To celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we sat down with our 2023 BenchShe+ leadership team: Rhonda Gallant, Ina Harvie, and Angie Ibrahim!
BenchShe+ is BenchSci’s first employee resource group. An employee resource group (or ERG) is typically an employee-led group with shared characteristics or life experiences who come together to foster a community. ERGs are more than social groups: they have the potential to not only guide and contribute to creating an inclusive work environment through fostering belonging but can also act as a resource to impact business objectives.
BenchShe+ is dedicated to women-identifying employees and was first formed in 2022. As an ERG they have an executive sponsor and work with our DEI team to help our company be more inclusive when creating products and services and in our recruiting practices.
In 2023, BenchShe+ is planning many exciting new events and initiatives including Women’s History Month programming for the whole company. We’ll be spending the month of March celebrating and spreading awareness of women’s contributions throughout history. Read on to learn more about Rhonda, Ina, and Angie, the work that they do for BenchShe+, what the benefits of an ERG are to them, and their advice for women entering tech.
Tell us about your role on the BenchShe+ leadership team
Rhonda: My role with BenchShe+ is Chairperson. Last year I was an Event Coordinator, so I've switched into a more leadership role. I wanted a chance to run more programs, do things that I’m interested in specifically, use my experience to bring in some speakers, and really help shape some of the policy at BenchSci if I can. Particularly, when it comes to benefits or things that affect women at work. Being in this position will help me actually make some changes.
Ina: My role on the BenchShe+ leadership team is the Community Manager. I get to manage the community. It sounds very simple. It's very self-explanatory. It's really all about being the person who's going to send that message, who isn't afraid to reply to the hard questions or get a discussion going. I'm the person that I'm always willing to have a conversation with just about anyone. So if you ever feel the need to talk about something, know that I'm always here to listen. And that's kind of how I take on my role as a Community Manager is just being that person within our community.
Angie: I'm the Events Manager. My role is to really oversee event programming, planning and owning the event outcomes, tracking the annual budget and overseeing planning committees for specific events. But myself, Rhonda and Ina, we all really help each other out and contribute to each other's roles. I think my role is really fluid, which I really appreciate because when real BenchSci work gets crazy, which it always does, I have the support of other members on the team.
What did your career journey look like before you came to BenchSci?
Rhonda: My career journey prior to BenchSci was long and varied. I came from a lot of different industries—including financial, startups, and other tech spaces. But mostly financial and administration.
Ina: Before BenchSci, I was on a completely different journey. I was within sciences and on track to become a physiotherapist. Very passionate about science and research. Unfortunately, I was in a car accident that did make me have to pivot my career, which led me into Talent Acquisition (TA). Being in TA has allowed me to advocate and be that person that I needed a long time ago. That person where I can support scientists and particularly women in science to really ensure that they're growing and developing in a professional way. It's a non-conventional career journey, but it's nice because it's combined all of my passions of science, hiring, and getting the chance to be an advocate.
Angie: I was actually working at an agency as a senior manager looking after client engagement. I really helped Big Pharma curate their marketing campaigns and effectively reach their target audience through different types of campaigns.
Why did you decide to take on a leadership role in BenchShe+?
Rhonda: I decided to take on a leadership position with BenchShe+ because it's something I feel passionately about. Because I have worked in a lot of industries and for many years I've encountered a lot of different things with gender in the workplace. Being able to give advice or support to women who are facing the same things is really important to me. Also, it's just a really great way to feel belonging at work.
Ina: There's a couple of reasons why I really wanted to pursue a leadership position in BenchShe+. One of the main reasons is because as someone who was in a car accident, I do have long-term implications of this. I could be labeled as disabled. I essentially manage chronic pain on a day-to-day basis, which means I need accommodations in my day-to-day work. Throughout the pandemic, at different points in my career, I've been laid off. Being a disabled woman in science makes it very hard to find a job. It makes it very, very challenging. There are a lot of barriers that I have faced that I do not want others to face. I feel like this is an opportunity for me to learn about those barriers, prepare myself, and move forward within my own career as well as opening up other people's careers so that if there is another disabled woman in science, like I'm gonna have their back and we can move forward and I'll support them.
Angie: Mainly because I'm so passionate about creating a positive and inclusive work environment for women in general, but especially at BenchSci, I think that leadership positions often provide opportunities to affect positive change within the org. I feel that I'm personally not afraid to advocate for others or bring ideas to the table. Knowing that I could help do that for other people makes me really happy.
What are the benefits of being a member of BenchShe+?
Rhonda: I think the benefits to being a member of BenchShe+ is definitely community. You get that community feeling where you belong somewhere. Everyone belongs at BenchSci, but having another little group where you belong makes a huge difference. You sort of feel like you always have colleagues, even if you're an individual contributor you have some teammates if you are in an ERG so you never have to feel alone. That's the biggest advantage to becoming a member as well as we just do really cool things. We try to do programming that's exciting and woman-focused. It's just a good place to make friends.
Ina: Probably one of the best benefits of working with BenchShe+ is getting the opportunity to partner with the incredible woman here at BenchSci. We have incredible engineers. We have incredible science researchers. I admire the team. It's a really great opportunity for me to learn from them as well as learn how I can better empower them in the future because I think it'll also help my career path as it overlaps a little.
Angie: A few of the benefits: one would be the opportunity to connect with other women at BenchSci. Have you met any of them? They're all incredible. You also get to advocate for gender equity, which is something I'm personally really passionate about. You get to contribute to creating a positive work environment, and bring people closer together who may not feel comfortable doing that in the first place. Outside of that, you also get an overwhelming sense of community and people who are struggling with some of the same things that you're struggling with. Then you have an open forum to talk about those things.
How do you balance your regular workload with ERG activities?
Rhonda: Balancing your regular work with BenchShe+ activities can be challenging. I'm lucky in that I work on Atlantic Canada time, so I do have some space in the morning before everybody gets in so that I can put aside a half hour to work on my BenchShe+. But really it's more about just making the time. If it's something you're really excited about and something you care about, you'll find the 20 minutes in the day to do it.
Ina: There is a lot going on being a recruiter and being a BenchShe+ executive. But really the way that I think about it is that the BenchShe+ activities typically end up being fun passion projects that I enjoy and that give me energy. When I'm working and if I'm feeling lower energy, I use these BenchShe+ activities to motivate myself to keep going. It sounds silly, but they balance each other out. I get to use my passion and different skills within BenchShe+, which keeps me energized in my regular day-to-day job.
Angie: I've really had to work on my time management just being at BenchSci and having BenchShe+ responsibilities on top of that. My calendar is my best friend. I've definitely been scheduling time for different activities and where I want to spend my time. For BenchShe+ specifically, again, I also have incredible teammates that I'm able to rely on: Ina and Rhonda. I'm super transparent when I have so many other things on the go that are really, really pressing and require serious deadlines.Thankfully I'm able to lean on them, but aside from that, my calendar.
What advice would you give to women early in their career or want to enter the tech space?
Rhonda: My advice for women who are early in their career is to lean on other women. It's so important to have allies that are both male and female, but like to have women on your side who are gonna fight for you and know where you've come from and know how you feel about things is huge. My advice is to not just rely on people who are your manager or who are your director, but really get to know the women you're working with because it's gonna be a great support group and really help you elevate your career.
Ina: The thing that I would always advise women is to shoot your shot. A lot of times women will be hesitant. We'll see on a job description that it requires very specific skills. If you do not have that exact skill, but you have something that's transferrable, shoot your shot. Go ahead and take the swing. A lot of times women hold themselves back from a lot of opportunities. I love it when we can find a way to push a woman forward, even if they felt like this wasn't quite the right opportunity for them. Always being willing to put yourself out there.
Angie: My main advice would be don't be afraid. Really try and be delusional if you're able to, and think that you're the best because you probably are. Don't doubt yourself. Always apply to the job that you think you're not capable of doing. Always try to seek out opportunities that are available and make sure that you're the first one applying or you are showing how passionate you can be. I think that'll really go a long way and also try to find people to help uplift you. Find positive people and stay away from the negativity because misery loves company and that rings really true. So if you can find positive people, keep them close.
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