Stacey James: mentoring on the front lines and building confidence as a woman in tech

Originally published on Telus Digital Blog.

As the Director of Digital Experience and E-commerce at TELUS Digital, Stacey James is passionate about creating customer experiences that are transparent and simple. She strives to create a friendly and inclusive workspace and encourages her team to push boundaries in the telecommunications industry.

With over 12 years at TELUS, Stacey has earned a reputation as an authentic leader who works collaboratively to create value. She has carved her own career path by driving big picture thinking and being results-oriented. 

We sat down with Stacey to see if we could learn a thing (or two) about building confidence as a leader and mentoring other women in tech.

1. Was there ever a time you felt that you missed out on a hiring opportunity?

I have been very fortunate throughout my career to have had many amazing opportunities. When I reflect on my journey, one particular instance comes to mind where I can’t help but wonder if being a woman affected my candidacy. I had applied and interviewed for a job but did not make the cut. When I had asked for feedback, the response was that the other candidate had a more authoritative presence – he had a presence that could command a room. I was left with feedback that wasn’t actionable, and this left me questioning whether the candidate’s age and gender played a role. While the question still lingers, this one experience has never stopped me from pursuing other leadership opportunities. 

2. How do you build confidence when walking into a room?

Stepping into a situation where you are uncomfortable but need to show confidence isn’t easy. Sometimes, building confidence comes from stepping in with both feet, despite not feeling ready. As a new director, I remember experiencing the same feeling as I stepped into my first executive meeting. Initially, I chose a chair along the edge of the room, not feeling ready to sit at the table. Then, a peer of mine sent over a note reading: “Stacey, come and sit at the table, you have earned your place at this table so get over here.” That was the push I needed. My advice to anyone walking into a room and feeling intimidated is to tell yourself that you deserve to be there and you’ve earned it. Lean on your cheerleaders and leverage the support of the people attending. If you don’t have that support as yet, try the best you can and don’t be hard on yourself. We’re all human and confidence is built over time. 

3. How can leaders create an environment where employees feel comfortable to ‘raise their hand’ about hiring gaps at their workplace?

For employees to raise their hands, leaders need to be open to hearing criticisms about their team and their hiring practices. You need to foster an environment of trust to show that as a leader you are willing to listen to their concerns and be empathic to how they feel. I applaud team members that have the courage to speak up as these gaps can go unnoticed. I had an employee talk to me about a gender gap on our team concerning the male to female ratio of developers. The conversation shifted beyond our team to across the organization – what practices can we collectively adopt to ensure that women or other groups feel inspired to apply for a technical role? At TELUS Digital we are driven by data and testing so we immediately began testing content changes on our job postings. When we create an environment where employees feel empowered to raise their hand we can bring about actionable change.

4. How can female leaders become mentors to other women in their workplace?

I think that mentoring and advocating for each other is something we all need to do.  Many organizations have official mentoring programs, as does TELUS, and they are fantastic. Outside of this, I feel that mentoring can start on the front lines by actively taking an interest in the women around you and helping them learn and grow. Think how powerful it would be if we all moved the dial for someone. #Movethedial moments don’t need to be big gestures – even something as small as a conversation can have a large impact on someone. Not too long ago I had an amazing leader move the dial for me, which inspired me to begin to advocate for the women in my network.

5. What is one piece of advice you can share with a woman starting a career in tech?

Authenticity is key. Don’t look around and feel you need to embrace someone else’s style to be successful.  Being the person in the room who sees the situation differently or has a different approach can be very powerful. You might not always be right but your contribution can impact other people around you to look at the situation in a different way. I was once at an event where the speaker said, “women rise to the level of their self-doubt” and her comment hit my core. Early in my career, my failures would take a heavy toll on me. Now I look at failure very differently. It’s okay to fail and it’s okay to have doubts, but the most important thing is to learn from these moments and push yourself forward. Taking the time to breathe and reflect on failure contributes to growth. This doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt when I make a bad call – I just work through it more quickly and drive myself to capture that win.

Guest writer: Chantelle Sukhu

articleVeronica Yao