Larissa Dawe – Software Developer


Larissa Dawe is a Software Developer. She was interviewed as part of a 12 month Achievers Women’s Network (AWN) series. The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.

As we settle in at a high-top table I notice Larissa’s posture. She projects confidence without even realizing it. While there’s a soft-spoken, endearing innocence and politeness in her tone of voice her words are powerful. I’m immediately blown away by how someone so young has already learned so much. She’s an amazing woman and a talented developer, brimming with optimism, positivity and potential.

But Larissa’s life has been full of adversity and she doesn’t shy away from it. She’s candid about how her parents struggled to make ends meet, her constant self-doubt and how her first job was so toxic she almost left the industry before her career even began. She coyly smiles as she mentions her “quiet defiance” and how she used that to turn every challenge into an opportunity to better herself, her career and those around her.

Larissa’s face lights up and she smiles broadly when she talks about being a developer, seeing her work come to life and the problems she tackles. It’s heartbreaking to know she was one bad experience away from giving up her passion. And I can’t help but wonder how many women like Larissa are out there that have dropped out before anyone knew their story.

Her Back Story

“I’m pretty motivated by people doubting me….I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that I could be a woman in STEM.”

Tell me about your family and growing up in Florida.

I grew up in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida with not much to do. Being in Toronto now is pretty different for me. My parents are both very loving parents. They are both missionaries. We didn’t always have much money, but my parents always worked super hard to make ends meet. My dad especially. He’s a really smart man and he’s always worked so hard balancing our finances to give us a normal life. They always pushed my sister, brother and I to do really well in school. I grew up with straight As being the expectation which is good because that led me to a successful life. We all ended up getting big scholarships which is great because we may not have been able to afford to go to college without them.

There are a lot of things that made me who I am. When I was in elementary school I was bullied. Having that be a prominent part of my childhood years helped make me somebody who is kind and empathetic towards other people. I’m someone who tries to see things from multiple perspectives which is something I really like about myself.

Throughout high school and the early portion of my career I had low self-esteem.  I wasn’t good at standing up for myself. ‘A’s I’ve grown up, those experiences have made me stronger. Its given me more of a voice and I’m more willing to speak up and stand up for myself and for other people.

Why did you pursue a degree in Computer Science?

I intended to go to school to study theatre and environmental studies but I had a friend (he’s no longer a friend) that told me I could never handle Calculus and I was very offended.

I can be quietly defiant. So once he said that I thought, well, I’m taking Calculus! And I signed up for a course in college. Thinking back on it I’ve always been good in math and I’ve gotten straight A’s in it since the fourth grade. I did really well. My teacher, who really took a liking to me, was one of the biggest influences on me staying in the math field. She asked me what I was going to do after this course and she gave me all these courses she wanted me to take. Seeing her believe in me like that got me thinking;  “hmm, I guess I’m pretty good at this, maybe I should stick with it!” So I changed my major to math after that semester. Eventually I got to thinking what do I want to do with math? I’m not really interested in accounting or being an actuary or anything like that. I was required to take a Programming One course for a math major and after that I thought “this is it!” It’s creativity meets logic and that’s where I feel like my brain excels. I’m a huge problem solver but I’m also so creative and in mathematics there’s one way to solve a problem but in computer science there are many ways and there’s not best way just better ways. So I stuck with computer science after that.

Given your relatively recent move to Canada, what does your support system look like?

My number one supporter is my husband. We’ve been married for a year and half and he’s always there for me. He’s a motivated and determined guy who dreams big. If I’m struggling with something at work I’ll send him a message and he’s always like ”I know you can get it you’re so smart”.  And when I do solve that problem, he’ll say “I didn’t doubt you for a second”.

I struggle with believing in myself and he always believes in me 100%! I can doubt my intelligence but he thinks I’m super intelligent. He’ll always tell me that which helps me feel more confident and capable and I go for things I may not have gone for otherwise.

What is your approach or philosophy to overcoming challenges? 

Personally what drives me in almost every stage of my life has been overcoming things people put on you, like oppressive tendencies. I’m pretty motivated by people doubting me. If people think I can’t do something my first instinct is to go out and do it. I don’t know if I’d be in my career today if it weren’t for people along the way that made me feel like I couldn’t.

I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that I could be a woman in STEM.

What inspires you to make a difference? Where does that sense of responsibility come from?

Growing up female I’ve faced a lot of hardship and a lot of trauma as a lot of women have. I know how hard that was for me and so I want my life to be dedicated towards making sure that future women don’t have to go through similar things. I know that gender, being a minority, things like that makes a person a little less privileged and it can make life really hard.

That’s why I’m inspired by just everyday people who try to do what they can to promote diversity, inclusion and social justice. Things like the leaders in AWN or writing this blog – that kind of stuff inspires me quite a bit. I hope to be one of those individuals who spends their life trying to make a difference and make it an easier place for other people to live in. Hopefully a world where we can all be on the same level.

Her Career Path

“My next job in this industry was going to be my final straw…I wanted to get out because I didn’t have a good experience in my past jobs at all, I didn’t think I was going to stay in it.”

Tell me about your current role as Software Developer. What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your role?

In general, I get assigned a problem and I figure out a way to solve it. Right now specifically we’re working on reporting for the “Check-Ins” application. I’m working on a table showing all of the responses we’ve gotten from the check-in and being able to filter by specific fields.

It’s a lot of problem solving, figuring things out, learning on the spot. It’s definitely something I love about the job. I’m never comfortable and I feel like I thrive in that sort of an environment even though sometimes it can make me feel like I have imposter syndrome. I think “I don’t know enough, I’m never going to be as good as everyone because they understand this and I don’t” but at the same time once you do get something there’s this adrenaline rush! When you finally see it work and you see the fruition of your effort it’s really exciting to know you put in all this work, you learned so much and now there’s this application you can use.

The most challenging thing is the same thing I like about it. You constantly have to be learning and that’s great. Sometimes the learning will be quick, you’ll spend a half-hour and you’ll get it but there might be times where you’re working on something a lot more challenging. You have no idea what you’re doing and you have to learn a whole new language or you have problems that take you days to figure out. It can make me feel like “I don’t know if I’m ever going to get this” and it weighs on you sometimes. You learn, you implement and it’s this quick high and low but if you’re in the low for an extended period of time that can feel uncomfortable.

I love how fast the space changes. There’s so much that you can achieve with technology and especially now we’re at this interesting point where I think we’re about to go through a lot of crazy shifts, on the brink of things like BitCoin, Artificial Intelligence becoming integrated into our everyday lives and I just find it all very fascinating and very exciting. I really enjoy being a part of it.

What do you consider to be your biggest success to date?

My first job was with a company where I was very unhappy with the work environment. I stayed at the company for one year and it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal but quitting that job was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my personal and mental health. It took a lot of guts to leave. It was my first job out of college and it was so scary because I didn’t know how good I was. It was a big-name company that looked good on a resume and I didn’t know if I would ever get another opportunity like that again. I’m really proud of myself for being able to quit that job and keep moving forward.

Of course, looking back, I was a software developer and everyone is looking for them so I was able to find another job. It was a big leap of faith for me to make that decision. I’m really proud of myself for doing it because in a way it was me putting my foot down and standing up for myself and doing something for myself which, as a more passive person, I usually find intimidating.

What advice would you give to your younger yourself or other women who want to follow your career path?

Being a female in the software engineering world – it’s hard! It depends on what company you work for but at my first job I was the only female on my entire floor for a month and a half. It wasn’t a good environment to work in and I wish that I had quit that job sooner. My advice would be if you’re trying to be a software engineer there’s jobs out there for you and there’s companies that you’re going to love. If you’re at a job where adversity is this huge deal, I don’t think it’s necessary for you to stay there. You can find a place that’s going to appreciate you and a place where you won’t face those same challenges.

I would love for more females to enter this industry. One of my biggest passions is getting more women into STEM fields because we have so much to offer. The problem is that once you’re in the STEM field it can be hard if you’re not in the right company.

I thought “my next job in this industry was going to be my final straw”. I had also applied to a bunch of positions outside of Software Development. I wanted to get out because I didn’t have a good experience in my past jobs at all, I didn’t think I was going to stay in it. And when I got this position at Achievers I thought “well if this doesn’t go well I don’t want to do this any more.” Fortunately, it has gone well and I want other girls and women to know there are companies like this out there. You don’t have to settle for companies where conditions are hostile or you’re not being listened to.

How have you navigated the challenges you face in your career because of your gender?

When I first got into the field, I was 21 and I don’t think I was ready for it. I think I was caught unaware and I wish I could go back in time and handle things differently. Sometimes when I tell people about my first job people’s reaction is “you should have done this or you should have done that” and the thing to keep in mind is that I was so young. At the time, I did face adversity and I don’t think I did the right thing.  I would try to laugh things off or act like nothing had happened. There were so many guys, so many young guys at the company and it turned into a boys’ locker room. There was a lot of sexual harassment type stuff that occurred like inappropriate nicknames, calling me “baby”, comments about how I looked everyday, it got to be a lot. But I never really did anything about it. There was one guy at the company that was pretty nice and we were friends but then the other guys started saying inappropriate things about our friendship and it just made me feel so alone. I remember crying in the bathroom and I called my husband and said “I can’t take this any more, I have to quit”. And that’s what I did to stand up for myself.

I wish I could go back and say “I need to talk to HR about what is happening.”  If I had another chance I think I would. I would’ve done something else. Other than that all you can do is move on and not give up. Don’t stop doing things because you’re facing adversity. Things aren’t going to get better if you drop-out. I had that thought for a second there and I’m so thankful I found Achievers because now I’m so happy I didn’t. I don’t want other women to drop-out because if they do it’s letting other people who are creating these conditions for us win. Keep going, don’t stop, don’t give up.

Have you started to establish a personal brand? Or do you know what you want it to be?

I’m still so young, I’m still figuring that out. I guess I’d like to be seen as someone in the development world that can take on anything, front-end or back-end and as someone who can just get it done.

What I bring to the table that’s unique is definitely hyper positivity and optimism. That’s something that’s been consistent in every job review I’ve had:  it’s always “positivity, positivity, positivity!” I think I have a real can-do attitude. If someone presents me with a challenge my approach is “just say yes” and go for it because you’re never sure if you can do something until you try. You’ll be surprised by what you can do. I can take on challenges and stress while being able to smile about it and be somebody who’s an uplifting presence in the office. I think that’s my real unique contribution.

Her Lived Experience

“I don’t want other women to drop-out because if they do it’s letting other people who are creating these conditions for us win. Keep going, don’t stop, don’t give up.”

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women in tech today? 

Every woman faces different challenges based on their circumstance but I definitely think there’s power in numbers and we don’t have a lot of numbers [laughs]. You can feel very alone. I sometimes felt so alone in my jobs. Even if you try to fit in, try to make friends, you’re still so hyper aware of your gender in certain situations. So I think the more numbers we get the more power we’ll have. I think women face challenges across all fields but the challenges increase for women who are in fields where we’re so underrepresented. Sometimes I think women struggle to be heard. We have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves. Things like the “Google Memo” that came out about women not naturally being better software developers and similar articles that try to present “facts” that women are less qualified or less naturally prone to be good at these kinds of subjects… just sucks! I think women in the industry are tired of having to prove themselves and having to make a name for themselves and having a fair chance would be nice and not having people try to knock you down or act like “oh maybe there are some women out there who are good but this is actually a man’s field” would also be nice.

Historically, the original computers were all women. So when you really think about it computer programming and software engineering was a women’s field that was taken over by men [laughs loudly]. I think people are equally qualified for it.

When you have moments of self-doubt or lack confidence, what do you do to successfully move forward?

You have to think a bit objectively about yourself sometimes because you can really get in your own head. Taking a step back and looking at yourself through an objective lens can really help you get perspective on your abilities. You think “I’m stupid, I can’t do this, what if I fail? Other people are better than me” and all of this stuff. But you need to take a step back and think about all you’ve accomplished, where you came from and what you know. Sometimes I’ll be working on a problem and think “I’m never going to get this or other developers are more competent than me”.  Then when I look back, I can see “wow, I’ve come a long way and I’m so much better than I was and it’s amazing I’ve grown so much”. Every step of the way there have been challenges and every time I’ve conquered it and I’ve learned and I’ve been able to come out of it having that new skill set.

What role do you think women play in our advancement?

Huge! A huge role. I think women can create a hostile environment for each other sometimes. I’ve met a number of women who aren’t for other women. I’ve also met so many women who are truly 100% for other women and I think that’s a beautiful thing. Being the kind of woman that’s excited about the success of other women and the things they are doing: those are the kind of women that push other girls and women to be their best self. Sometimes it can be hard to believe in yourself but if you have other women that are there saying “listen, you can do this!  You’re smart! Capable!” that sometimes can be what you need to take that leap of faith. Having that kind of support system can make all the difference.

If you could give men in your field one piece of advice what would it be?

First, do whatever it takes to become aware of what happens to women and how often it happens. Sometimes I talk to my guy friends who are nice guys, and they say, “how could anyone do that?” The problem is there are people that would and do act like that. It’s something I want men to understand, that you may be a nice guy but not everybody is and just because you wouldn’t do this doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and having that awareness that this does happen is so important.

Second, I would really encourage men if they want to do something it’s as easy as: if they see something happening, say something. Don’t just laugh, don’t have a “boys will be boys mentality.” If you care, don’t accept that kind of behaviour.

Thinking back on my first experience working in the industry, I wish anyone would’ve said something. I remember this time I was in my cubicle with my cube mate and this other guy came in and unbuttoned his shirt and said you like that don’t you”. It freaked me out and I just kept saying “stop it!” and finally the guy left. My cube-mate just said “that was weird” afterwards. In that moment, I wish he had done something to help. It’s not necessarily that men have to do it but women shouldn’t have to either!  And everyday we’re forced to.

Women are forced to put their foot down and they’re forced to have to stand up for themselves. I wish there were more men out there who would put their foot down with us because it can mean so much to a person who is going through something hard like that. So they don’t feel alone.

The Achievers Women’s Network would like to acknowledge & thank the “In Her Own Way” blog for inspiring the 12-month series.


Marci Peters – Director of Customer Service


Marci Peters is the Director of Customer Service. She was interviewed as part of a 12 month Achievers Women’s Network (AWN) series. The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.

During the time of our interview, Marci’s department, Member Experience, is gearing up to head into their busiest season: the holidays.  It’s inspiring to see how Marci thrives as an individual, a leader and a mother as the impending chaos looms.  From having a robust culture calendar to maintain her team’s morale to stepping beyond her standard duties, the unwavering commitment she shows to her team’s needs is admirable.

Marci aims to “be real” at all times which is evident as we discuss a wide range of topics. She’s candid about how being a childhood cancer survivor influences her personal brand today. She doesn’t hesitate to show off her collection of ten tattoos (and counting?) that started with her daughter’s name, at age 42. And while Marci absolutely loves her job and is the ultimate personification of Customer Service she’s clear that her daughter is her top priority.

Her Back Story

My advice to others is, think of your career as a journey instead of a destination.

Tell me a bit about your childhood.

I am a cancer survivor. I had childhood leukaemia (ALL) that was diagnosed when I was 8 and have been considered cured since I was 13.  It’s a lot for a kid to go through, but I think everything in life makes you who you are. 

I don’t think it impacted my decisions, but I think going through it made me a stronger person. I was so young at the time, and as I went through the motions I didn’t fully realize the impact of what it could mean.  Looking back and knowing so many people who have been diagnosed…and knowing some have beat it and some haven’t…it makes you realize you have a choice to either be strong or not.  I’m happy I chose to be strong.  

Did you have a career path in mind when you decided to pursue Business Administration?

After high school, I took a year off to work at National Sports Centre and I fell in love with retail.  I had worked in customer service since I was 14, but never retail. I just fell in love with it and it took me in a completely different direction.  I stayed there for a year and decided what I wanted to take in college, so I went back to school for Business Administration. My marketing professor had lots of stories to tell from his time working at Coke and Ford, both of which made him relatable and I enjoyed it so much.  It was hands on, real-life experience that was taught to us and I think that was very important. 

Are there any pivotal moments you’ve had in your career that influenced the direction you went in?

I was chatting with my friend who was working at a company called Cantel Paging (now Rogers Wireless) and she told me they were hiring in their Call Centre. I applied and got the job.

I was there for four years and during that time I worked my way from Call Centre CSR (Customer Service Representative) to the Dealer Support Team. At the request of the Director, I went to assist with Major Account Collections.  I had never done anything like that before, but it was a great opportunity.  After I had been doing that for about 7-8 months, the same Director approached me with a mat leave position at our Tele-messaging Centre, encouraged me to apply, and I got the job. I was now a Team Manager in the Tele-messaging Centre and I just couldn’t have been happier.  I could finally go in and effect change!  There was no structure, no efficiency, no anything.  We wanted to implement a quality program, so we created a quality scorecard of what we expected from the representatives.  We implemented a variety of cultural initiatives too! We had contests, a culture calendar with all sorts of fun things happening all the time.  I think that was my introduction to a very junior example of what I do today: making it about your people and focusing on bettering them so that they’re happy. In turn, they will make your customers happy. 

This was my first introduction to managing a team.  I wanted to continue a team leadership path, so I explored my next career move. I started working for Bell Express Vu, where I spent 7 years in various leadership roles and have continued the leadership path since.

What is the most helpful advice you’ve received in your career to-date?

Many years ago, I applied for a leadership role that would have been a promotion, but I didn’t get the job. Soon after, I was talking to one of the senior leaders about that role and he said something I will never forget, “sometimes it’s better to move sideways, instead of up, because you will gain more experience”.

When I look back on my career, I can say I have pretty much done it all: customer service, collections, fraud, customer correspondence (the days when customers still mailed in their complaints and inquiries), call quality assurance, technical support, customer service improvements and HR Generalist. My advice to others is, think of your career as a journey instead of a destination.

What unique approach do you believe you bring to your role?

My team is always, always, always my number one focus! I think that, when you’re leading people, if you focus on your team, you really can’t go wrong.  If your team knows what your corporate values, mission and vision are and you make sure they feel supported, heard and worthwhile, they will deliver on what is expected.

When I became a Manager of Collections, the team that I inherited would scream, would harass, would get up on their chairs and yell at people. It was really bad.  The Collections department originally fell under the Finance team before it moved to Customer Service.  It went from a finance role to a customer service role.  It was interesting because all but one of my team members “got it”. They understood the customer service approach and were on board with the change.

The return was huge. People were paying us because we were actually being nice to them – what a concept!  We cared, we trusted them, and we respected them. 

When it came to hiring, I knew what kind of person I was looking for.  And it wasn’t someone with a finance background – it was someone with a customer service background. Your approach will determine your success.  I staffed the team with folks who had a customer service mindset and that’s what caused a culture shift.  The one person who I had a harder time converting was then surrounded by people who adopted that mindset, so he had to adapt or be the odd person out. 

Her Career Path

At the end of the day, if you need help and you need support, you have to ask for it.

Can you tell me a bit about your role as Director of Customer Service?

As a Director, there is a lot of strategizing happening – I always try to think of what’s next. In the last year and a half the focus has really been on global expansion.  What I’m really focusing on today is how to enhance the services we’re offering and be inclusive of our members around the globe.

It’s important to me that we’re constantly evolving, but still maintaining our core values and maintaining our philosophy that we keep customer service “in house”.  I’ve worked at many places where it is outsourced. And while it probably saves money you  don’t have the loyalty like you’ll get from your own employees.  In Toronto, we can act very quickly, everybody supports everybody.  It allows me to react and adapt to what our clients need and to continue our success. 

I’m really big about culture and team building. I’m constantly finding ways to keep the team motivated and to inspire them.  It’s constantly putting my team first: that’s the most important thing I can do.  We’re heading into our busiest season, so we put together a culture calendar for November and December. During the holiday season, I’ll do whatever I need to do to ensure our members get a great experience and my team feels supported. My focus is on supporting my team, what our global roadmap looks like and how I can make that happen.  When it comes to leadership, if you don’t care about your people, they won’t care about their jobs.  You need to care about what they’re doing, make sure they feel appreciated and have opportunities for growth.  Those things are so important, otherwise your people will leave you.

What do you find rewarding about your role?

It’s just been a whirlwind, Achievers has had so many things happen.  There’s a lot of new faces and it’s been such an amazing experience.  To be able to come to work every day and recognize people for doing great things with our software is amazing. As I always say, it would have to be something pretty incredible to pry me away from this company.

A headhunter once called me and asked, “I see you’ve always worked in customer service. Why is that?” That question really floored me and I said, “Because I love what I do”.

Many people on your team are new to the workforce, as their leader you have a lot of responsibility in guiding and molding them. What types of discussions do you have with them to set them up for success early?

One person in particular I can think of is thriving and doing very well now but initially, being as young as she was, she did not have a lot of confidence in herself and didn’t know what she should do next in her career.

It was important for me to have that discussion with her to make sure she knew where she wanted to go, ensuring she’s doing that due diligence and that her next move was the right move for her. I coached her on the best professional way for her to handle and how to approach and work with other leaders in the company. I’m so proud of everyone on my team and the ones that left my team call me their “ME Mom” and some of them still come to me today for advice and how to navigate their way through life.

What life lesson did you learn from a previous leader that you hope to instill in your team? 

A month after I started working for Achievers, my husband and I split up. As you can imagine, my personal life was falling apart around me but I still had to come into work every day with a smile on my face and make sure that my team felt supported.  That was probably the toughest time in my career, but I was fortunate that I reported into a fantastic VP.  I tried to fake it the best I could and she called me out on it.  We worked through everything and, for that, I credit her a lot for who I am today.  She really helped pull me out of that and helped me refocus on what was important and we’re still good friends today.

I think that was a big lesson that I learned. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Sometimes you just have to suck it up a little bit and not be afraid to share your story.  I understand some people are more private than others, but, at the end of the day, if you need help and you need support, you have to ask for it.

Her Lived Experience

Life is way too short, if you aren’t doing something you enjoy today, then find out what you do love and do it.

What is your personal brand? And how do you find the strength to maintain it during challenging times?

For me, It’s just being real and what you see is what you get. Being able to ebb and flow and deal with whatever is being thrown at you in that moment and dealing with it in the most professional way possible is important. I always try to be very positive and never show if I’m stressed or dealing with a lot because I don’t want to bring other people down or cause them to worry.

Based on the fact that I am a cancer survivor, I live by the philosophy of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think about that a lot when I’m going through a tough time and still need to maintain a certain image at work. You realize stuff happens and it’s what you do with it that makes the difference.

You mentioned your daughter is your top priority, how do you ensure you maintain that “work-life balance”? 

One thing I learned, when I was managing a team of 50 people, is that you can’t do it all. At the end of the day, whatever work you have left today will be there tomorrow. You must be willing to let it go.  Another philosophy I have is you can only ever have one priority one.  Once that’s handled, then you can move onto the next priority. You shouldn’t think you can do it all because something will always fail or suffer. Whether it be your personal relationships, your quality of work or your sleep.  There was, at one point, a time when I would be at work everyday until 7, 8, 9 pm at night and my personal life, my family and I were all suffering.  You just need to focus on what’s important. The rest will still be there tomorrow. 

I have a 7-year-old daughter and she will always be my top priority.  Making sure that she’s healthy, happy and well-rounded, but still trying to get those same things for myself, is a balancing act.  One thing I love about working at Achievers is I can have a work-life balance and that is so important for any working parent, whether you have a partner or not.  That’s what’s been fantastic about my role – I’ve put great people in place to make sure that can happen.  It’s important to trust and empower other people to do great work rather than delegating. 

What do you love about working in the software industry and will you encourage your daughter to get into the space as well? 

I’ve worked in the industry for more than 5 years now but never in a million years would I have imagined myself in software before Achievers. Now that I’m here and I see how amazing it can be, my number one priority for my daughter is to get her the skills that she needs to get into software herself.  I understand this is where our future is and I want her to have that experience. 

I think that when it comes to women in tech, it doesn’t need to be different from any industry. You need to be passionate, driven and interested in what you’re doing.  If you’re not, you need to assess where you are at and look at what you would be passionate about.  I think there are far too many people who are in roles doing things they hate.  Life is way too short, if you aren’t doing something you enjoy today, then find out what you do love and do it. Don’t get stuck in a rut and keep doing something you don’t enjoy. There are so many other options out there. 

The Achievers Women’s Network would like to acknowledge & thank the “In Her Own Way” blog for inspiring the 12-month series.


Vanessa Brangwyn – Vice President, Customer Success


Vanessa Brangwyn is Vice President of Customer Success. She was interviewed as part of a 12 month Achievers Women’s Network (AWN) series. The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.

Vanessa is always on-the-go and always-in-demand, so much so we held her interview across the street from her office so she could be “in and out” and away from potential interruptions. She rushes through the door about 10 minutes late, takes a deep breath and sits down jacket still on.

As we start the interview her phone rings, it’s her boss, and you can see the anguish as she debates whether or not to answer it…she doesn’t. Throughout our interview her phone buzzes with activity and though she checks it often, she’s genuinely not being rude she must be fully available: her son is sick, there’s a major conference happening at work and she runs an entire department. 

Despite all the chaos, she has this knack for making you feel like you’re her top priority and that she has all the time in the world. She smiles warmly and speaks quickly as she candidly shares the impact of the loss of her brother, her losing battle in prioritizing “me time” and how she accelerated her career after taking a one-year maternity leave.

Her story is one any career-driven mother can relate to and be inspired by.  

Her Back Story

All through my…high school years I was the girl with the sick brother. Finally, when I got to University I could be just Vanessa.

Tell me a bit about where you grew up and your family.

I grew up in a small town, somewhat sheltered. I went to high school in the middle of a cow field. To paint a picture of Bolton in the 90s – when I was 16 we got a McDonald’s and it was front page news. McDonald’s was where my career started and it turned out to be an amazing working experience.

I grew up in a very close knit, Italian family with all 4 of my grandparents and my dad immigrating to Canada in the 1950s and 60s. Though my parents both worked full time, we always prioritized big family dinners and there were lots of lovely traditions.

Are there any pivotal moments that led to where you are today?

When I was 15 my brother was diagnosed with leukemia. My mom quit her job and lived with him at the hospital 24/7. My dad kept working to support us and our extended family consistently provided with food and care. Everyone dealt with their feeling of helplessness in their own way.

And all along I was just a teenager focused on what I had going on: a math test, a party.  Being 15 is awkward in general let alone going through this kind of family situation. My brother was sick for over 3 years and though initially he was in remission and had some good months, our family life never went back to normal. In 1999, his cancer came back more aggressively and the only thing that would’ve helped was a bone marrow transplant. A match wasn’t found in time and his illness progressed quite quickly. He passed away just after Christmas that year.

I was almost 19 and about to start university. Then all of a sudden our family life was completely rocked. My initial plan was to stay at home and take care of my parents. I was now an only child. I was their only child and I didn’t want to leave them. My parents gave me the best gift they possibly could have and encouraged me to stay my course, go to the University of my dreams and take the courses I wanted to take. My brother had come with me once on a tour of Guelph and I remember him saying “I can see you here, you fit in here”. Remembering that was the push I needed when I finally made the decision to go.

All through my small town, high school years I was the girl with the sick brother. Finally, when I got to University I could be just Vanessa.

What career path did you have in mind when you pursued a degree in psychology? 

I grew up wanting to be a guidance counsellor because I had an amazing relationship with mine. I spent a lot of time in his office talking about my career and life. I set my sights on a psychology degree and stayed true to that but failed to realize I needed to attend Teacher’s College. Through some co-op work experiences, I quickly realized there were so many options out there and diverse ways of helping people. I feel like in my day-to-day life I am a pseudo Guidance Counsellor. In leadership, I serve that role. I’m not telling people which courses to take but there’s a lot of application of what I wanted to be when I grew up in what I’m doing now.

I went to University of Guelph for psychology and it was recommended to have a minor as well. On a whim I had taken an economics class and liked it. I never thought of myself as a “business person” until then so I switched my minor to Marketing Management because If you think about what marketing really is – it’s the study of consumer behaviour and how to get people to buy something. Psychology is a huge part of that!

How did you and your husband transition into parenthood? 

Over the last 10 years Owen has been a huge part of my life. We just celebrated our 5-year anniversary and we work well together. From the beginning, we’ve always thought of ourselves as a team. We even gave ourselves a secret team name.

Being a team has really helped. Especially when 3 years ago we brought Evan into the world. It is really the only way we’ve managed. Both of us have busy jobs and travel for work. It can sometimes feel like our marriage is a business relationship because we’re so focused on who needs to be where and when and the logistics of running a household. What’s been great about Owen especially over the last couple of years with my current role is how much he really understands I have certain obligations and responsibilities that are non-negotiable.

The first 3 months of Evan’s life were among the hardest months of my life. I went into it over confident and was immediately brought back to reality which is that I know nothing about how to raise a child and there are no right answers. Right after he was born, I spent way too long researching every possible thing. Trying almost desperately to find someone or something to tell me exactly what to do. I had been so academic for so long it was just the way I learned. Unfortunately, there is no right answer. Just instinct. It took me a long time to come to terms with that. It’s funny now I operate almost exclusively on instinct now. We’re potty training right now and I haven’t read a single book or article on the topic. We’re just going on a whim and it’s somehow working.

Who is your biggest source of inspiration and why?

My mom inspires me in so many ways. So many of her years had been devoted to taking care of my brother and making him the priority. It must have been very hard for her to find herself again but she did. She put her heart and soul into using her experience to help others.

She found a way to get back into her own career. She worked in a hospice helping other parents who were going through the loss of a child. She then went to work for a children’s wish foundation, granting wishes to severely ill children. She was literally their fairy godmother. Working whatever their wish was: going to Disney World, meeting some celebrity, shopping sprees, so many cool things.  

I find it so inspirational that she took her heartache and did something with it. At the time I had no construct for what that would feel like because I wasn’t a parent but now as a mother and knowing what she went through, it’s completely unimaginable.

Her Career Path

I had been given some misguided advice early in my career that when you do consider having a child you need to do it when you’re at a peak moment in your career

What are your responsibilities as Vice President of Customer Success? What do you find most rewarding?

As VP of Customer Success, I’m responsible for the team that owns our customer relationships and ensures our customers see the value in the programs they’re running. I manage an amazing team of leaders who manage people that service our customers in a variety of ways and truly become trusted advisors. They essentially become an extension of our customer’s team. They get to know the business and serve the end-to-end partnership.

The most rewarding part is watching people’s careers grow and flourish and having an opportunity to connect with my team on that level. For example, there are people on my team I hired over five years ago who have grown into leaders themselves. Supporting them through the obstacles they’ve faced, the challenges they’ve overcome and cheering on their perseverance is incredibly rewarding to me. In a similar way, I also feel the same about our customers. It’s a little bit cheesy but Achievers’ mission is to “Change the Way the World Works” and seeing our client’s employees feel more valued, appreciated and engaged because of our product is really rewarding too.

What do you love about the working in the Tech space?

I never ever thought of myself as a “technology person”. I shocked myself when I started working for a technology company and I actually liked it! Now I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. What I love about it is the pace! I love the ability to be innovative, to come up with ideas and follow through with action quickly. It feels like I’m part of something forward thinking and leading edge. I understand all industries are necessary and everything keeps the world ticking along but it’s the technology behind all of those making the world more efficient and propelling us into the future.

What advice would you give to people just getting into the workforce that want to follow your career path?

Building strong relationships has been a huge part of my career path. I remember when I was at my first software company, we got a new executive and she hired a bunch of directors she used to work with. I was so naïve in thinking, it’s so coincidental that they all used to work together” [laughs] and now I realize that’s just the way the world works. Your relationships both internally and externally are critically important to your career. Find those people who you really connect with and maintain those relationships no matter how busy life gets.

You also need to take a leap of faith in yourself sometimes and think about the job you want, not the job you have. If I’m being 150% honest:

Was I ready for the VP of Customer Success role when I applied for it? Absolutely not!

Did I feel like I would eventually get there? For sure!

I had enough confidence to think I could do this! And whether I should go for it or not wasn’t even an option. I was incredibly grateful to have so many people that believed in me, which played a huge part in my confidence to go for it. I’m a firm believer in being authentic to who you are because when you do that, other people will believe in you just as much as you believe in yourself.

What challenges have you faced because you decided to take a one-year maternity leave?

It was a risk because in technology there’s such a rapid pace that doesn’t exist in other industries and a one-year mat leave is a long time. I knew Achievers would change and be different. In the year I was gone, we had two CEOs and we were acquired. I basically came back to a brand-new company. I didn’t recognize a lot of people. I worried a lot about taking the whole year but looking back, I wouldn’t change anything because I got to spend an entire year with Evan and I will never get that time with him again. That said I know people that are taking shortening maternity leaves so they don’t miss out on opportunities at work, and it’s a tough decision for a mother to make.

I’ve faced challenges as a working mother. The first one being re-integrating into the workforce. When I came back a lot had happened and I didn’t feel like I fit in any more. It was incredibly difficult. I bawled my eyes out my first day back because I felt like too much had changed.  I couldn’t keep up and I was struggling with the thought of a stranger watching my child while I was at work.
Since then, of course, I’ve found ways to make things more manageable but there are still days when I need to make tough choices. Like when Evan is really sick and he needs me at home but I have a really important meeting. Many of my colleagues are on the West Coast and there’s often a need to have meetings later in the evening during my prime time with Evan. It’s the only time I see him all day but there could still be a lot of things going on and finding the balance there is important.

I had been given some misguided advice early in my career that when you do consider having a child you need to do it when you’re at a peak moment in your career because it’s where you will plateau when you come back. IF you come back. The reason I say that’s misguided is because in my personal story that hasn’t been the case at all. It’s been almost two years since I came back and they’ve been the best ones of my career, even though they’ve also been the hardest. Even though I’m juggling everything and experience extreme mom guilt – if I look at my nearly seven years at Achievers’ holistically, they’ve been my favourite.

Her Lived Experience

I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t eat properly. There’s definitely an impact and I want to be real because it’s not all rosy.

Since becoming VP of Customer Success what has been the impact to your mental health and self-care?

The role comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility including the entire Achievers’ customer portfolio and 55 people which can feel like a lot of pressure sometimes because there are a lot of competing needs. Right now, I’m not succeeding from a work-life balance perspective. Work is definitely winning. I try to dedicate those early evening hours to my family when I’m in town. I leave work on time to pick up Evan from daycare and spend time with him but immediately after he goes to bed I’m working again and what’s suffering most is “me-time”.  I devote so much time to my work, to my child, then to my husband and then to me so by the time to I get to me… I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t eat properly. There’s definitely an impact and I want to be real because it’s not all rosy. My husband and I have had lots of conversations about how I need to find a better balance so I can be the best version of myself for everyone who depends on me, including myself.

My first step is acknowledging I need to do this. And my second step is to get better at asking for help and being upfront with people about what I realistically can and cannot do. I’m also getting better at figuring out how to best use our spare time as a family. For example, we just spent a few days away together for Evan’s 3rd birthday, and we prioritized ensuring he had a great time.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women in tech today?

I’ve been wondering how early do we need to start changing behaviours and creating a dialogue so women think they can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I was recently at a “Women in Business” awards’ dinner in San Francisco where Talbott Roche, the CEO of our parent company, Blackhawk Network, won an award for her inspirational leadership. They announced that amongst Fortune 500 companies, only 6% are run by women CEOs and it shocked me. What was even crazier is that we celebrated that this number has doubled since 2009 (when only 15 of the Fortune 500 companies were run by women). It’s alarming. It was positioned in such a way that, “we should be happy”, but it’s awful when the population is about 50/50 and you have to ask why aren’t women getting as many chances as men?

I think in part it’s because there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to “have it all”. Especially for women who are very career focused and also mothers who have ambitions to be a C-Suite executive and be the kind of mom that can bring homemade cookies to their kids’ school. I hate when people ask “Can you have it all”? Like what does “all” mean?!  I don’t believe you can “have it all” but you can have the different pieces of the life you want integrated so they work for you and your family.

How do you plan on teaching your son about gender inequalities and giving him the tools he needs to help bridge those gaps?

It’s only recently that Evan started understanding the differences between boys and girls and I’m shocked this gender gap already exists when he’s only 3. The biggest thing for me is to show him that women can do whatever they want to do and that men and women aren’t as different as some people make them seem. I’m fortunate to have a husband that participates in the household as much as I do, if not even more. He loves to cook, loves to iron and is an incredible handyman. We will both teach Evan and show him through our actions that we’re equal. I’m committed to making sure he grows up to be respectful and kind to women and everyone regardless of what they look like, how they speak, the colour of their skin.

It’s going to be really freaking hard though because of this society. He’s already picking up on things and there’s a lot of influence I don’t have control over. In the early days you have complete influence over your kid and then suddenly they go to school and they form these independent thoughts and you’re like “whoa where did you learn that”.

Any advice on achieving a “work-life balance”?

I interviewed a VP of Human Resources (HR) once and asked her about “work life balance”. She was the first person that said to me there’s no such thing as work life balance only “work life integration” and that really stuck with me. She also said if you measure if you’re succeeding on work life balance (or integration) on too frequent of a basis you will always feel like you’re failing. You need to take a long lens approach. For example, if I think about this week I’d definitely be failing because I’m all work and no life. But I’ve accepted this because we’re in the final days of preparation for our huge annual customer conference but hopefully in a few weeks I can focus more on life. But when I look back on the entire past year I generally feel like I’m balancing things.  The other advice she had was to mix personal and professional. She recommended using one calendar for everything, her thought was “so you are a woman who is a VP who is also a mother, who is also a wife, and if your colleagues see in your calendar that you’re going to the dentist — ‘so what, you have teeth’”. I loved that simple trick and I’ve incorporated it into my own practice.

The Achievers Women’s Network would like to acknowledge & thank the “In Her Own Way” blog for inspiring the 12-month series.


Bianca West – Implementation Manager


Bianca West is an Enterprise Implementation Manager and President of AWN. She was interviewed as part of the 12 month Achievers Women’s Network (AWN) series. The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.

Bianca gets comfortable on my couch with pillows propped behind her and legs outstretched. I start the interview as I typically would but fully appreciate this is anything but normal. I know Bianca is in-the-midst-of a difficult personal journey but sitting across from her you couldn’t tell. She’s such a composed, strong, wise woman whose humour flows in and out as we interview. Every sentence she delivers has a purpose and comes from a place of extreme introspection.

Bianca talks about her experience as a first-generation Canadian, reflects warmly on diving into her parent’s bed as a child to tell them about her dreams and thoughtfully provides insights into her imposed identity of “other”. 

As much as she wants to stay focused on her experiences as a woman, on diversity in her space and the goals of AWN, the loss of her dad is weaved throughout her responses as she refers to him in the present tense in one sentence and the past tense in the next. And while we both agree we don’t want her dad’s passing to be the focal point of the article, it’s a recurring theme throughout and to ignore that or pretend it’s less than life changing would be to gloss over something profound, raw and emotional. This is life. This is real. This is her story.

Her Back Story

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I identify with being Canadian. But when I think about how people see me, I think they see a black woman first.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned to date?

I recently lost my dad and I think what that’s in the process of teaching me is that I don’t have to have everything figured out right away. You can just take things day by day. For me personally, the stage of grieving that I’m in right now… is just showing up and being present. And letting the people that love me, see that I’m okay or that I’m striving towards that.

I think about my dad’s life and his journey and it just makes me that much more dedicated to making very strategic decisions professionally and personally that are going to result in a happily lived life.

Tell me a bit about growing up as a first-generation Canadian.

As a kid I feel like I very much lived in a happy, fantasy world in my brain. Things became a lot more real and my perception of how others saw me versus how I saw myself in the world became a lot more obvious to me when I entered university. It could have been me coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t around a lot of people like me. I had never noticed that before as much as I did when I got to Laurier. 

It wasn’t until I went to University that I started feeling like a first-generation Canadian and a young woman who needed to carve out her own path. There were a lot of things I needed to figure out for the first time. While my family supported me 150%, this was a first time for them as well. I had to be resourceful and identify people around me that I respected, admired or were doing what I needed to do and just ask questions. I feel like I was always very people oriented for that reason alone and it became more of a survival skill in university.

As an example, when people were applying for schools and doing research, I very much took the lead and would go back to my parents with that information. I would tell them when we were going to orientation. In no way is that a negative thing but it really did shape the way I approach my life today. It’s not that I couldn’t go to my family but my efficiency side thought “I might as well just learn this and share the info with them”.

How did your family dynamics influence you and shape who you are today?

Ahhh. Oh my gosh, in every way shape and form…I am my mother’s daughter as much as I am my father’s daughter as much as I am a first generation trying to figure it out in this world. My mom and I have spent countless hours talking about everything you can talk about.

Growing up, when I woke up I would run into my parents’ room and jump in between them and talked to them about every thought I could possibly have and they aren’t naysayers. They are such supporters. They are just so fascinated by the way their kids think, as immigrants to Canada, things as simple as innovative thinking were like magic to them. It was everything they could have wanted their kids to inherit from them, the seed of possibility, but we had more tools then they had to succeed. So from the sense of how that shapes who I am today, I’m very optimistic. I’m curious about people. I want to understand their journeys, where they came from and how that shaped the lens they have on the world, of me, of others and of a situation. I really do consider my entire sensory system when I’m making decisions like: “is this person upset, are they prepared, are they comfortable?” There are so many things on a human level that go into my decision-making, whether it be professional or otherwise. I think I get that from my parents.

I mentioned I talked with my mom but I also talked a lot with my dad. He had long conversations with me about the world and would ask me my perspective and we’d wildly disagree sometimes. But from a man’s perspective in my life, he was a combination of strength and affection and just a mixture of what I think a whole being is. It shaped men for me and how I interact with men because there was nothing off topic, there was nothing I couldn’t do. He was a very affectionate father as well, so I think from a feminist point of view and considering gender roles, I never really saw them in a black and white way, it’s all grey area – which is good.

Is there a specific mantra or philosophy that influences you?

A mantra, I say every morning and usually have to say again by 10AM [laughs] is”you need to be patient today. You need to listen when people are speaking to you. Really listen. Don’t just react. Be present”. It’s really important to me. A lot of the leaders I respect give themselves and their undivided attention to the people they’re around. It attests to the information they can absorb and do useful things with.

Who inspires you and why?

There’s a collection of people who inspire me. I have pictures printed out on my desk at work. 

One is of my mother. She is sensationally optimistic and strong. She lets challenges and obstacles slide off her (seemingly) easily. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized it takes a lot of control and strength to do what I’ve seen her do.

Oprah. What has always inspired me about her was that you wanted to hear what she had to say even if there was an expert sitting beside her. You are curious about her perspective. You care about what she’s thinking because she was able to garner that much respect amongst her fans.

Beyoncé . No one who knows me will be shocked by this. I think she’s just a lovely combination of energy, sexuality and an embodiment of a part of black culture. As a fan, I’ve seen her grow, reinvent and get better and better over time. I always have gravitated towards her energy.

The Obamas. Barack and Michelle are also at my desk. I could say 100 million things about why they’re fantastic. I just think they bring such an air of class, grace and focus that when I look up and I see their picture I think, “Barack Obama would handle this better than how I want to handle it” [laughs]. I need to be mindful of how a graceful, classy person would go into a situation. It’s a young picture of them. I like that they had no idea where their journey would lead them.

Her Career Path

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It was really beautiful because I knew it was me, taking a chance on myself.

Tell me about your role as an Enterprise Implementation Manager.

The role is a mixture of project management and consulting. As an Implementation Manager it is our job to understand our client’s objectives in-depth, provide best practices, translate client needs into functional requirements and tailor the design of the product to meet their business requirements. From initial concept, to build and change management while working with multiple internal teams and large client teams to hit a target launch date.

Every client is different, every circumstance is different. In project work you always have to gain trust from the people you’re working with. You have to treat it like a new experience. It’s not ‘one-size-fits-all’. I love that I can’t be repetitive. I have to go into each implementation with the mentality of learning. I feel like I grow all the time. It’s also the exact thing I find most challenging. I think it’s really easy when you’ve done the same thing a couple of times to want to put things in a box and remembering that I can’t do that is a welcomed challenge.

Tell me about a risk you’ve taken in your career and did it ‘pay-off’?

Last December I had an opportunity to potentially move abroad for an internal role. When I first heard of  the opportunity my stomach dropped. I was just immediately thinking about all the things I could be missing out on in Toronto. And I knew because of that visceral reaction I had, it was exactly why I needed to go in that direction. I said yes. 

I called my mom, as I do [laughs]. I let her know I had the opportunity. She was sensationally supportive which I wasn’t expecting. I just kept saying yes and feeling nauseous in my private time. Being prepared in conversations, feeling incredibly capable, ready and excited. All those initial fears turned into this momentous journey of not really knowing how my life was going to unfold. It was uncomfortable for me as someone who likes to have a plan. It was also really beautiful because I knew it was me, taking a chance on myself.

Did I get the job? I did not get the job.

Did it pay off? Yes, it paid off. I said yes to everything that would’ve felt like a “no” a couple of years ago.  I was prepared for a completely unknown challenge. I think it paid off because I feel even more capable now and even more prepared for opportunities like that in the future. And I’m prepared to fail again. When I was younger, failure was never an option for me. 

What challenges have you encountered in your career because of your identity? And how have you navigated those moments?

When you talk about identity, it’s a pyramid for people of colour or visible minorities. Whether it be sexuality, gender, race, religion, etc.  At the top of my pyramid, I identify with being Canadian. But when I think about how people see me, I think they see a black woman first. So when I think about intersectionality, I think about how it changes depending on my surroundings. It’s always in motion. 

It was really interesting to join Achievers and be one of maybe two black people in 2012. Now I’m one of five in the Toronto office and that’s five years later and it’s a growing company.

I think what’s important for me through AWN and through constructive dialogue is to explain how the “other” is implied onto visible minorities, unsolicited. I could very well, in an alternate universe be ignorant to what all my identities mean in different spaces and how people react to those identities, but it’s impossible. As an example, I recently had my hair in faux-dreadlocks and I questioned if I should take them out before visiting a client’s office. I was wondering if it was going to distract from what I brought to the table. It’s not an insecurity. 

Last year there was a case in North America that ruled it legal to deny job offers based on traits in a person’s appearance that are tied to their culture but that are changeable. In professional spaces, things like “race–neutral grooming” policies exist and these are things I need to be aware of if I want to step into an impartial environment.

I am fully aware of my identity. I can’t ostracize myself from that struggle. I’m hyper aware of situations I could find myself in based on my own and others’ experiences. The only way to navigate them is to assume people have the best of intentions. 

Growing up where black people were a very small percentage, going to university where that was the same, coming to an office where that’s the same…you can’t help but be aware. If a circumstance comes up that’s uncomfortable or that is blatantly disgraceful I need to choose in that moment to believe that’s not the intention of that person and depending on the circumstance it might be an opportunity to educate. Or an opportunity to reflect on how I can avoid that situation again. But that takes a lot of patience and listening and being present.

Her Lived Experience

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It’s okay to not understand. It’s not okay to not want to understand.

What do you do for your own mental well being? How do you prioritize self-care?

I set reminders on my phone. Sometimes I’ll action them and other times they’re just a shame reminder of what I should be doing in that moment. I have a reminder that goes off before bed. For The Walking Dead fans, the question that goes off at 11pm nightly is, “if the world was ending in two weeks what would matter to you?” Sometimes I’ll be out and I’ll just see it and it will allow me to reflect. And the answer is not “get all the canned goods!!!” [laughs] That’s not the intention of the question. It helps with problems that seem big, to become quite small and digestible. The trend of that question is people matter.

I’ve also been practicing the 10-10-10 rule. Is this going to bother me in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years? It’s to show perspective. Very few things are going to bother you in 10 months….if so, you’ll be like “What?” and handle it.

If you could give your younger self advice what would it be?

Workout! [laughs heartily]

But on the real, with the side note of my dad passing from cancer, it’s been really, really, really, really, really top of mind for me. I’m hyper aware of what I’m consuming and how I’m treating my body because this body is not just for me. It’s for my family, one day for my kids, for my mom so I can help her when she’s older, so I have to be very aware of all that stuff. 

What else would I have told my younger self? “You got this!”

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?

This is a very important question, and it’s hard to say just one thing. I’ll answer based on this moment and everything we’ve been discussing. When I think about the awesome women that have been participating in this series and reservations that they had, when I think about you and about myself….I think we just need to stop asking for permission to share our story, our opinion. 

It’s birthed from good intentions, but I think a lot of people are worried to disrupt male spaces. Even though what I’m saying, I have the full right to say; I’ve thought about it; I’ve researched it and I’ve spoken to other people to validate it but we still hold back. By not holding back, taking small steps that are in our control, we are elevating our voices and making us active participants in the bigger change related to the social and political issues that prevent women from achieving parity each day.

We’re afraid of having more than one powerful person in a space and finding ways to work together. I really do think when people feel starved for opportunity and starved to be heard it’s really hard to do that and I get that. But remembering, it doesn’t have to be one light, there can be many.

How can men be an active participant in advancing women in tech?

It’s not all men. I think some men understand, but I would say empathy. Are you seeing all opinions being heard? Being respected? Are you seeing a proper reflection of not only diversity but inclusion of thought? And when you’re having constructive conversation, ideally to help you understand a disconnect, are you leading with empathy?

I think it’s really, really easy for people to understand some but not others. It’s because we’re all leading with our own lived experiences. The advice I would give to a person that’s truly in conflict with a community’s struggle; ask yourself what your blockades are? What questions do I need to ask to get the answers that I need? It’s okay to not understand, it’s not okay to not want to understand. 

The Achievers Women’s Network would like to acknowledge & thank the “In Her Own Way” blog for inspiring the 12-month series.


Anna Robinson – Product Manager


Anna Robinson is a Senior Technical Product Manager. She was interviewed as part of the 12 month Achievers Women’s Network (AWN) series. The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.

Aptly self-described as a ‘jack of all trades’, Anna walks me through her 10+ year journey at her current company, Achievers, and her return from maternity leave. Our conversation covers her diverse hobbies, interests and accomplishments. From photography, to ballroom dancing competitions, to small business ideas, it’s refreshing to speak to an accomplished woman in tech that prides herself on being so well-rounded. It’s obvious she has a strong work ethic but humble attitude which she credits to her parents and her early childhood experiences. 

As we sit sipping our morning coffee, Anna picks at her coffee-cup sleeve nervously until it’s a pile of pieces on the table. I struggle to hear her over a people chatting at the next table because she’s incredibly soft spoken even though her words are strong, fierce and candid. I realize quickly that ‘pegging’ Anna as any one type of person is futile and instead smile when this poised woman swears in one sentence, while discussing the importance of meditation in the next as she tells her story.

Her Back Story

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I was always trying to be someone I wasn’t and it was only later in life that I started to really understand myself and to feel comfortable with who I was.

Tell me about your family’s transition from Latvia to Canada and how that experience impacted you.

I was born in Latvia and came to Canada when I was 9 with my parents. It was a scary time. The Soviet Union had just fallen apart. My parents were Russian but lived in Latvia. There was a lot of Nationalism and Russians were being pushed out. People were working two or three jobs to make ends meet. My parents were applying everywhere including Canada just to get out of there.

My mom was a doctor in her country. When she came to Canada her degree did not transfer over. She started working any job because we only came here with $10,000. She was washing dishes, babysitting, cooking homemade food to sell — anything! You just get down to survival mode and that really taught me hard work. And when push comes to shove there’s no job low enough, you’ll do what you have to. My parents didn’t have the luxury of thoughts like “I need to find my calling in this job” or “this company doesn’t have a good work-life balance”. Because of their experience I learned hard work and humbleness, and prioritized different values, which is why, in some ways I don’t really relate to people my age.

Why Did You Pursue a Degree in Software Engineering?

My dad was the computer engineer in the family. He really tried to push all of his kids into it and I was the one that fell for it I guess [laughs]. I was really hooked onto solving problems and then building them out and watching something come to life. Visual Basic was my first programming language that I started working with. I spent hours just building games and playing around. It got me hooked on technology.

I think for me I was in such a little bubble. It was either going my mom’s route into medicine or the technology route with my dad. I didn’t want to touch people [bursts out laughing] so technology just looked more appealing to me. My dad put me into this Saturday workshop when I was 16 where you played around with photoshop, programming and that kind of stuff. I was the only girl so I got extra attention because the teacher was very excited to see a girl interested in it. As a kid I was into blocks and cars and more mechanical things. The courses I was always good at were the math and science courses.

From 13 onward I was very much exposed to technology. My dad has had a few family friends that would say why are you pushing her so hard, let her go into something else. She’s going to have such a hard time. My dad would just say, she’s going to be fine.

Tell me about your journey with your husband and his impact on you.

My husband and I were high-school sweethearts and we ended up going to the same university. He was in science and I was in technology so we got to grow up together. After university he wanted to pursue medical school in Ireland. It was four years of him in med school in Ireland and a long distance relationship that was obviously super, super tough. We had Skype-dates, but with internet lags and time differences it got frustrating at times. However, we had a strong foundation of trust. We knew we could click “pause” on our relationship, in a way, and be confident in knowing that when you click “play” you’re back to where you are. I took that as an opportunity to focus on my career, that’s where my movement to Product Management happened. It allowed us to be our own people for a bit because we were so young when we met. It was a positive in a way because we could focus on our own thing.  We finally bought a house and have our daughter together and finally settled down after all of that.

My biggest weakness is confidence, I’m always thinking “I don’t know if I can do that”. He’s the one that’s always pushing me, he’s my cheerleader and pushes me out of my comfort zone. He gives me those pep talks on a daily basis. His own journey is very inspiring to me since he has worked so hard to be where he is now.

Her Career Path

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Taking a problem apart piece by piece and solving it. It’s very rewarding and keeps me excited about my job.

Tell me about your current role and your responsibilities.

I’m responsible for a piece of a product. I’m responsible for its success, metrics and strategy and where we’re going next with it. You’re never a one person team. You’re partnered with the Developers to build what you’re thinking. You have Executives you have to sell your strategy to. You have Sales and Client Success teams that give you insight into our customers’ needs. Then you work with Marketing to bring your product to the market. You get to work with all the teams in the organization. You’re responsible for figuring out what’s coming next, for building it and then project managing it into life.

What do you find most rewarding about your role?

What’s most rewarding is seeing your idea come to life and seeing people use it. When I talk to our clients on the phone, I’ll listen to their pain points and how miserable a certain task is and I think to myself “okay, I know exactly how to solve that problem”. Sometimes you can implement and release the solution in a matter of weeks and you hear the client say “oh my god, this is amazing!” Sometimes they get so excited about an extra button you put in because it saves them hours of time. Those are the small wins. Then there’s the big projects, where you put in months and months of design. Taking a problem apart piece by piece and solving it. It’s very rewarding and keeps me excited about my job.

What do you find most challenging about your role?

It’s challenging to manage the influence. There are multiple departments and multiple clients with their own wishlists. Some have a larger voice than they should at times, and you have to learn to say no. I like to please people, so it’s hard for me to say to no sometimes and to manage all these inputs and come up with the best decision. You just have to make a decision and hope that you’re right but sometimes you’re not. It can be stressful because it’s your responsibility at the end of the day and it’s your product. You take it as a learning process. It’s rare you’ll make a very big mistake, you’re usually just a little bit off so you correct and move on. There’s no time to beat yourself up over it.

What are your long-term goals and plans?

Something that has always had in the back of my head is to run my own business. I have a lot of hobbies on the side and I’m pretty crafty. Photography is big passion of mine and eventually, I might pursue something in that field. Being a Product Manager, you’re the owner of a micro-company in some ways so it’s given me great experience in understanding how a product is born, how it matures and how it is marketed. My biggest, biggest dream is to run a bed & breakfast. Maybe it’s the Lorelei Gilmore fan in me [laughs].

I’m a jack of all trades kind of person. I’m not an extreme person in anyway, I’m very balanced and I think that reflects in my interests. I’m not going to spend all day reading blogs and going to technology conferences. I like my job but I try to do a million different things at once. I’m always looking and searching in hopes that I find that one thing that sticks but I don’t think I’ll ever be an extreme 100% live, breathe and die by one thing type of person. In a way though it makes me better at my job because I bring a different perspective to it.

What advice do you have for women pursuing your career path?

Don’t be intimidated by your gender. You’re going to walk into a room where you’re most likely going to be the only girl or one of two. Don’t let that intimidate you because you can bring a lot to the table.      

For me personally, in addition to being a woman, I’m also soft-spoken, so it’s a double whammy and I find it hard to command a room at times and get people to actually listen to you. Instead of this “go-away-little-girl” attitude I experience sometimes. I think in general, it takes a lot of time and effort for a woman to prove herself. I’ve seen boisterous men come into the room and by default, they have that respect. People assume that he must know what he’s talking about, but he may not know at all. Whereas for a woman, I find that it takes a few meetings and multiple times of repeating yourself to finally gain that respect. There are times when I’ll say something and someone else will reword what I said just louder and people will listen and agree. It’s frustrating but you have to keep pushing yourself and keep speaking out. Don’t be intimidated by the loud personalities in the room… which will most likely be men [laughs].   

Be confident in what you know and what you have to say and eventually you’ll gain that respect and you will be successful.

Her Lived Experience

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You’re going to walk into a room where you’re going to be the only girl. Don’t let that intimidate you because you can bring a lot to the table.

How do you navigate those moments of self-doubt or lack of confidence?

I’m working on my confidence, to say, “Listen! What I’m saying needs to be heard and is important”! I’ve pushed myself to join Toast Masters, I spent a year in that. Having to speak in front of a room on the spot was my biggest nightmare. I ended up doing pretty well and took on a VP of Public Relations role to help out with the day-to-day running of the club and recruiting new members. I try to push myself to do those kinds of things that scare me.

For me, confidence, comes with knowledge on the topic and preparation. I always try to be super prepared and that’s what helps me. I can’t just walk into a meeting and expect that I’m going to wing it. I’m not a ‘wing it’ kind of person. So I spend the extra hour preparing and it goes a long way in making me confident about what I have to say. It’s important to know your weaknesses and work with them.  

Only one day back from Mat Leave, what’s your plan for prioritizing your mental health and self-care?

My daughter is with people she knows and she loves. It’s me that has to adjust! Pre-maternity leave, that was super easy. My routine would’ve been get up earlier, go for a jog, listen to a nice podcast, stretch and meditate. I’m a huge introvert so on days when it’s back-to-back meetings my head starts exploding and I’ll get migraines. I’ll go for a walk, leave the office to ‘de-pressure’ myself. A 10 minute walk does amazing things. 

While I was on mat leave, you’re always just running around and you don’t have much time to yourself. My husband was always working crazy hours so walking is something we integrated into our life. It was a time to get away from electronics. We’d take the dog for a walk and we’d catch up, talk about politics, or the future or our next house. Future planning and dreaming [smiles].

Post-maternity leave, it’s going to be a lot harder to find that time but I need to come to terms with not feeling guilty about taking time for myself. If I need an hour to get in a car to go drive and take some pictures, I need to be able to say to myself that’s okay. If I’m not 100% then I cannot be 100% for my daughter. My husband is super supportive of that as well.

What life lessons do you plan on instilling in your daughter?

It’s funny, I’m thinking about that right now because we’re doing a time capsule for her birthday. I have a list that I put together for her. First, to just be herself and not be afraid of being different. I was always trying to be someone I wasn’t and it was only later in life that I started to really understand myself and to feel comfortable with who I was. I want her to pursue whatever she’s happy doing. She doesn’t need to follow the typical career path if she wants to be an artist or musician instead. As long as she has a passion for it and pursues it 100%.

Second, is that life is not going to give you anything. You have to fight for what you deserve. I always thought “oh I’m pretty good at that, eventually someone will recognize that and give me a promotion”. It takes self-promotion, which I’m not good at. You can’t just sit back and expect the world to notice that you’re awesome. Make plans for yourself and be the creator of your own path.

The third thing I would tell her is to not be afraid of challenging others if you don’t agree or if you don’t feel like it’s the right thing to do. Just because they are older or more experienced, doesn’t automatically mean they are right.

What biases do you think still exist in your field and how can men be part of the solution?

[long silence] It’s about having an open mind. There is definitely still bias based on gender.

I think that women have to work hard just to get up to a ground level and to start getting respect. Sometimes it feels like when you make one mistake, as a woman, it re-affirms the bias in people’s minds. It’s like “well, that’s what I thought, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about”. Where as a guy, is safe to make several mistakes over and over and over again before he loses that respect. It makes it harder for women to take more risks because they feel like they’re going to fail and mess it up for all the other women. That bias still needs to change.

Men in the field can help by respecting  their colleagues and just being a fucking good person [laughs]. Treating people the same way whether they’re a woman or a man and appreciate the fact that everyone can bring something to the table. Just because an idea is different than your way of thinking doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way to do something.

Any suggestions for blogs or general inspiration for women in tech. 

Some of the women that I follow on Twitter and Facebook are Sheryl Sandberg, Malala Yousafzai and Mayim Bialik. They are all strong and intelligent feminists, who are making some huge impacts in this world for women. I also love following Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love). She is an incredibly grounded and positive person and her latest book is about embracing your inner creativity. I like following a mix of people who you relate to and who you may not to gain different perspectives.

The Achievers Women’s Network would like to acknowledge & thank the “In Her Own Way” blog for inspiring the 12-month series.


Camille Williams – Vice President


Camille Williams was recently promoted to Vice President of Professional Services. She was interviewed as part of a 12 month Achievers Women’s Network (AWN) series. The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization.

What strikes me about Camille is her calming energy. Within a few minutes I feel like I’m chatting to someone I’ve known my entire life. It’s finally, a warm, sunny afternoon in Toronto so we opt to hold our interview on a nearby patio. As football fans, waiting for kick-off time, bustle around us, Camille breezes from one topic to the next, in a matter-of-fact-way, naturally transitioning from her recent promotion to her unconventional childhood to her daughters. While I am the one interviewing her, I feel like I have her undivided attention, she maintains eye contact for the duration of our interview, never losing focus. It’s clear, this is one of her many skills that makes her a perfect fit for her new role and why her team and clients must love her!

Perhaps evidence of her background in psychology, but Camille is very mindful when she speaks and her responses include words such as: “I think”, “I feel”, “examine” and “conscious”. Camille tells her story in “three chapters”. First, her unconventional childhood in Santa Rosa, California. Second, her time away at university and the early years with her husband.  Third, becoming a mother. She discusses the importance of education to broaden your worldview, how a seemingly benign moment like serving ice cream changed her life’s journey and the meandering path that led to her current role.

Her Back Story

Get an education, even if you never do anything with it, just to broaden your outlook.


Growing Up

I feel like my life is divided into three chapters. The young period of my life where I lived at home in Santa Rosa with my mother and step-father.  The second period where I made the decision I was going to do something with my life. I went to college, lived with my husband and we were together – just us – for 12 years. And the third chapter is when we had kids and I became a mother. When I think about Santa Rosa it’s like the forgotten chapter because it’s so long ago.

I don’t have the traditional background you’d expect of a professional woman in a software company.  I think people assume I have this middle-class background but I come from a fairly dysfunctional family situation where it was assumed I would never go to college or have many career prospects.  My mother was mentally unstable and I had no contact with my father at all, so that was a tough start. I feel that in a lot of ways I sort of miraculously escaped that part of my life. I just readHillbilly Elegy”. It’s a memoir about a man growing up poor in Appalachia who rises above his upbringing and attends Yale Law school. I read a lot of those kinds of stories. The theme is always, there are some key people that pushed them to be better, do more and try harder.  In my life that was my step-father.  He came into my life when I was 10 and at the time I thought he was terrible and I resented him. He was a Vietnam Vet and he had a temper. But he expected something of me, which was sort of new, because no one had ever expected anything of me before. Looking back, I really appreciate the influence he had on me in terms of expecting more. Even basic things like chores and keeping my room clean. He would give me money for good grades. When I look back I attribute a lot of my ability to rise above my upbringing to him.


I remember being in high school and being aware of people taking their SATs but it was something I didn’t even consider. I had no intention of going to College. I graduated high school in 1992, got a job at a pharmacy and worked the photo counter for a couple of years [laughs]. One day I had to cover the ice-cream counter and some people I went to high school with came in. I had to scoop ice cream for them and serve them. It was definitely one of those moments where I thought, “is this really all that I want for my life?!” In that moment, I realized there’s gotta be more to life than this! So I enrolled in some general education courses at Santa Rosa Junior College and figured out what I needed to do to transfer into a four-year college. I ended up getting into one of the top universities in California and I did my last two years at UC Berkeley. It’s funny to go from somebody who only made good grades because my step-dad was paying me, to finding the self-motivation to get into a good school.

I think I was interested in a psychology degree because I just wanted to make sense of my life, my family and why we had such unsatisfactory relationships. My long-term plan was to get my PhD in psychology and become a psychiatrist, but when I graduated I took a year to work to see what my options were and I ended up falling into a different career path. Once I got away from home and family I realized, who cares? I don’t really need to explain it all, I just need to move forward.

Early Career

After university, I took a job as a compensation research associate in a small consulting firm in Oakland. I didn’t even know you could have a career specifically in compensation. I fell into that and just kinda kept going with it. I worked at that consulting firm for a few years and got promoted through the ranks there.  After awhile, it became very weird for me to go visit clients and tell them what they should be doing when I had never sat on their side of the table. So I thought I’d get a job as an internal compensation person to get that experience, but it was never something I was excited about.

Then one day, I was looking at Craigslist and there was a job opening for a Project Manager at a start-up company implementing a compensation software tool. I thought, “well I don’t know the software piece but I know the compensation piece and maybe I can leverage that and learn the other stuff”. I took a chance, took that job and it was so much better from day one! I really liked the tangible start and finish of a project.

I worked there for a number of years and was promoted to a Senior Consultant, then a Principal Consultant and then a position opened up for a Practice Director. I didn’t even consider applying for it but my manager at the time encouraged me. I didn’t think I was qualified and I thought “nobody’s going to pick me to do that role”. But he talked me into applying and I ended up getting the job! I’ll always be grateful to him.


I’ve been with my husband forever! He’s been through two of three chapters with me. Scott’s always encouraged me to take risks, make job changes, pursue what was next in my life and always told me I could do it. He gave me that push that I needed from time-to-time. He’s always had more faith in me than I’ve had in myself and that’s had a huge influence on me.

I had my daughters later in life, well into my 30s, and I feel like they’ve given me a purpose. I never really felt grown up until I had kids. It gives you something to live for beyond yourself and I feel like now, everything I do, I do for them. It’s important for them to see me as a woman with a career, somebody who is educated, a professional who has options and to be a strong role model for them.

Her Career Path

If women are going to get ahead we need to extend the hand behind to pull the next person up.

What is your current role and why do you find it rewarding?

I’m Vice President (VP) of Professional Services (PS) at Achievers. I lead the teams that work with new and existing customers to design, build and launch their Recognition and Engagement programs to their employees.

I have a very high performing team. So of course, it’s really nice to meet all of our goals, quarter after quarter, but it’s about being a leader of a team that works so hard. They give it their all everyday. It’s a team of people that are very passionate about what they do and take strong, personal pride in the outcome and that’s really a breath of a fresh air. Everybody gives whatever it takes to exceed and that’s a great place to be. It gives me the inspiration to try harder and push harder.

You work remotely from California, while your team is based in Toronto, what is most challenging about being a remote leader?

I was originally hired to build out an implementation team on the West Coast so that we would be positioned to locally staff our implementation projects in the region, but shortly after I came on board, the company decided to go into a different direction. Instead I was put in charge of five implementation managers that were based in Toronto and the East Coast. As the Director, I had regular one-on-one meetings with all my team members, and weekly meetings with the full PS team where we’d all have our web cameras turned on so we could see each other. I wanted my team to feel that I was as present and as accessible as if I were sitting in the office with them. It took awhile for everyone to feel comfortable reaching out to me, and several times of them messaging me at 6:30 AM, my time, and getting a response, for it to start to feel comfortable.

Then I was promoted to VP. Now I’m managing the entire team remotely. The hardest thing is being 3000 miles away and not being part of the organic office environment. Feeling out of touch is a real challenge so I’m really conscious about it. I’m in California and 90% of the team is together in Toronto. I don’t always know how people are feeling or what the pulse of the office is, so, I rely on my relationships and managers to tell me; “Has morale dropped?”, “Is there a weird vibe in the office today? Tell me, so I can help.” We’ve established a great network so I’m aware of those situations.

If you’re in an office you can be different type of leader and have it work but when you’re remote your relationships are everything because if you don’t know what’s going on you can’t help or get ahead of anything.

What advice would give to women who want to follow your career path?

For me, education is key. It was the differentiator in terms of having a better life and more opportunity like a better career, to make more money, buy a home and do all of those things that make for a significant difference in the quality of life. Beyond that, having an education is key in terms of understanding different viewpoints, different theories and having a broader idea of the world and how it works. That would be my advice….get an education, even if you never do anything with it, just to broaden your outlook.

Professional Services is a great career path! The skillset that’s most important is communication, then organizational and time management skills. Take a course in Project Management, Communication, Negotiation, How to Influence Others because all of those things would be really helpful.

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career and what was the outcome?

The biggest risk that stands out was applying for that Practice Director role at my previous company and making the jump from independent contributor to becoming a people manager. I was happy doing what I was doing, I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what my long-term goals were and what I wanted to do. I was just thinking, this is going well, it’s working, I’m paying the bills” [laughs]. I had to push through the fear of, “do I want to take this on? And learn new stuff? And go from a situation where I’m peers with people to where I’m managing them? I think intellectually I knew I could do it but I had to push through that fear.

That’s something I struggled with my whole life but every time I’ve taken the risk it’s been good and paid off.

How has your confidence impacted your career over the years?

All my life I’ve undersold myself. I didn’t aim high a lot of times and it didn’t occur to me to do so. I feel like I am in such a better place than where I could have been or based on statistics, where I should be so going further than that seemed, almost unnecessary.  It sounds silly but that’s always been my mindset and it’s something I’ve had to overcome.

As an example, when the Practice Director role came up at my previous company it didn’t even occur to me to apply for it but, this time, at Achievers, when the VP role opened up I thought, “oh, I should think about this. Is it something I want? Something I feel like I can do? Something I feel like I can take on at this point in my life?” It was the first time in my life, I got in front of something rather than having somebody push me along. I felt good about this because I saw the opportunity, I recognized it and thought I could do it. I feel like it was kind of a milestone in my life, rather than waiting or letting the opportunity pass by.

Her Lived Experience

Women are going to continue to be disadvantaged if, at age 4 and 7, they’re told Princesses and Barbies are more interesting than engineering kits and learning how things work.

As a woman in a leadership role, how do you think you’re benefitting other women?

It’s just good to see women in leadership positions. Most people have readLean Inbut something that really impacted me about that book is that women and men attend college at the same rate, in fact, women outpace men. So we come out of university on an equal playing field and then after that first 5 years women start dropping out. And there’s a whole lot of reasons for that, but at the end of the day, there are fewer women in leadership positions and I think it can be intimidating for women. I think it’s changing but the more of us there are in leadership roles, the more normalized it seems and the more achievable it becomes.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women today?

I think a lot about this because I have two little girls. I honestly feel like we’ve made a lot of great strides but I still see the gender bias and how much culture and society start brainwashing kids at such young ages: TV programs, magazines, media…pushing Princesses, pink and sparkles on little girls. And firemen and engineering sets for little boys.

We’re seeing the trend of less girls going into science or math and getting those types of degrees and women are going to continue to be disadvantaged if, at age 4 and 7, they’re told Princesses and Barbies are more interesting than engineering kits and learning how things work.

How do you combat those early gender biases with your daughters?

It’s something I’m very conscious of but I still find myself falling into that trap. One of my daughters is very “girly” [motions air-quotes]. She loves fashion, earrings and make-up and I don’t want to discourage that because all of those things are fine but I just want her to know that there’s more to life and it’s okay to have other interests. If she doesn’t have an affinity for math, science and engineering I’m not going to push that on her but I just want her to know all the things that are open to her. We try to expose both of our girls to the full spectrum of options available to them and see what sticks.

What’s your reaction when someone asks “how do you do it all”?    

You would not believe how often I get asked that question and it always stops me for a second because I think well, you know, you just do it!” And then my second thought, I don’t want to sound flippant but, you do think, “would you ask a man that? No!” But the honest answer is, it is hard to some extent because we’re programmed to have a specific role. I have a lot of guilt that I struggle with when I’m at work. Like here I’m in Toronto, and I’m 3000 miles away from my kids. But when I’m at home or on vacation then I feel guilty that I’m not at work. I hope my daughters don’t have to face the same perceived expectations that my generation has, which is you have to be all of it. Mom. Wife. VP of PS. Omnipresent all the time for everybody.

I’ve been really fortunate that my husband has been able to stay home with our kids. If we were both working and had dual careers this would be very difficult to do. I think it’s important to point that out because it’s harder when you have two working parents and I’ve been lucky to prioritize my career and know my kids are at home with someone I trust. It just kinda happened when I was pregnant with our second daughter, he got laid off and we had a conversation that maybe he shouldn’t go straight into another job and take some time with the baby. I honestly thought, “he’s going to last six weeks!” but he really embraced it and he’s doing such a great job. Of the two of us, he’s definitely the better one of us to stay at home, he’s patient and nurturing and I’m not [laughs].

What role do you think women play in our advancement?

I honestly feel like, often times, women can be one another’s own worst enemy which is really unfortunate, because if women are going to get ahead we need to support each other. Fight for one another and extend the hand behind to pull the next person up. I actually feel like at Achievers that is true but I know that’s not a universal truth and that’s something we’re going to need to work on if we’re going to advance women in the workplace.

Also, I think women tend to sell themselves short, not every woman of course. But women will often be very hardworking, very smart, very competent but they’ll wait for things to come to them. For a boss to recognize they’re great, to offer them a promotion rather than raising their hand and making it known what they want. We need to be better advocates for ourselves and each other if we want to take the next step for equality in the workforce.

Her Final Advice

What advice would you give to men in your industry (or in general)? 

It depends on the man! [while laughing].  I think many men now, don’t have a lot of the issues that men have had in the past where they wouldn’t even consider a woman but my advice would be just… give us a chance! Look at us based on our merits. Promote or hire the best person who has the best skillset for the job and if you’ve got a male and female candidate that are equally qualified and you’re leaning towards the male examine why that is. Maybe that’s the right choice but maybe there are some influences there that you’re subconsciously not aware of.

The Achievers Women’s Network would like to acknowledge & thank the “In Her Own Way” blog for inspiring the 12-month series.


Denise Willett – Senior Director


Denise Willett​ recently became the Senior Director of EMEA. She was interviewed as part of a 12 month Achievers Women’s Network (AWN) series. The series highlights women leaders at different stages of their career throughout the organization. 

Denise’s story exemplifies what happens when you take a break from checking those seemingly all-important life boxes (degree, home, marriage, etc.). She’s proof you can get everything you want in life and have fun adventures along the way. Her most recent adventure has seen her family move from Toronto to the UK where, as a Senior Director, Denise is leading the charge for Achievers – a global software company! She prides herself on building strong teams and strong connections wherever she goes.

Words like courageous, confident and candid come to mind when speaking with Denise. But she makes it clear “courage” takes time to build….sometimes three years to change a job, other times 10 years to finally scratch that itch for travel. She doesn’t shy away from her failures, the challenges she faced post-maternity leave or her lived experiences.

Being interviewed is incredibly vulnerable and after each question she takes long pauses, carefully considering her answers. Denise is uncomfortable and, at times, nervous but she continues because she recognizes the importance of telling her story. Continue reading “Denise Willett – Senior Director”