunately. It must be something you cultivate through actions of all your leadership.
With that said, some initiatives to highly consider are:
Both mentorship and sponsorship initiatives from female leaders, starting as early in the career as possible. Through time flexibility and internal programs, encourage your women leaders to spend time coaching others on how to navigate through their careers, based on their own experience and network.
Have Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging strategies for your business that are led from the top. These strategies need to be woven into a culture of empathy, communication, and understanding. As Aiko Bethea says, “DEIB work is never transactional if we want it to be transformational.”
Review your pay and recognition to ensure you’re compensating equally; the data won’t lie.
Enable a flexible working environment where clear boundaries are viewed as a healthy mechanism for strong leadership. Policies, such as flexible time, and benefits overarching need to be created using feedback from women directly. Especially from those who face challenges outside of the office that are unique to women – such as a mother returning from maternity leave, a woman going through menopause, or a woman going through transition. Business leaders must seek feedback from the source on what is required or desired for the most inclusive working culture.
Finally, more female-led businesses need to be funded, period. (Pun intended.)
How has iQmetrix aided in the advancement of women in the field, helping to reduce the gender gap and providing them with the favourable working conditions they deserve?
Our parent company, Chrysalis, has a clear vision focused on “The Art of Being Human; to create a world in which people bring their whole selves to whatever they do and engage creatively and constructively to the benefit of all.” iQmetrix is built from this foundation and has a very strong culture of empathy and communication. This culture is the center point of enabling an equitable workforce.
At iQmetrix, we are fortunate to have strong female leadership within our Executive and our Senior Leadership teams, representing 40% and 50% respectively. This started with deliberate decisions made by our board many years ago to strive for diverse voices and opinions. Through the years, mentorship and sponsorship has continued as a strong internal focus to accomplish this balance. In our telecom industry, which is still very male dominated, we view this as a competitive advantage both for employee experience as well as for our external voice to clients and partners alike.
Tactically we have many ways in which we ensure equal pay and benefits. We audit our compensation bi-annually; benefits are reviewed annually to ensure we’re providing competitive offerings both for mental and physical health support; we offer multiple ways to support women through paid time via our Trusted Vacation and Sick Leave (both unlimited, “take-what-you-need” programs), generous maternity/parental/adoption leave, and Community Involvement and Learning Days.
Lastly, and I believe most importantly, we acknowledge that we are not perfect. We’re transparent internally with areas of our business where we believe we need to strive for better. It’s this vulnerability that provides a safe space for iQers to speak up where they feel we have gaps and, best of all, to come with proposals on what other companies or industries are doing where we should perhaps trial or adopt within iQmetrix.
What according to you are the most common challenges faced by women? And what are the possible solutions to overcome these challenges?
Unfortunately, there are a number of ceilings left to crack. I’ll highlight two overarching challenges. The first one: the need to change societal norms. Easy, right?! Women are still the predominant contributor within the household and in raising children. Even if we have supportive partners that are, for example, willing to be the one to leave work to pick up a sick kid from daycare, the typical reaction is, “She’s a bad mom because she’s putting her career first.” While most of us felt we were making significant strides the last decade, a global pandemic occurred and pulled us backwards again. Staggering numbers of women left the workforce during Covid to care of children or parents and unfortunately the data still doesn’t show a strong return. Forbes reported in January that 53 women CEOs are now leading Fortune 500 companies marking – for the first time, that we hit 10%. While this is exciting to celebrate, it’s a stark reminder of how much further we have to go. There are numerous conversations to tackle: Federal and Provincial legislation; education curriculum, program funding and mentorship for girls starting in early education; workforce training focused on biases to eliminate male vs female prejudices; the list goes on. What I will say is, as women, we need to continue to push to change these norms – bringing all women, no matter age or colour, alongside us. If we aren’t challenging the status quo, no one else will.
The second overarching challenge is to challenge ourselves. We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to having confidence in our experience, education, self-worth and this leads to daily imposter syndrome quotes such as: “I can’t apply for that job I don’t have enough <insert personal let-down here>”; “I’m scared my boss will think I’m not doing a good job”, while being the best performer in your department; “I’m not sharing my opinion, I have no idea what the answer is” while being the most informed individual in the room. Focus on changing this narrative by: doing the personal work of knowing who you are with clarity on the values you hold; create appropriate boundaries so you can enforce the balance your work and personal life requires; work hard, be prepared, and showcase your skills through strong outputs. This will supply you with the confidence to shut off that devil on your shoulder and allow you to sit at the table, because you deserve to be there.
What expert advice would you like to provide to all the aspiring women out there in order to motivate them to realize their potential and take part in the decision-making process?
A few words of advice from my viewpoint:
Do not be afraid to take on experiences or projects that are not a part of your daily job. If there are opportunities that present themselves where you can learn something new, work with a new stakeholder in the business, or expose yourself to a different department, jump in and try it. These are key avenues to building and exposing your brand both inside your company or also, potentially, externally to clients or partners. Oh, and you’re likely to learn a new skill — add that to your resume.
Acknowledge and become comfortable with the fact that you’ll screw up many times throughout your career. If you’re not failing at something that means you’re not taking on risk in your role. The key part to failing is: owning the failure through acknowledgement with your manager and/or team, don’t blame someone else for it; if you’re in control of fixing what you broke, fix it; learn from the failure; finally, share your learnings with others so it’s ideally not repeated.
Never stop learning. This does not mean you have to achieve your MBA or a PHD, though those are good things too, this can be as simple as having a monthly coffee with a colleague who’s career path you admire. Reading, listening to podcasts, being mentored, being a mentor, job shadowing, networking, etc. Find avenues to continue to expand your thinking.
Your career journey is a long one, don’t be in too much of a rush: Take time for sabbaticals/vacations to let yourself breath; if you aspire to have a family, don’t be worried if there will be available work on your return – there will always be work; focus on your mental and physical health by actually blocking the time into your calendar.
You will get tons of leadership advice throughout your career. Some of that advice will suck, some of that advice will be life-changing. Don’t conform to every piece of advice thinking that it’s all good. Listen, acknowledge, deliberate with yourself on what matters, and consume only what aligns best with your values and career path.
Lastly, let me highlight a fellow Canadian, Rupi Kaur, who has better advice than anything else I’ve highlighted: “What’s the greatest lesson a woman should learn? That since day one, she’s already had everything she needs within herself. It’s the world that convinced her she did not.”