International Women’s Day: #BreakTheBias: an interview with Dawn Williams, VP Consumer Solutions DevOps at TELUS

With International Women’s Day upon us, it’s important to highlight Canada’s leaders at the forefront of the continuous evolution in the tech industry who have made meaningful strides in advancing career opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In this article, I’m delighted to share key highlights of my conversation with Dawn Williams, vice president consumer solutions DevOps at TELUS as she outlined her career path in the world of technology, TELUS’ ongoing commitment to diversity, and insights on the key “mindsets” needed to achieve career goals.

Brian Clendenin: Dawn, tell me about your career journey at TELUS.

Dawn Williams: Believe it or not, I will be celebrating my 25th anniversary with TELUS in November of this year, and I’m very proud of that. I’ve had an amazing career journey in the technology sector here since I joined the organization as a Business Systems Analyst in 1997. Since then, I’ve held a number of technology roles leading high performance and engaged teams, from manager, to director and now vice-president, it’s just been a great ride for me here at TELUS.

Today, I support our global Development Operations (DevOps) technology team, and we have the pleasure of delivering exceptional, innovative, and reliable mobility products and solutions to our customers and business partners – both internally and externally. Regardless of the channel, whether our customers are in one of our TELUS stores, the online self-serve portal, or calling into our call centre, we’re always behind the scenes, making sure that their technology experience is as amazing as possible.

Brian: Did you always want to work in technology?

Dawn: To be honest, I can’t say it was something I aimed for. I guess it all started during university when I was part of a multi-faceted program and was exposed to the technology discipline for the first time. From software development to processes and data analysis, I found it all intrigued and inspired me and really pulled at my heartstrings. I started to specialize in some of these programs and since then, I have never looked back. My passion for technology has only grown over the years: I love how it is always evolving, making each day different from the previous and a whole new learning experience.

Brian: Would you recommend the tech field to other women?

Dawn: Absolutely! It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s certainly been rewarding. One of the best things about working in technology is getting to see the products and services that we have built being used every single day by millions of people across Canada.

Technology is also always changing, opening new doors all of the time with brand new opportunities, something you don’t get in every industry. This constant change, the drive and the motivation to keep up – it’s engaging, it’s rewarding, it’s challenging, and it’s certainly never boring. That’s why I’m still here 25 years later, because tomorrow will never be the same as yesterday.

I would also say the technology field is really growing in terms of diversity and it is a great time for women to explore this career path as there continues to be more female representation in tech roles. This improvement of diversity and inclusion across the industry isn’t just the right or ethical thing to do, it is good for business. Diverse teams innovate faster, are twice as likely to meet financial targets, and eight times more likely to achieve business goals.

Brian: How do you find balance between work and life?

Dawn: I wouldn’t say balance is something I have ever mastered, and sometimes I still struggle to find balance honestly. However, I have been very mindful of and worked hard at finding work-life balance, as a mother, a wife, a colleague, and a team leader.

Throughout my career, I’ve had to change my work style to ensure I always gave my best to my work and also to my family. When my children were babies, my days were more governed by the clock and I had to use my evenings when the kids were in bed to get caught up on work. Then as they grew older, we had to balance sports practices and the travel that comes with it – I think I have been to every hockey arena in Ontario! I had to tailor a lot of my habits to what fit for me at the time and I am proud I was able to do both – growing my career and being there for my family. Now that my kids have grown up, I am using my leisure time to revisit something outside of work that I absolutely loved years ago – every Wednesday night, I participate in a curling league and absolutely love it!

Brian: This years’ International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. Can you share examples of when you have broken the bias in your career, and what strategies you used to overcome these challenges?

Dawn: I can honestly say I’ve never said no to an opportunity or to a challenge, even when that would have been the easy thing to do as I juggled so many commitments as a young mother. As I tell my team members often, always be willing to take that step outside your comfort zone, to change, and to try new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to fail.

The second thing that has really worked for me is staying true to myself, regardless of the task at hand. My approach to things has been very consistent. I’m a firm believer in being authentic and being who you are every day. Have fun at work, laugh, and be personable. People often think that to be successful, you must either be the smartest person in the room or the most skilled, or with the best credentials. I truly believe that you need to be yourself, be authentic, and not change who you are for the job. When you couple a good foundation with hard work, treating others with respect, and building relationships with them – that is the making of a true leader, regardless of your role or title.

Brian: What is TELUS doing to support women in technology and STEM?

Dawn: TELUS is very mindful of diversity, supporting women not just in the technology space, but also in our workforce in general. Our work environment is dedicated to supporting and uplifting women so everyone who works here has a sense of belonging.

As part of this commitment, TELUS launched an internal women’s network (Connections) over 20 years ago to provide mentorship and support to women in the workforce, and the annual CHLOE awards to recognize and celebrate female leaders across the organization. Our trailblazing Work Styles program provides team members with flexibility to work where and when they are most productive and is especially beneficial for our women in technology. Technology isn’t always your typical Monday to Friday office job and Work Styles allows us to juggle multiple hats, modify schedules around family commitments, and have the flexibility to innovate and explore.

For me, personally, what has been extremely helpful is having supportive women and female representation at the senior leadership and executive level since the day I joined the company, giving me exposure to so many inspiring mentors who showed me by example how women can grow and progress in their careers while also balancing their personal and family lives. Today, women make up 40 per cent of our Executive Leadership Team, inspiring and leading the next generation of our incredibly talented women at TELUS.

We have also seen more and more women coming out of TELUS’ graduate technology leadership program and I really enjoy mentoring these high-performing women to reach their full potential in the world of technology.

Brian: What advice would you give to other women entering the tech industry?

Dawn: As I always tell the colleagues and team members I mentor, don’t worry about being the most qualified or the most skilled. It’s way more than that. It’s about being committed, engaged, working hard, and being mindful at every meeting or every call. Having a good background is great, but at the end of the day, it’s about your attitude and the relationships you build along the way that will define how successful you are in your career.

It’s also okay to be picky about who you work for. You have to have the right fit and find what works for you and challenges you. The minute you’re not learning from an opportunity, the minute you’re not motivated to be your best self, that’s when you know it’s time for a change. Constantly keep evaluating yourself and who you’re working with so you can continuously learn and evolve.

Brian: When you think back on other women you’ve mentored, what insights are top of mind for you to share?

Dawn: Always play to your strengths, and use them to continue learning and getting better at your role. And if you don’t know your strengths, ask someone, as sometimes we are our own worst enemy when trying to be self-aware. As co-executive sponsor of Connections, our women’s resource group, I often tell the women I mentor that it’s not just about the title, it’s about leveraging what you’re good at. When you continue to go after and pursue opportunities for which you have the right skills, personality, and qualities to be successful in, you’ll go nowhere but upwards.

Also, don’t be afraid to fail. Some of my best learnings have often come from accepting difficult challenges which gave me the opportunity to take risks, reflect, problem solve, and learn new ways of thinking. Persevering has made me a stronger person along the way, and I’ve seen many, many people become better at what they do for the same reason.

Lastly, always build strong relationships with your colleagues, leaders, and team members. Taking the time to get to know people at a personal level, their family dynamics, likes and dislikes, will allow you to build a core network of people who you can trust, collaborate with, and who support you being yourself every step of the way – I feel there is no better motivation.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Brian Clendenin
Brian Clendenin
Widely recognized as a powerful speaker intertwining storytelling and expertise, Clendenin writes and speaks on the topics of leadership, cloud, observability, devops, AI, security, mobility, IT strategy, and digital transformation. Invests his time interviewing engaging thought leaders. "We are at one of the most exciting moments in history when it comes to innovation in IT driving innovation in business." (Recommendation: For more insights across a variety of topics from life to leadership, Follow Brian Clendenin on LinkedIn)

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