In this episode of PLATO Panel Talks, guest host Heather Stapleton (Director of the Apprenticeship Program) is taking over to dive into the crucial topic of allyship within the tech industry. We’re also joined by panellists Raena Steeves, Keisha Nguyen, and Joel Vautour, as they chat about what it means to be an ally, why it’s so crucial for women in tech, and navigating the complexities of offering effective support. Plus, keep an eye out for our “Allyship Spotlights” that shine a light on PLATO employees’ personal experiences and perspectives on allyship, offering valuable insights. Altogether there’s a lot to learn from everyone’s insights!

Episode Transcript: 

Heather Stapleton (00:00):

Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of PLATO Panel Talks for our panel in honour of International Women’s Day. I’m Heather Stapleton, Director of the Apprenticeship Program at PLATO, and I’m taking over as host this week from my friend Mike [Hrycyk].

It’s been a couple of years now since our panel Women and Testing where our friends discuss the role of gender and diversity in software testing and the experience of being a woman in a tech field. If you haven’t checked it out and are looking for more after this episode, I recommend going back and having a listen. Today I’m excited that we have a chance to continue to have some of these important discussions in particular around allyship and what the role of an ally means for our panel. This is a topic that I think about a lot.

A little bit about my background. I graduated with an electrical engineering degree in 1994 and have been working in the technology industry for 30 years now. Before joining PLATO, I worked mainly in the telecom and internet security fields. While I have seen a lot of change over the last 30 years and great strides have been made, women still make up only about 28% of the workforce in computer and mathematical occupations. Women also drop out of these occupations at a much higher rate than their male counterparts. This is not a problem that women can change without support of strong allies. There are so many great perspectives on allyship, and so we’re also going to do something a little different this episode. Along with our discussion, you’ll hear from some friends cross PLATO sharing their stories of allyship and what it meets to them. To kick off our discussion, I would like to hand it over to each of our panelists to say hello and introduce themselves. So welcome Raena.

Raena Steeves (01:39):

Hi Heather. Thanks for having me on. A little bit about me. I have a CS degree and I graduated in 2000, so I’ve been in IT since then, which would be oh, 24 years, but we can take off a few for having kids. I’m currently a senior manager with PLATO and working with Nova Scotia Power through PLATO.

Heather Stapleton (02:01):

Okay, great. Thanks, Rena. Hi, Keisha.

Keisha Nguyen (02:05):

Hi, my name is Keisha. I’ve been with PLATO since the very beginning. I was actually part of the first software testing course that happened between PLATO and JEDI NB, so I’ve been with PLATO for about eight years now. Yeah, I think that’s it.

Heather Stapleton (02:17):

Great. Thanks, Keisha. Joel, would you like to introduce yourself?

Joel Vautour (02:20):

Hi, Heather. Thanks for having me on. So my name is Joel Vautour. I’ve been in the industry for 35+ years. My current role here is Chief Security Officer. My role is looking at cybersecurity here at PLATO.

Heather Stapleton (02:34):

Great. Thank you, Joel. Okay, so I have a question and I think we’ll kind of do round table and have each of you give your perspectives on it. So the first question would be, what does an ally look like to you and why do you feel it’s important? So Raena, I’ll throw that out to you first.

Raena Steeves (02:50):

Well, an ally to me is someone who listens and it’s someone who supports you and your ideas, and your growth and your success.

Heather Stapleton (03:02):

Great. Keisha?

Keisha Nguyen (03:03):

I’m going to piggyback on Raena. It’s definitely someone who can support you, obviously be open and minded about your ideas and pushes you to be a better person, not just business wise, but also just in life.

Heather Stapleton (03:15):

Okay, and Joel, what are your perspectives?

Joel Vautour (03:19):

Yeah, I think I mirror the same ideas that the others have said. I think the other additional thing that I would add would be someone who takes action. So there’s supporting, but there’s also the addition of taking action, someone that can really stand up against or make changes to support inclusiveness.

Candice Tangie – Allyship Spotlight (03:44):

Hello, my name is Candace Tangie and I’m a Consultant at PLATO. For me, an ally is someone who listens, supports, and stands up for you. Being and having an ally is important because when there’s a network that comes together to support and empower each other, then their voice is louder and the message becomes more powerful. That is when changes, actions and growth happen.

Heather Stapleton (04:09):

And so my next question, I guess that kind of leads into it a bit, it’s can you describe to me a situation where an ally stepped up for you and helped you, and what difference did that make to your career? Raena, do you have some thoughts on that?

Raena Steeves (04:23):

Oh, I have so many thoughts on that. I have so many people in my past and currently who have been allies and, well, everybody really here on this panel has been an ally to me, and I’m so grateful to each one of you. But there has been one time we were on a very difficult project and the PLATO team, if I may say, stepped up. The team members, like the project team members, rallied around each other to boost morale, to let everybody know they were doing a good job. To say, I agree with this and I don’t agree with that, and trying to keep us all together as a team and keeping us moving forward. That was one time. And there was one person in particular who really stood up for so many of us and they added hours to their day to make sure that we were treated fairly and with respect, and that was very significant and it really impacted many, many, many people on this project.

Heather Stapleton (05:25):

Thanks for sharing that. Keisha, do you have a story you’d like to share?

Keisha Nguyen (05:29):

Of course, I’m sure many people have heard this story, but definitely the beginning of PLATO, I feel like PLATO has been a really big ally to not just women in IT, but also Indigenous people in IT, and people of colour. There was a lot of, I would say, stigma around Indigenous people, and probably women in IT, and I feel like PLATO has really been there as an ally to support and push everyone to do better and be better and prove that they can do it.

Dikshita Khichi – Allyship Spotlight (06:03):

Hi, I’m Dikshita Khichi, and I am a Senior Consultant at PLATO. For me, an ally is someone who actively listens and advocates for equal opportunities. They are proactive supporters who challenge biases every time they encounter it. Having allies is crucial because they help dismantle the barriers women face in male-dominated fields like IT. They also promote diversity, which drives innovation and fosters a more supportive work environment where everyone can thrive. Honestly, an ally is just a label. It’s more a commitment to creating a culture of respect and equality. They recognize the talents and contributions of women in tech and work towards levelling the playing field. For me, an ally is someone who stands up for us and with us making the journey in IT more inclusive, empowering, and ultimately successful for all.

Heather Stapleton (07:03):

Awesome. So I guess Joel, from the other side of things, are there situations that you remember in your past, maybe actions you’ve taken?

Joel Vautour (07:11):

So, one in particular, not too long ago I was involved in recommending an individual to take on a project, which was outside of the scope of what my team was working on. But this individual was very much passion in the IT industry, but in particular in AI. And so I asked the director to support this initiative because I was going to lose this person that was going to be on my team as a resource, but it was very important that this person had a passion for AI and there was an initiative at the company to work on this project. So building a recommendation and not just supporting, but giving it an okay that it was going to be fine if that person continued to work on. I’m happy to say that I was very successful in that, and I’m happy to say that even the executives above me supported it as well. So I didn’t have to fight very much, but I don’t think that person would’ve gotten that role without stepping up and asking for it.

Shawnee Polchis – Allyship Spotlight (08:18):

My name is Shawnee. I am an Associate Manager at PLATO. To me, an ally is an amplifier. They help get you to the full potential that you need to be, and they’ll help you when things are tough and take things off of your plate so you don’t have to worry about it. Especially when there are issues or world events that cause just everyday life to be extra hard an ally is so important to have because they’ll take a little bit of that weight off your shoulders so that you know it’s not just up to you to save the world.

Having people to support me when I’m going through a tough time or when I am trying to make a difference, it’s really helped me be able to focus on my work. Additionally, having people in the workplace who are these allies, they help me advance my career in ways that I didn’t even think was possible after being told so much that you’re not going to do anything by people within different systems, whether it was educational or even government. Having someone say and actually show you otherwise has been life-changing for me and I try to be that person for others as well.

Heather Stapleton (09:36):

So I think so far the questions have been more or less straightforward. So we’re going to get into something that’s maybe a little more complex, and I expect maybe a little more discussion. So I expect it can be difficult for an ally to know exactly how to show support and what might be considered going too far, right. They don’t want to be the ones to be seen to be dominating the conversation. They want to support and do what they can and action, but maybe they just don’t know what’s too much, what’s not enough. So how would you recommend or suggest that somebody navigate those tricky waters? Raena, do you have any thoughts on that?

Raena Steeves (10:15):

This is a really difficult question, Heather. I don’t know if there’s ever too much or not enough. I mean, if somebody, if I feel I have an ally in a person and I go to them with a concern, and if they want to take over completely, if it’s cut you out at all, then maybe it’s gone a bit too far at that point. I still think somebody should be involved, but I think there’s so many different levels to allyship. The smallest action or the smallest behaviour. Sometimes it’s just a glance. Those small things matter. So I don’t think there’s any levels to allyship. It’s just something that you feel.

Heather Stapleton (11:05):

Yeah, no, I appreciate that, and I really liked your comment about sometimes just a glance, right? Because just enough encouragement, maybe it just gives you that extra little bit of confidence to do whatever it is you need to do. So the small things matter too, not just the big ones. Absolutely.

Reyna Ferris – Allyship Spotlight (11:27):

Hi, my name is Reyna Ferris and I am an Apprentice at PLATO. For me, an ally is somebody who just makes space for you and to hear you out and listen. There’s been many instances where I’ve been kind of anxious to speak up, especially around authority figures, managers, and it’s just really nice when somebody actually listens and you feel seen and heard. The most important thing an ally can do is just make that space and listen with them to empathy.

Heather Stapleton (12:00):

Keisha, do you have any thoughts on that?

Keisha Nguyen (12:03):

Yes, so when I think about that, I think about if I’ve been in a position where I felt being taken advantage of or even just being spoken to inappropriately or just making someone feel less than, I feel like even a simple message from a team member just being like: “Hey, you’re doing great.” Even if it’s something private. It doesn’t have to be like, oh, I’m going to stand on this mountain, and I’m going to tell them that they’re wrong. It’s even as simple as, “Hey, you’re doing great. Don’t worry about it.”

Raena Steeves (12:34):

Yeah, totally agree, Keisha.

Heather Stapleton (12:37):

Yeah, so I do like that the encouragement, everything’s good. But do you feel like maybe they should have stood up in the moment? Because that makes a big difference too, right?

Keisha Nguyen (12:45):

I mean, it’s true, but I would never put that on someone else. I wouldn’t expect someone else to jeopardize whatever they have going on to stand up for me. But yeah, I guess, like Raena said, it would be honorable, but it could also create backlash, not even just for myself, but for them as well.

Raena Steeves (13:02):

Yeah, I have felt that way though. I felt I’ve stood up, I’ve said something that I believe in when feeling maybe a little attacked, and so I would think, why isn’t anybody else saying anything as well? There must be other people that agree with me, but you take a moment and you take a breath and then you realize, well, it puts a lot on them.

Heather Stapleton (13:23):

Yeah, no, and I agree, and it’s hard, and again, I don’t know that there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer here. So this is why it’s so tricky. Often I feel it would be nice if you had that backup in the moment. It’s always great to have somebody talk to you afterwards to give you that encouragement, and it helps to boost you. But I think the more that people will support you, in the moment, as opposed to afterwards, that also maybe makes you an example for others who were maybe sitting there and thinking, oh, should I talk? Should I not talk? But if they see other people do it, then maybe next time they might be more likely to speak up as well.

Keisha Nguyen (13:59):

That’s true. I guess it all just depends on the situation as well. Obviously if it’s with work, I’m not going to be disrespectful, but if it was just in an everyday life and I’ve seen someone doing something to another human being, then obviously I’d be like, Hey, there’s no need of it. But it varies.

Heather Stapleton (14:13):

Yeah, it’s situational and it is complicated, so it’s not an easy answer.

Joel Vautour (14:18):

Yeah, it’s a hard question. One of the things that I’ve seen in the past and that, as Raena said, stepping up in a boardroom or in a meeting where someone perhaps is not getting a voice and supporting someone’s idea in a call because maybe they’re a little shy doing, but at the same time you said it earlier, it’s not like you’re going to charge in there on a white horse and save the day. I think that’s the wrong way to go because it’s not about you. It’s about the individuals that are not getting a voice or not getting enough respect in being recognized for their input. So I think it’s just important to, as I think Raena said earlier, listen, it’s very key. I think from a male’s perspective, that we just listen and support as much as we can.

Heather Stapleton (15:03):

Yep. No, I agree. I liked your example of the white horse, right? Again, that’s probably too far, right? I mean, I think what most women would want in that situation is someone to maybe back them up and support them, but not charge so far ahead that it kind of tramples them in the process.

Ellery Furlong – Allyship Spotlight (15:27):

I’m Ellery Furlong and I’m the Apprentice Manager and Regional Lead for the Ottawa region. To me, being an ally can mean expressing empathy by understanding that different people come from and experience different circumstances. It can be as simple as asking someone what they need, offering support, and helping them work through these circumstances, through the means that I have available to me.

Heather Stapleton (15:48):

So another one, this is something that I’ve kind of wondered about in the past and in a previous role, I ran the Women in Tech group at the company I was at, and we would have different events and they were meant to be for everyone, but I always found it was very difficult to get the men to come participate. And actually a couple of times it was a little bit of a bait and switch. I said, “Hey, we’re going to do this thing. We’re going to have prizes, we’re going to have food.” And I didn’t specifically tell them what it was about, and then the men came and then we’re like, “yeah, we’re going to talk about women’s issues.” So I guess a question I would have, why do you think men are sometimes hesitant to be allies or actively participate in the promotion of women in tech? What do you think causes them to be hesitant and what kind of actions do you think encourage them to be more active?

Joel Vautour (16:37):

Well, I’ll repeat a little bit of what I said earlier. I think fear is one. Fear of making a mistake, saying the wrong thing. That’s definitely something that’s engaging in a conversation and not wanting to be – allowing men to know that they can make mistakes, that you’re going to help them understand it more. So that’d be number one, I think, is a fear. The other thing is I think that they don’t know what allyship means, or even myself, it’s always a learning process. Giving them more awareness about what it means to fully understand the inequalities or the issues that women have in it or in any industry. But yeah, so those are the top ones that are on the top of my mind.

Dani Gulliver – Allyship Spotlight (17:22):

My name is Dani Gulliver and I’m the Apprenticeship Program Manager here at PLATO. To me, an ally is somebody who shows up and listens. Somebody who’s willing to come to your events or to your office even and listen to what’s going on, listen to your perspective and help you do something about it. To support you through that process. I think it’s important because when we’re all supporting each other and we’re all working to boost each other, that’s when we’ll make real progress.

Joel Vautour (17:53):

How do we encourage them? I think I know I’m happy to be on this. This is my first time participating in a panel like this, it is an opportunity to listen. It might be another men’s group that has the champion has someone that is an ally, some mentors providing a safe space so they can learn from one another.

Raena Steeves (18:13):

I was going to say, may I jump in and go sort of continue on with what Joel was saying? I feel like he’s definitely on the right track, and I was thinking about this as well, and there was one time in between working and not working in IT, and I was about to go back after a maternity leave, and at the time I’d say when I go back, I’m going to start playing video games because they would all go in the kitchen area or the lounge area, and they would play video games or they would play foosball, and these were the activities they enjoyed. And I don’t play video games, but I do enjoy foosball. And so I would say to them every once in a while, Hey, want to go play foosball? And they would say – while we were playing I would not be playing well – they would say, I thought you said you were good. I said, I didn’t say I was good. I said I wanted to play. But I felt like I needed to break in to get in their groups to try to do what they do and to get in so that I could advance as they were advancing. In the end, I didn’t do that. I didn’t get into video games and I stopped playing foosball and I sat at my desk and I worked. But I knew when we got into the boardroom, when we had discussions, I knew who was my ally based on just our conversations, based on, I would have an idea and they would say, yeah, I think that’s right. I think you’re onto something. Let’s go with that.

Krista Sali – Allyship Spotlight (19:45):

I am Krista Sali, a VP of Operations at PLATO, and to me, an ally, be someone who helps create opportunities for women to be involved, invited, and basically have a seat at the table. In my career, I’ve been really lucky to have many allies who have involved me and given me an opportunity to contribute. And these were in situations where they didn’t have to or it wasn’t required, but really this helped me to gain exposure and grow my skills and abilities. And really that keeps opening doors and creating normalcy and expectations for the next women to come in after me.

Raena Steeves (20:22):

But when you do have groups or you have get togethers, what you did, Heather, to get them involved by saying prizes and food, everybody loves that stuff. Inclusive, inclusive is such a big word lately, but if it’s inclusive, then chat about those things at that time while everybody’s there.

Heather Stapleton (20:45):

No, absolutely. And I have found just in general, and I’m not talking specifically just about women or men or whatever, I think inclusion as an overall concept is something that I have noticed in tech is difficult. I would say, I often told people one of the most challenging parts of my job was trying to organize team building because you would think that’s easy. Let’s just go have a party. But the guys would be like, great, let’s all go do paintball and drink beer! Which is awesome for a portion of the population, but it’s not even just necessary women and men because sure, there’s women who enjoy paintball as well, but there’s people from so many different backgrounds and cultures and everything too, and that’s just not part of what they do. I’d kind of like to go back to something Joel said a little bit as well, when you’re talking about having a safe space, having concern about potentially making mistakes. Because everybody does, we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and if somebody is trying to call them out for saying maybe something that wasn’t quite right, I don’t think is going to help you at all either, right? Yeah. So Keisha, do you have any thoughts on any of that?

Keisha Nguyen (21:48):

Yeah, so I kind of relate to both just because as a two-spirited person, I’m very comfortable with my femininity and I’m also very comfortable with my masculinity. So I fit more into, okay, fooseball and food and beer. That sounds awesome, that would make me want to go. But I get the point of Joel saying, obviously it’s new territory and people are scared of change. People are scared of new things, things they don’t understand. So I can see Joel’s point of view, and I can also see Raena’s too, with trying to fit in. I’m the type to play video games, and it was harder for me to kind of fit in with the girls. But it’s definitely just a fear of something new, I think, and obviously making mistakes, and even if you don’t fully understand something and you make a comment or a suggestion or opinion about it, it can really, really ostracize you. So it’s just kind of scary.

Heather Stapleton (22:33):

Absolutely. I think unfortunately, society in general is becoming very divisive and everybody’s getting into their own little camps and just not accepting of other points of views or people just wanting to do something a little differently. And be it women in tech or LGBTQ+ issues or political issues, religious issues, whatever it is in general, that’s something we all need to work on going forward, no matter what.

Kaleigh McIntosh – Allyship Spotlight (23:03):

My name is Kaleigh McIntosh. I’m the producer of PLATO Panel Talks. To me, allyship and being an ally is something that we all in different times in our life get the opportunity to be a supporting voice that advocates for the experiences of those that are being marginalized in different ways. It’s a role that I think is a great opportunity to be actively seeking out ways to learn and grow. We also get these chances to educate ourselves, challenge our biases, and create open dialogue about important issues. When we’re creating these spaces for open conversations, sometimes even when uncomfortable, it’s how we can create more inclusive opportunities. So to me, the experience of allyship and being an ally, the opportunity learn from those and support those around us and advocate for their experiences is a real privilege.

Heather Stapleton (23:55):

Yeah, awesome. So that’s great. I would like to say a special thank you to Raena, Keisha, and Joel for joining us today and sharing their experience and knowledge with us. Again, I think for me, one of the biggest takeaways was creating that safe space and trying to be inviting and the whole concept of how do we help them know what we need from them, expressing what is enough, what’s too much, and making sure that everyone feels welcome.

So I’d also like to thank you as well for tuning in. I know that these conversations are something that we will continue to have here on PLATO Panel Talks, and we’d love to hear from our listeners. If there’s anything we chatted about here today, you can connect with us on @PLATOTesting on X, LinkedIn and Facebook or our website, and you can find those links in the episode description. If you are enjoying our conversations about everything in the world of software testing, we’d love it if you could rate and review PLATO Panel Talks on whatever platform you’re listening on. Thank you again for listening, and we’ll talk to you again soon.