The virtual event held by the WITI Toronto network on March 30, 2020, featured a discussion with four speakers about the tech trends of 2020 and beyond: Kim Thiara (President and CEO of AceTronics Industrial Controls Inc.), Fawn Annan (President and CEO of IT World Canada), Jane Goodyer (Dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University) and Arie Fisher (Head of Sales and Strategy at Google Cloud).
As the pandemic shutdown had just begun, the four speakers expanded on the idea of how the COVID-19 pandemic would be a disruption to businesses. Arie Fisher commented that disruptions are an opportunity for businesses that know their customers well.
Speakers discussed the importance of creating and enhancing relationships with their customers, through communication frequency and seeking input to understand their current changing needs. Especially during this pandemic, humanity is as important as technology. Kim Thiara addressed the importance of nurturing and sympathizing with customers - a skill that women do very well. Thiara explained women, in particular, have exceptional emotional intelligence to communicate and show compassion to their customers. The panel recognized that the way a company responds to its customers says a lot about its true brand and character.
The four also addressed the virtual workplace; with the pandemic moving everyone to a virtual environment, businesses need to possess both the tools and the skillsets within their current workforce to mobilize to a virtual existence. Fisher mentioned that successful organizations will be those who have already been building these muscles of "remote collaboration". Technology will help businesses manage, lead, and ultimately operate effortlessly during these unprecedented times. They agreed that the skills of resilience and adaptability are key enablers for businesses to develop, that there is a necessity to survive in the new realm of connecting "outside of visibility". The opportunity is that remote work and social media actually affords us the opportunity to have a voice and be seen in a way that may not have been possible before in live meetings -- so there are new areas of courage for us, potentially.
The discussion then moved on to the question of how women could recognize opportunity here and gain skills from the pandemic. Other than using their emotional intelligence as collaborators and team leaders, the speakers talked about women needing to provide mentorship, both to their teams and to young female students where possible, to help them develop an interest in business or STEM fields. In these male-dominated industries, women and girls need mentors to guide and inspire them to see there is a place for them in these fields.
In terms of predicting technology trends of the future, the four agreed that artificial intelligence and machine learning will be massive trends. Additionally, democratizing access and making many things available to the public will be important in allowing small businesses to flourish. Fawn Annan talked about immersive learning and how it will change how medicine is done. These trends will ultimately be adopted by small businesses, which will benefit them considerably.
They agreed that 2021 will not be a rebuilding year, but a building year. It will also be an excellent opportunity to shift labor - either reskill staff or hire a new labor force. After this pandemic, employers will seek out certain skills in workers and staff, like resiliency, creative thinking and curiosity; these will be competitive differentiators. Thiara mentioned that the pandemic will ultimately test people's passions, and the people that succeed will be the ones that pass this test. Jane Goodyer, Head of the engineering school, said that businesses will likely focus on enabling learning and understanding more deeply the needs of their customers to ensure loyalty and brand trust.
Thiara reminded guests that change is constant, pointing out a compelling vehicle design project/contest at projectarrow.ca and Fisher concluded saying, "Remember that life is only about change, no matter how old you are."
This panel and zoom-networking event was hosted by Co-Directors of the newly launched WITI Toronto network, Marguerite McLeod Fleming and Lisa Pierosara.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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