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Finding Reward When You Least Expect It: Shannon Foster Recognized for Her Work as a Leader For Women in Technology

Shannon with her well-deserved award

Shannon Foster, a Civil Engineering Technologist with Urban Systems, joined the BC Women in Technology (BCWiT) council in 2015 as a way to connect with peers after recognizing she often felt the people she met at events and saw in promotional images didn’t look like her. At the time, she could never have predicted where that one small step would take her in just three years. Since joining the council, she has gone from being a member, to Co-Chair and now Chair of BCWiT, coordinating meetings, volunteering at events across the province, launching Metro Vancouver’s BCWiT Social Pub events, and sharing her experiences with audiences of all ages.

On November 10th, Shannon was honoured for her work with the Leadership Award for Women in Technology at this year’s Technology Awards & Recognition Celebration, a recognition linked directly to her involvement with BCWiT and the leadership role she has found herself in as a result. In fact, it was one of these opportunities that led to her nomination.

New Connections and An Opportunity to Inspire

“Through BCWiT, I was volunteering at an event at BCIT where I met someone studying engineering technology at the school,” Shannon recalls. “He invited me to come back and speak to the engineering technology class about my career and opportunities.” Shannon later reconnected with him when he joined Urban Systems as a summer co-op in the Kelowna office. It was during that co-op term when he received an email from Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC) calling for nominations of people who were demonstrating leadership in technology. The rest is herstory.

Taking Risks and Seeing Reward

Thinking back to where her journey began, Shannon recognizes the value in organizing those first pub nights and getting involved in the organization because it took her outside of her comfort zone. “I didn’t really know how I would fit in. For the first pub night, I was unsure if anyone would show up–it’s basically a blind date with anywhere from 0-12 people depending on who shows up!”

In putting herself out there, she is providing a platform for women like her to come together and build a network. Even after moving to Revelstoke, she organized an event in Kamloops – the closest regional centre – to keep the spirit of her intentions going. “I had a good turn out and people were really excited because events like that really only happen in Vancouver and not in other regional centres,” she proudly states. Shannon is also pleased to report that two members of BCWiT that attended her Vancouver pub nights are volunteering to organize similar events with BCIT students this winter in Vancouver. “They saw the value in it when I held it and wanted to carry it on, which is really great, seeing other people taking it over.”

We For See 2018 – Photo credit: Shannon Foster

Now that Shannon is playing a larger leadership role with BCWiT, she is able to volunteer at events where she can really promote and support women working in technology. Recently, she volunteered at the We For She conference in Vancouver, a forum bringing together women who are current and emerging leaders and directed to women as young as high school students. “I was fortunate to be able to speak to high school students and talk to them about women in leadership positions, encourage them to seek leadership position when they’re in the workforce and even show them examples of women in leadership positions.” For Shannon, she sees these events as a perfect opportunity to meet young people and build relationships, exposing young people to the idea of being a civil engineer technologist as a career.

This is important because through Shannon’s experience, the knowledge of the potential for women to find rewarding careers in technology is still progressing slower than ideal. “When I started at Camosun College 10 years ago, I was one of four women of an intake of more than 100 students. When I went to speak at BCIT a year ago, the gender ratios were still quite similar to that.” She sees BCWiT as crucial in changing perceptions and increase the uptake for women in these careers, and the opportunity for them to step up into leadership roles and have rewarding careers.

Merging Passion and Profession

Shannon has been working as a Civil Engineering Technologist at Urban Systems for nearly six years, and despite building an extensive network across the organization, she has never felt that her personal passion conflicted with her professional aspirations. “I’ve found that at Urban Systems there’s this spirit of entrepreneurship, and if you want to see something change or something happen, you are enabled and supported to take initiative,” she emphasizes. “That’s how you can make things happen in your career here, and I think that that really helped me have confidence to do things in BCWiT.” At the same time, Shannon notes that her role at BCWiT has also give her the confidence to take risks in her career, and that there’s a real synergy between her pursuits both in and out of work hours.

What Does the Future Hold?

BCWiT’s Kamloops Pub Night

When Shannon got the call two weeks prior to the TARC awards letting her know about the award, she was a bit uncertain how to take the news. “It honestly felt redundant to receive it because the reward for me was building my network and meeting others in the field,” she admits. It was definitely nice to feel appreciated, but she wasn’t sure what it really meant.

Following her receiving the award, however, Shannon is aware of the platform this recognition provides her to keep pushing the conversation forward. “Now that there’s been some publicity around the award, I’m seeing that I can use this to promote women in technology careers and showcase that a woman can be a technologist in a leadership position.”

“It’s important to understand that I had this idea and decided to just go for it, but also carried through on it even when my first meetup only had a couple people turn up,” she emphasizes. “If you have an idea and you’re passionate about it, just keep trying at and even if it doesn’t seem like a huge success at the beginning, over time the amount of success builds up and eventually you’ll realize that you’ve made a change that you didn’t see at the start.”

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