Thank you to the following women of Catalyst for participating in our round-table discussions hosted in the month of March for Women’s History Month: Nikki Smith, Joy Billington, Ola Chmiel, Janet Gamber, Soofia Khan, Maribel Lopez, Anna Mlodzianowska, Sowjanya Nalluri, Divya Nunna, Allison Plazyk, Amelia Smith, Saikal Asylbekova, Kara Taylor, Tiffany Tsang, Denise Horton, and Stephanie Perrin. Their thoughtful discourse informed the piece below!
Celebrating Women’s History Month at Catalyst has meant taking the time to look inward to the incredible women that hone crucial roles on our team. We are proud of the growth that our firm has embraced in recent years. This growth has resulted in the representation of women at Catalyst increasing by roughly over 5 times in the last 10 years.
At Catalyst, we like to say that we are an employee-first company. Embodying an employee-first environment in our remote workplace entails many considerations. One consideration? Taking stakes in our team members’ lives, encouraging them to voice their perspectives, cultivating idea-sharing, growth, support, and inclusion. This Women’s History Month, we’ve turned to the women of Catalyst. We’ve discussed their careers, the many paths that have led them to our firm, their motivations, and the approaches and perspectives that they deploy on our projects.
In our discussions this month, we’ve delved into what it means to be a woman in tech, how to ensure that the technology we build best serves everyone, how providing solutions to the public sector resonates with their values, and how to encourage the next generation of women in STEM.
Many women at Catalyst found themselves working in tech after a career change, a pivot. Divya Nunna, Salesforce Solution Architect, has been with Catalyst for nearly 3 years. Yet, prior to pursuing Salesforce certifications, she was a financial analyst, CPA, with an MBA, working for Goldman Sachs. Saikal Asylbekova, a Business Analyst, and Sowjanya Nalluri, Salesforce Developer, similarly come from a banking and financial services background.
Team members, Soofia Khan, Tiffany Tsang, and Anna Mlodzianowska also have found themselves in tech after career pivots. Soofia, Salesforce Administrator, was planning to attend dental school when she learned more about Salesforce through extended family members. Tiffany, Salesforce Business Analyst, previously worked for a nonprofit organization, Action for Children, aiding low-income families with Childcare Assistance Programing. She now applies this experience to Catalyst’s public sector projects, notably our work with the City of Chicago’s DFSS. Anna, who is originally from Poland, has a degree in architecture. She shared that her career switch has been the best decision and it has improved her life tremendously. She serves our team as a Software Engineer.
We support training opportunities and promote mentorship from within, giving these women who made a career pivot a network to support them as part of the career change.
While many women on the team have recently stepped into the tech arena, our team also has welcomed several industry veterans, including team members Janet Gamber, Stephanie Perrin, and Denise Horton, who’ve all joined our team within the past year. Their seasoned implementation expertise is and continues to be an immense asset to our team.
Ameilia Smith and Maribel Lopez found their way to Catalyst after working for our client and partner, the City of Chicago and/or their vendors. Maribel provided she was the only Latina, and one of the few women in an IT leadership position at the city.
“I was the only Latina in an IT leadership position when I was at the City of Chicago, if you can believe it. There were very few of us (women) in IT. So, we always had this sort of sisterhood, we looked out for each other,” Maribel shared.
The sisterhood that Maribel recalls is the type of friendship Catalyst aims to foster within our team.
And for one woman of Catalyst – Ola Chmiel – her venture into tech began at Catalyst as an intern. Excitingly, she joined us again after graduation and recently celebrated one year of full-time employment with us.
In an article from the UN, celebrating International Women’s Day, it was reported that women represent less than one third of tech sector employees globally. In reflection on the numbers and the stereotypes that hold girls back from pursuing careers in tech, the women of Catalyst provided the advice they have for their younger selves. Their thoughts?
I let a lot of expectations that other people had for me, the path that I was supposed to take based on those things, the image that I wanted to project of myself – I let that get in the way. If something is interesting to you, pursue it. It doesn’t matter who else finds that thing interesting. Don’t let these kinds of preconceived notions of what is acceptable or what types of people go into one area or another influence where you want to go.
Allison Plazyk, Senior Software Engineer, recounts the discouragement she felt surrounding the pursuit of a career in computer science, dating back to her time in college at MIT. After nearly a dozen years into her professional career, she realized that this is what she wanted to do all along.
“I let a lot of expectations that other people had for me, the path that I was supposed to take based on those things, the image that I wanted to project of myself – I let that get in the way.
Hey, we are in a very male dominated world. We see it in a lot of our meetings. Don’t be afraid to say what you want it to say….don’t be afraid to voice your opinion.
If something is interesting to you, pursue it. It doesn’t matter who else finds that thing interesting. Don’t let these kinds of preconceived notions of what is acceptable or what types of people go into one area or another influence where you want to go,” Allison Plazyk.
Many of our conversations proved to offer a similar theme around confidence. In several discussions, many women recognized that they are repeatedly the only woman in the room or on the call.
“Hey, we are in a very male dominated world. We see it in a lot of our meetings. Don’t be afraid to say what you want it to say….don’t be afraid to voice your opinion,” said Amelia Smith.
When it comes to building technology that meets the user where they are, building technology for people who look like us, the women on our team have got it right! Leverage empathy.
Throughout their careers, the women of our team have engrained how to best serve a client’s needs over the years.
Kara Taylor, Technical Architect, provided, “I always want to design the best solution possible from a technical standpoint, but you can’t put the cart before the horse. Just because a solution is technically the best way an architect thinks it can be, it doesn’t mean that it meets the clients’ needs. Developers and architects almost always think within their technical restraints, but oftentimes we forget about the users’ constraints.”
To the Future Women in Tech
It’s important to believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re in grade seven, grade eight, or if you’re sitting here at Catalyst, just know that you can do anything.
When it comes to thinking about the future generations of women in STEM, the many mothers on our team first think of the affirmations and words of encouragement that they instill and express to their own children.
Joy Billington, Salesforce Business Analyst, and Denise Horton, Salesforce Practice Leader, are both mothers to two daughters. While Joy’s daughters are in grades seven and eight, and Denise’s daughters are in the thick of choosing college majors and career paths, their mothers’ advice is in accord.
“It’s important to believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re in grade seven, grade eight, or if you’re sitting here at Catalyst, just know that you can do anything,” says Joy Billington.
Many of the women on our team shared who their role models have been throughout their lives, and so many of these role models were women – their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, former managers and teachers. We can’t help but look to the women of Catalyst as role models for excellence in our firm as well as in our industry. We wish you all “Happy Women’s History Month!”