RBCers share how to inspire the next ​​​​​​​generation of women in STEM

RBCers share how to inspire the next
​​​​​​​generation of women in STEM

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is fundamental to RBC where we strive to be among the most inclusive workplaces and successful companies, putting diversity into action to help employees, clients and communities thrive.

RBC’s technology team plays a vital role across the bank with teams leveraging data and insights to drive value for clients, executing innovative tech programs and keeping clients and employees safe with world-class cybersecurity. Attracting top tech talent is a priority and we asked some of our senior women technologists to share their thoughts and advice on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers. 

What do you like about STEM-focused roles/jobs?

Adriana Zubiri, Vice President, Data Centers and Operational Resiliency: I love technology, it’s something I’m very passionate about. Every time I can learn something new, see how new technology can be adopted to deliver different ways to do things and doing it faster, better… I’m interested. There’s also many diverse roles and opportunities. No day is the same for me and I love that. If you like learning, a career in STEM is for you – it’s an adventure and you evolve with it.

Faezeh Khabbaz, Senior Director, Joint Security Operations Center Insights & Analytics: It’s exciting to develop and build solutions that address real-world problems and to build things that will change peoples’ lives for the better. With a STEM background, you also gain a lot of transferrable skills which gives you many career choices.

How did you become interested in science/tech/STEM?

Alex LaPlante, Interim Head, Borealis AI: I knew from a young age that I wanted to do something related to STEM. I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity and desire to understand how things worked. When I was a young girl, I would spend hours in my Dad’s workshop taking apart and rebuilding electronics and tinkering with anything I could get my hands on. Naturally, that led me to engineering.

Katie Viesselman, Senior Director, Wealth Management Technology Solution Delivery Management: I’ve always been attracted to math and science, and it never occurred to me to pursue a different career. I started my career intending to focus on the Health Sciences but ended up on a different path when I started my consulting career and spent 13 years in Financial Services on IT projects. In that time, I discovered project management and fell in love with the discipline.

Stephanie Hazlewood, Distinguished Engineer, Trusted Data & AI: As far back as I can remember I’ve loved STEM-related domains. I think we are all are born scientists. We enter this world curious and delighted to learn about the world around us and I think that persistent curiosity is the fuel that draws some of us to innovating in fields like science and technology. That is what has drawn me to a career in STEM.

What beneficial traits do women bring to STEM roles? 

Faezeh: It is not just about women, but in general I believe the more diversity of thought you bring to a workplace, the more successful it will be. We can always learn from and use different perspectives and experiences.

Alex: At the end of the day, STEM is really about people: we build technical solutions for real human problems. Many women are natural connectors and nurturers, and are able to bring a human-centric lens to the work they are doing, and I think this is key to developing great solutions. More generally, if you build teams with diversity across traits like gender, race, ethnicity, and education it will only lead to better outcomes.

What would you say to girls in high school who enjoy math and science?

Adriana: Math and science are THE places to be right now. The amount of new technological developments happening is very exciting. You can do a lot of good in society by pursuing math and science and applying them to areas that can help people.

Stephanie: If there are aspects of math and science you love – pursue them! Get elbows deep in a problem out there in the world that you’re passionate about that you might be able to apply them to. It’s this combination of skills and passion that will keep you excited and learning. Maybe it’s finding ways to pull plastic from the oceans, maybe it’s something else. Figure out what it is that gets you excited and look for ways to leverage your strengths in math and science and apply it to that area.

Alex: Keep at it, be curious, and follow your passion. Regardless of what anyone says, you deserve a seat at the table just as much as everyone else!

Why should women consider a career in STEM?

Faezeh: One fascinating aspect of most STEM jobs is that you can see your impact quite immediately. You see how solving the problem you’re working on has improved the world in a small way, and that’s exciting and makes me proud.

Adriana: Women should pursue a career in whatever field they’re passionate about. That’s the bottom line.

Katie: Why not?!? I really can’t think of a reason that’s better than that.

Stephanie: There are so many ways you can launch into a career in STEM. For example, I recently guided a woman towards embracing a career in cybersecurity after she has been a very successful board game designer. There are so many ways skills from beyond traditional degree programs can be applied to bootstrap innovation.

What words of advice do you have for women studying STEM in university who will be looking for jobs soon?

Katie: There are so many interesting opportunities out there! We all know someone in STEM – a neighbour, a family friend – ask them about their career paths and what lessons they can share. People don’t usually mind talking about themselves.

Adriana: Look for opportunities in organizations that you can see developing a career. It is not about your first job, it is about your second and third, too. Also, there are lots of opportunities out there, some might fit your skills exactly, some might be a stretch. Don’t hold back on trying those stretch opportunities – you can always learn.

Stephanie: Network and get involved with the technical communities that interest you. Also don’t sell yourself short. If you don’t have every skill in the job description – apply anyway. If there’s a skill you’re missing, you can always learn it, don’t let that stop you.

How can more women become interested in STEM?

All the women agree that girls need to be introduced to STEM at younger ages and that elementary school is a good time to start to nurture their love and interest in math and science. High school might be too late, which is why many of the women interviewed volunteer with STEM-related organizations include Scientists in Schools, Girl Guides and Canada Learning Code to introduce STEM concepts at a young age.

What advice do you have for women who want to follow you in your footsteps?

Adriana: Believe in the power you have inside of you. You’re the only one who can bring it out. Bring it out and nurture it.

Alex: We are explorers, innovators, and creators. We take intelligent risks and define the leading edge. If that doesn’t reflect courage, empowerment, and strength, I don’t know what does! Innovation isn’t easy, and it’s important that our teams feel that they have the space, but also the support, to explore uncharted territories and push the bounds of their own capabilities. As a leader, it’s my mission to make this environment a reality.

Stephanie: This resonates with me in that we all have our strengths and there is power in diversity and sharing our different perspectives to drive innovation – creating that 1+1=3 solution that leapfrogs the art of the possible today. I encourage my team to be bold and share their strengths in an open and inclusive way.

Faezeh: For me, something that I practice every day is to remain and live in the present, not being stuck in the past, and not worrying about the future. I try to enjoy each day and what I’m doing, and it helps me bring my best self to work every day. I’ve also learned to look at problems as opportunities, not roadblocks. It’s an opportunity to learn something, to try something new and I hope I communicate that to my team and colleagues as well.

Katie: STEM education opens you up to complex ways of thinking, and you may not have the exact knowledge but the ways you are trained to think will build your confidence. You’ve worked through complex equations before and you can do it again. You have many tools in your toolbox and draw upon them when you need to solve a problem. You have the ways to figure it out, knowledge is power.

Check out Diversity & Inclusion at RBC for more details on how we're prioritizing diversity and strengthening inclusion.
Katie Viesselman, Senior Director, Wealth Management Technology Solution Delivery Management
“I’ve always been attracted to math and science and it never occurred to me to pursue a different career,” says Katie Viesselman.
Faezeh Khabbaz, Senior Director, Joint Security Operations Center Insights & Analytics
“I believe the more diversity of thought you bring to a workplace, the more successful it will be,” says Faezeh Khabbaz.
Adriana Zubiri, Vice President, Data Centers and Operational Resiliency
“Women should pursue a career in whatever field they’re passionate about,” says Adriana Zubiri, seen here with her two daughters.
Alex LaPlante, Interim Head, Borealis AI
"Women are explorers, innovators, and creators. We take intelligent risks and define the leading edge,” says Alex LaPlante seen here enjoying the Exploradores Glacier in the Laguna San Rafael National Park, Chile.