Women in the Channel

Published: August 19th, 2015

It’s easy to dismiss Ayelet Baron’s message to the IT industry, one of change, as out of touch. After all, a “futurist” sounds suspiciously like another word for a motivational speaker.

But then again, that would discount her past over-a-decade-long tenure at Cisco Systems Canada, where she climbed her way up to the position of vice president of strategy, innovation and transformation.

Along the way, Baron, who now works for management consulting firm CreatingIs LLC,  made a few observations about corporate culture.  Namely, it’s not that new radical practices are emerging, but rather that current practices are behind – by about a century.

“In the 20th century we led with fear, with scarcity, with competition; we had to take something away from someone else,” she said, addressing around 130 attendees at CDN’s fifth annual Women in the IT Channel recognition luncheon, hosted in partnership with Ingram Micro Canada.

“But 2015 is the 21st century,” Baron added. “We live in abundance now. We live in possibilities and opportunities, the question we need to ask ourselves is ‘What would you do if you had 100 years to live?'”

The problem, she argued, is that when you have 100 as opposed to 50 years to live, it no longer makes sense to work to death, as she felt like she did and others do in the corporate world, struggle for work-life balance, then retire.

“Too many times we think we have balance but we have time, but we’re not present,” said Mandy Grewal, Canada country manager at SoftwareONE, and one of the event’s four honourees.

The other women honourees include Norrie Davidson, chief executive officer of WW Works, Natalie Ireland, chief financial officer at Mainland Information Systems, and Kelly Smith, chief operating officer at Eclipse Technology Solutions. The recipient of CDN’s second annual Rising Star Award was Aoife McMonagle, director of marketing and communications at Scalar Decisions.

Grewal told a story of her own son, who she would help get ready for school in the mornings, all the while being distracted by work emails. She said that she now makes a point of ignoring work until her son is off to school.

Baron also argued that the workplace is increasingly segmented and therefore fragmented.

“Innovation should never be a department,” she said to applause in the conference hall at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Shared purpose, which Baron said is the basis for the existence of a company, has been lost to the separation between departments, men and women, and competition both inside and outside the company.

The solution, she said, is to listen and create unlikely conversations and partnerships.

According to Fawn Annan, president of ITWC, the publishers of CDN, women are especially inclined towards collaboration.

She cited a study which found that women overwhelmingly shortchange their skills and defer to others, while men tend to do the opposite.

To Ireland, while basic fairness such as equal pay for equal work is crucial, it’s important to recognize what women can bring to the work culture, including a different way to negotiate, manage, and react to stress, she said.

Ultimately, celebrating diversity, Baron said, includes offering greater autonomy and flexibility.

“People shouldn’t have to fire themselves from corporations or need wake-up calls,” she said. “We’ve created this culture of sameness, of best practices, of ‘Let’s go find out what Google is doing.’ Every company has a purpose which is why they’re there. We have to spend the time finding out who we are and have the ability to tap into people.”


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