Q&A: Leading the way for women in technology

We talk to Allstream’s Kelly Pitaoulis, the new Vice Chair of WCT-AB, about how things have changed for women in technology since she began her career and what she hopes to achieve with the newly resurrected Alberta chapter of IEEE’s WCT.

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Kelly Pitaoulis, Account Director with Allstream in Calgary, was recently appointed Vice Chair of the resurrected Alberta chapter of IEEE’s Women in Communications and Technology (WCT-AB). They held their inaugural event on March 18, which was a resounding success — the virtual event sold out.

Pitaoulis has always been passionate about technology, studying MS-DOS in high school in a classroom full of boys. Later, working in sales allowed her to incorporate her entrepreneurial DNA — she comes from an entrepreneurial family — with her love of technology.

Over the years, she’s worked at tech companies of all sizes, from a small start-up in the 1990s to her current role at Allstream, where she serves as a trusted advisor to customers. She also has an extensive background in not-for-profit volunteer work, which she’s been doing for 25 years.

“I love volunteering, I love working with people, it just fills my bucket,” she says.

Pitaoulis works with some of Allstream’s largest customers, finding solutions aligned with their technology roadmap. “We are customer obsessed and the customer experience is paramount,” she says, explaining why she enjoys her job so much. “We’re very forward thinking. We’re innovative, we are quick and we are nimble. And I think we’ve really demonstrated that with our customers during COVID, how our responsiveness was there and how it resonated with our clients.”

We talk to Pitaoulis about women in technology and what it means to be appointed Vice Chair of WCT-AB. 

women in technology

Allstream’s Kelly Pitaoulis

How did you come to be Vice Chair of the newly resurrected Alberta chapter of WCT-AB?

The chapter was a bit dormant for a while and we saw there was a gap. A couple of our members sit on the national board and were like, why don’t we start one in Calgary? I myself had reached out to the national board to inquire about the Alberta chapter.

And then all the stars aligned. The timing was amazing because, with the pandemic, it shone a light on the deficiencies for women in society — the jobs that we have, the wage difference for women. The flip side to that is, it also shone a light on our strengths as human beings, how much we value our relationships and our connections.

What was the response to the inaugural event in March?

The response was overwhelming. Our event sold out — we had 100 people show up virtually, which is amazing at a time when people are experiencing Zoom fatigue. Clearly there was a need.

The event was about embracing change and creating purpose. Guest speakers included Hannah Cree, co-founder of Common Good, Annie Akpan, STEM for girls leader with IBM Canada and Kylie Woods, founder of Chic Geek. The focus wasn’t just on the pandemic, but on resiliency and grit, on embracing change.

It was a very positive message — we’re going through difficult times, but how do we face it and how do we move on and what is the silver lining? It was this remarkable, multi-faceted discussion from different perspectives. And just from that one event we had a lot of interest — companies looking to partner with us, well-established female executives looking to join our mentorship program.

What are your goals for WCT-AB in the coming year?

We’re committed to helping working professional women climb the ranks. We want to have women promoted internally and get a seat at the table, helping them navigate through networking or skills training or mentorship. We also want to help STEM graduates get the right support, mentorship and coaching to start their careers. And then, we aspire to engage and influence young female minds and give them permission to dream about STEM careers.

Our mission is to spark, amplify, partner and nurture — to spark experiences that drive memorable and meaningful development, and amplify the success and progress of our talented female workforce, whether that’s mentorship or networking. And then we partner with organizations, like technology companies or schools, to have discussions about STEM and nurture adaptive strategies for successful career navigation. Those are our four pillars.

How have things changed — or not — for women in the technology sector since you started your career?

The glass ceiling is cracking. There are more STEM grads, more women in executive leadership and wage equity is on the rise. The gaps are closing in those areas. But we still have work to do. More women are getting promoted in management — 37 per cent of senior executives are women, but only five per cent of CEOs are women. We’re making progress, but it’s twofold because to promote more women, you need more women in the pipeline. At Allstream we’re very fortunate — there are a lot of women on our leadership team.

What has the past year taught us?

The flexibility of technology, of cloud services and digital transformation, has allowed us to continue our work and maintain our connections. Maybe that’s what is really going to crack that glass ceiling because now, for women, that flexibility is there to take care of your elderly parents or your kids and still do your job.

It could actually help in the long run. The whole hybrid workplace concept post-pandemic can make it easier for women to handle these types of caregiving responsibilities and still keep working. We always had remote work and teleworking, but not like we do now. The pandemic really brought to light the things that need to change and an urgency around these changes.

For more information on WCT-AB, visit the website or follow them on Facebook (@wctalberta), Twitter (@wct_ab) and Instagram (@wct_ab).

Images: gremlin/iStock; Contributed

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