INTERVIEW: SARAH CLAYTON / PHOTOGRAPHS: BHAV PATEL & ALEX ROZAND
Diane Scheidler is Director of Human Resources at Achievers. She was interviewed as part of Tell Her Story’s ongoing partnership with Achievers Women’s Network (AWN). The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.
Within 5 minutes of meeting to conduct the interview, Diane offers me her ticket to an upcoming conference on Women in Leadership. She wants to attend, but she needs to support her team through some changes and thinks the topic would be of interest to me. A simple gesture, and one that accurately summarizes Diane and her genuine passion for people. Balancing the needs of an organization against individual priorities to create an environment that has widespread appeal is a tricky path to navigate, and Diane commits to the effort.
SC: Can you tell me a little bit about your family and your background – what makes you you?
DS: I am one of four children, and there are particular challenges when you have many siblings. You look for ways to stand out, so for me I’ve always been a very conscientious person. As a child, I was the most studious of the family and I had great ambitions. One of the earliest memories I have is an assignment in grade 6 where we were asked to clip magazine articles of who we wanted to be when we turned 30. I was the only female in the class who found a clipping of a woman in a suit with a briefcase, that was the vision I had for myself. I’ve always been really ambitious, but then I had a life changing event when I was 13 – my parents got divorced. It was a big deal because my mother relocated to the UK and I had to make a choice, which was horrendous, about who I would live with. I chose to go with my mom, but I’ve always had a very close bond with my dad. It was a big cultural shock and hard, especially at that age, to leave my friends behind and start a new school. After only 6 months I let my mom know that I was going to go back and live with my dad. I feel strongly that my dad heavily influenced who I am today and how I was socialized as a female growing up with just my dad. My father mentored me and told me to be strong. He was my role model.
SC: Was Human Resources (HR) and software always part of the plan?
DS: I fell into it. I started off my career in sciences, taking all the mathematics, biology, chemistry courses – but I’m a very social person and I had no life. I had roommates who were always going out, but I was always studying and I wasn’t happy. I felt I had to expand my horizons a little bit, so I started exploring social science and psychology courses. I loved it. They still had the mathematical components in the logical thinking, but it was more ‘social’ and seemed to fit me better. Upon graduation, I started off in the oil and gas industry then segued into, what was at the time, Nortel and I’ve stuck with technology ever since. The more I was exposed to working in technology the more I loved the innovative environment and the fresh thinking.
SC: How do you find being a woman leader in an industry traditionally dominated by men?
DS: One of my first HR jobs was working in an HR department that was predominantly men at a big oil company. That was another life changing experience because when I was working in a department surrounded by a different gender, I felt like I had to act differently because men are socialized differently. Thankfully my dad raised me in a way where I honestly felt confident dealing with male dominated departments. I know how to navigate, advocate for other females and have my voice heard – even if I’m the only female at the table.
SC: What advice would you give for other women working in a similar industry or department. How do you make sure you get your voice heard?
DS: I feel it’s really important to get a mentor. Networking is important – and it can be different depending on what environment you’re in. For instance, in a male dominated situation networking might involve going to the pub and getting a beer or it could be something sports related. Regardless of gender, you have to be flexible and willing to meet people where they are comfortable and be cognizant that people relate in different ways. Don’t limit yourself – if people are going golfing one day or to the pub go with them. Relationships are all important, and build them wherever you sit regardless of gender.
SC: How do you and your husband balance the demands of your jobs alongside parenthood?
DS: It can be challenging at times and I wholeheartedly believe in the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and I leverage that village to the nth degree. My husband and I have an equal partnership, we contribute different things and we take turns focusing on our careers vs the family – sometimes it’s taking extended time off or doing what we have to do to support our son. He spent a year acting at the Stratford Festival so I took some time off from my career to support him. There are times you think it will be impossible to balance it all, but we find a way to make it work and we always get through it.
SC: Women in Tech is a steadily increasing movement, what else do you think needs to be done to get more women into the industry?
DS: I’m finally starting to see that we’re getting a better balance across departments and seeing a more even ratio of men to women, but there’s still opportunities for progress. While we’re hiring more females in pure engineering departments, it’s still a challenge and it comes back to needing more young girls to be passionate in mathematics and coding. We need to start with our school systems and get more girls interested in math and science early on because those topics are harder to jump into later in life. We need to tap into more female engineers and get more role models involved in attracting and inspiring young girls to take this path.
SC: Is there anything specifically you do to maintain a work/wellness balance?
DS: Being mindful to take time out, even if it’s related to working. Going to lunch with my team and not talking about work – talking about our personal lives and staying connected. Having a ‘people first’ mindset, and just knowing about the people I work with every day. We have a really good sense of humour within my own team, so we take time to share funny stories and we laugh a lot. Taking time out for social time is my release, connecting with people is really important and that’s what works for me at the office. And then just trying to incorporate more physical fitness, so going for a walk or finding other opportunities to get away from my desk
SC: Considering the professional environment as a whole, why do you think there has been such an increase in the focus on employee engagement?
DS: As technology is evolving and work is becoming increasingly complex, people are spending more time working – and they don’t even need to be physically at the office. I’m seeing increased stress leaves and more mental health issues because people put their work first every time. If you want to get the most out of your employees, you need to figure out what’s best for them. For instance, more companies are adopting flexible work times and incorporating wellness programs. I think we need to be more creative and focus on the employee experience from the moment they get up in the morning or arrive at work or start as a new hire. I think it’s important to focus on finding more ways to accommodate employees so they are happier and more productive at work.
SC: According to a report by CBRE, Toronto has added more tech jobs in 2015-2016 then New York and San Francisco Bay area combined. Why do you think we are succeeding as a growing tech hub and what do you think this means for the future of our city?
DS: I think the future for Toronto will be tremendous. I think we’ve become such a tech hub because we are so diverse as a city – our doors are open when it comes to immigration. We have a great pool of talent that feeds off each other and we’ve become known as a city where ideas are generated. There’s a lot being done on the AI front in Toronto, there’s a lot involving blockchain technology, there’s a new startup coming from the Wind Mobile founder. There’s a lot of hot things happening in technology at the moment in Toronto and my prediction is that we’re on track to become a globally known tech destination.
SC: Any last advice you want to leave the readers with?
DS: Pursue your passion. To be truly successful at something you have to love what you do. I’ve stayed in HR for a long time because I love it. I love that I can help make the difference between a good company and a great company. That’s why I love Achievers – I truly believe in what we do, and as a former customer I’ve seen how it’s impacted people and companies in such a positive way. If I feel like I’m not making an influence that’s when I would stop – but I feel every day I get a chance to encourage people to do more and dream better. You may have setbacks in your life but learn from it – success is built on failure so learn from your mistakes, but don’t give up on your passion. Don’t limit yourself.