Women in Tech: A Candid Conversation with Judy Huber

Judy Huber has had a multi-decade career in software engineering including two decades of global executive roles. She made history as the first Canadian woman software development executive at IBM Canada. Her most recent roles were Vice President World Wide Analytics IBM and the Executive Director of the IBM Canada Software Laboratory. Now retired, Judy is sharing her journey and wisdom with YWCA Toronto.

You are a recognized leader in your field. Did you experience any challenges as you advanced in your career? How did you overcome them?

Throughout my career I have done a few things consistently: I worked extremely hard, I delivered results, and I worked in a variety of different positions that allowed me to continue to learn.

In order to advance in any career one must take on challenges. I accepted positions that I was not sure I could do but I accepted the risk and did them anyway. I never questioned my abilities or wondered if I was good enough – I always believed I could learn what I did not know going into a role.

I think it is very important to recognize your self-worth, your ability to keep learning, and to challenge yourself when the opportunity arises.

Do you think that it is more difficult for women to compete with men in a professional capacity given that women disproportionately carry the weight of caregiving responsibilities, whether towards children or other dependents?

As the world evolves, both women and men have to balance caregiving roles, for children and for aging parents. Looking at what can be balanced with your partner and what can be done differently are both important.

I also think that the fear of failure can hold women back. I have coached many women at various stages of their career and my advice has always been, “don’t opt yourself out!” Don’t be the one that offers not to take the good job. Don’t be the one that backs down from an opportunity because you think you cannot do it — or that you do not have the time to do it.

Always try! You can always leave the position if you discover it is not a good fit.

Why is it important to have women in leadership positions, particularly in STEM fields?

STEM fields are the future of almost every industry; every industry is being transformed by technology. The job opportunities and the higher paying roles will largely be in those fields. In terms of economic security and opportunities for growth, it is important for women to enter these fields. So why is there such a persistent gender gap?

There are numerous reasons for this and it is complex. However, it is extremely important that we encourage girls and women to go into these fields. There is a strong economic imperative for this as women comprise roughly half of the population and we need talent coming forward in STEM.

We can do these positions as well as men. As we bring our perspectives, knowledge and talent to these positions, we drive innovation and growth.

What can be done to foster and support women leadership?

I think having a broader representation of women on boards is important. We must ask whether the executives who fill new roles on boards actively seek women to fill those positions. Many of these positions are filled through networks. For-profit and non-profit companies should turn to the community to ensure that qualified women are considered, and that these opportunities are not just given to known contacts. Diverse perspectives strengthen a leadership team.

Companies should continue to ensure that there are pathways for women to advance and that women are given the opportunity to take on new roles, new challenges, and new positions.

If you could tell young girls anything, what would it be?

Negotiate. You have to learn to negotiate. I regret that I did not learn how to negotiate until I was in my 30s. Negotiate for salary. Negotiate for opportunity. Do not just assume people will hand opportunities to you because of hard work. Be your own advocate. And teach negotiation skills and bravery to girls early on.

It takes courage to go after your dreams. Do not be afraid to fail. Failure is a part of every journey to success.

What does receiving the YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Award mean to you?

It is important that we celebrate inspiring role models. For girls and young women, being exposed to positive role models can be a truly transformative experience. The women’s community is so incredibly successful and diverse – it is important to recognize and celebrate that.

We need to motivate and inspire each other to be brave and go after our dreams.

Judy Huber will receive a YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Award on May 23. This interview has been edited for length and clarity by Jasmine Ramze Rezaee, Senior Marketing and Advocacy Officer at YWCA Toronto.