Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh, Diversity & Belonging Lead


Throughout #BlackHistoryMonth, our BE in Tech series highlights some of the experiences of Black women in the Canadian tech industry.

Share your own experiences using the hashtag #BeInTech and tag us @joinmovethedial!

Next to share her experiences is Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh.

1. As a black woman in tech, what has been your biggest obstacle/challenge to date?

My biggest obstacle has been navigating not only how to excel in my career and being there to support my team, but also figuring out how to manage the additional cognitive and emotional labour that comes with being one of very few who look like me in a leadership role.

Am I being too direct? Will they think I’m coming across as too aggressive? If I soften my tone just so maybe it will make people perceive me as being more agreeable? Why are there so few black women in tech? What can I do to get more black women in tech? Is the black community at my company thriving? How can I help them thrive? How can I innovate twice as much and work twice as hard as my counterparts to ensure that I’m noticed? Should I share this win with my team or will it come off as being overly confident? Can I say ‘ting’ in work Slack or will it come across as ‘too urban’? Will wearing this Malcom X shirt to the office come off as being too political? Can I wish people a Happy Black History Month when I walk into this meeting?

The internal dialogue is constant, exhausting, and taxing, but I am slowly learning ways to manage it all and ensure that I am making time to purposefully pause and build time for self care into my schedule.

2.    If you could change one thing during your experience in tech and in the workplace what would it be?

I don’t operate in the ‘coulda’ ‘shoulda’ ‘wouldas’ it’s just not how I’m wired. I think the way I look at it is from the lens of ‘how can I learn from the past to do things differently in the future’. How can I apply all of things I’ve learned over time to improve the way I work, how I show up, how I foster relationships, build community, and how I approach solving problems. Constantly moving through this process of reflection allows me to work smarter, faster, and in a more sustainable way. 

3.   Moving the dial is an ongoing mission we strive to do, is there someone or something that has inspired you to #movethedial in your journey. 

On December 8, 2005, my little sister Ayan was born and saved my life. I was really struggling with finding my way in life. I had just dropped out of university and felt like a huge failure to my parents, my community, but more importantly to myself. I had no clue what my next step was going to be, started to spiral into some pretty dark places mentally and emotionally, and had started to give up on myself.

My sister being born gave me a renewed lease on life. I knew that one day she would look to me as an example of what is possible to achieve and I bloody well knew that whatever it was that I did with my life it had to be something that broke barriers, inspired change, and would make her proud. 

4.    What does being Black In Tech mean to you?

Being black in tech means being “my ancestors’ wildest dream”. I don’t take that lightly. There were countless sacrifices made by black women who came before me in order to afford me the opportunity to be where I am today and I refuse to squander it.

There can be a lot of pressure that comes with being the only one or one of few who look like you, but there’s something that Masai Ujiri said that has really stuck with me. “The way you manage the weight is to win. You win off the court. You win on the court. You bring people along. Be the most impressive person in the room and make a great impression so others get included.”

5.    How can the industry move the dial for black women in tech? (either at an individual level or company-wide)

Hire more black women not just in entry-level roles but in leadership roles as well. And yes we do exist; I’ve met hundreds of amazing, brilliant, and innovative black women in the tech field. If you don’t know where to go to source black women in tech start by Googling ‘black professional women in tech networks’, reach out to black women in your organization to ask where you can go to connect with black women in the industry and strive to build out your professional network/build relationships with black women in tech. 

Once you have black women in your organizations sponsor them so that they have the opportunity to work on high profile projects, give them a seat at the decision-making table, and be an ally. Ensure that you are cultivating a culture that fosters belonging allowing black women to feel included, valued, and heard within your organization. Hiring black women isn’t good enough if you aren’t going to ensure that you are treating and paying them equitably. 

Move the Dial