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Tech leaders aim to inspire women at Richmond luncheon

The Richmond Chamber of Commerce is hosting its third annual women in leadership luncheon featuring three heads of Metro Vancouver tech firms.
Chamber women in leadership
From left to right: Cybele Negris, president, CEO and co-founder of Webnames, Rebecca Troelstra, COO and founder of Avenue HQ and Laurie Schultz, president and CEO of ACL. Photos: Twitter, Facebook and ACL.

Three women who’ve led Metro Vancouver tech companies from startups to success stories are gathering at a women in leadership panel in Richmond Thursday to share their wisdom and inspire future leaders.

The Richmond Chamber of Commerce is hosting the third annual event, and chamber chair Barbara Tinson said starting initiatives to help women succeed in business is something she’s passionate about. 

 “We’re looking to inspire as well as educate,” she told the Richmond News. “It’s always really great to hear somebody’s success story and how they did it.”

Although women now make up the majority of Canadian university graduates, they’re still underrepresented in senior management roles. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, women comprise of just less than 20 per cent of board members on Canada’s Fortune 500 companies. 

Cybele Negris is the president, CEO and co-founder of Webnames, a tech firm that provides businesses with custom URLs and branded emails, among other things. 

One barrier to women’s achievement that Negris has struggled with herself is “imposter syndrome.” She’s written about it before, describing it as a feeling that no matter how much you’ve achieved or how much you’re earning, you still don’t feel like you belong. 

But, in a roundabout way, she wonders if those feelings have fueled her success by forcing her to overprepare. She recalls her first meeting on the board of the Royal Canadian Mint reading hundreds of pages of documents to know the material inside and out.

“Feel the fear, but do it anyway,” is her advice for approaching challenges.

Students from all 10 Richmond high schools and Kwantlen Polytechnic University have been invited to the luncheon, and Negris said she’s most excited to connect with them.

 “Young girls need more role models and in STEM fields, and growing up I didn’t have those role models for myself,” she said.

Her tip to young people heading into their careers? Let go of fears about the type of job you’ll find, since fields are always changing.  

“When I grew up the internet didn’t exist … I did my term papers at university on an electric typewriter,” she said. “So I had no idea that I would be running and owning a domain registration company 18 years later.”

Rebecca Troelstra, COO and founder of Avenue HQ, will also be sharing her success story.  Her firm supplies online marketing tools to realtors, and she grew it from a bootstrapping startup to a company with 86 employees in five years.

Now, she wants to see more applications from women for the jobs she’s trying to fill.

“We need to put ourselves out there, and we need to rise to the challenge. Because that’s the only way that we’re going to continue to be seen,” she said. “Stand up for yourself … believe in yourself.”

She referenced a 2008 report that used internal research at Hewlett Packard to suggest women apply for jobs only if they meet all the requirements, but men respond to job postings as long as they feel they meet 60 per cent of the requirements.

She added some of that onus for change is on employers—perhaps there's a better word than “requirement” to use in job postings, for example.

She also wants to see more companies follow Avenue HQ’s example to be transparent with salaries on job postings.

“A lack of transparency in that area can lead to a really awkward interview process,” she said. 

She says her company always posts salary ranges on job openings, and has a fairly open scale for earning as employees move up the ranks, so they can know what they expect to make as they grow. 

Laurie Schultz, CEO of ACL, a firm that provides audit software to public and private organizations, will also be on the panel. She did not respond to an interview request.

The luncheon goes from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. Tickets cost $70 and discounted tickets for chamber members cost $50.