Working Towards Improving Gender Diversity in the Data Center Industry

Data center professionals gathered at The National Club in Toronto on May 7th to learn more about improving gender diversity in the data center industry.  The breakfast seminar event was co-hosted by Morrison Hershfield and AFCOM, and sponsored by CommScope, EllisDon and Plan Group. 

The session started with a keynote presentation that highlighted the scientific differences between the ways that men and women think, communicate and problem-solve. The keynote also identified ways organizations can leverage this information to gain a competitive advantage while helping advance women within the industry. Following the keynote, a panel of female industry leaders shared stories and insights about their careers and explored what can be done to promote gender diversity within the industry which currently has a remarkable gender disparity in its workforce.  

A world-renowned keynote speaker


Did you know that the physiology of male and female brains affects the ways each process information?

The keynote presentation from world-renowned author and speaker on the topic of gender intelligence, Barbara Annis, focused on the science behind this important topic and what can be done to leverage gender differences to help organizations in the data center industry succeed, while simultaneously working towards the goal of increasing gender diversity.

Great minds think unalike.

Discoveries by neuroscientists have illuminated biological differences in the brain structure, chemistry and function between men and women. These differences affect the ways men and women think in a multitude of ways including their language, memory, emotion, vision, hearing and navigation. These differences influence the ways men and women communicate, listen, solve problems, make decisions, lead teams and manage stress.

When men and women understand the nature of their gender differences, they gain greater appreciation for each other’s behavior and actually learn more about their own. Organizational success is found not by expecting each other to think and be the same, but by developing and finding value in the differences.

What is gender intelligence?

“Gender diversity driven by compliance and quotas, isn’t working and never will. By understanding the differences and complimentary nature of men and women, organizations can move from a culture of compliance to one of commitment. They can intentionally and genuinely seek out and engage those differences.” This awareness is what defines gender intelligence and what Barbara Annis has based her research.  Together with her company, Gender Intelligence Group, she has facilitated over 8,000 workshops and conducted thousands of leadership assessments and executive coaching sessions.

Barbara has authored several books on the subject including her most recent, Results at the Top: Using Gender Intelligence to Create Breakthrough Growth. Order your copy here.

Keynote Takeaways

In addition to the providing information about differences between the two sexes, Barbara also references how integrating the strengths of both genders in leadership, helps enable favorable work environments, ethical values, motivation, accountability and innovation. Articles that cover key concepts about the ways that men and women bring value to organization and how to leverage their differences to gain a competitive advantage, can be found on the Gender Intelligence Group's website here

The articles help explain the advantages of using Gender Intelligence and how it can add value to your business including:

  • Responsiveness to clients and markets.
  • Innovation and improved decision-making.
  • Minimized risks and costs.
  • Enhanced safety.
  • Superior financial performance.
  • Inclusive leadership and culture.

The Panel of Experts

Following the keynote presentation, a panel of industry experts took the stage. The panel participants included:

  • Karen Pugliese of CommScope – Country Leader, Canada
  • Ana Badila of EllisDon – Director, Electrical Design & Pre-Construction
  • Deborah Barnes of Plan Group – Director, Business Development
  • Hersha Leung of RBC – Sr. Director, Data Centre Infrastructure & Strategy


The panel was moderated by Sean Smith from Morrison Hershfield. To start off the panel, Sean posed the question, “What do you think the most significant challenge of your career has been?”

“The most significant challenge was in doubting myself,” said Hersha Leung. She went on to explain how she was tentative to make the change from an electrical engineering firm to a financial institution and credits part of her success to having a great sponsor who had faith in her and guided her throughout her career. Barbara’s presentation reinforced Hersha’s point as she agrees that having men not only mentor but sponsor the success of women is instrumental in enhancing gender diversity in the workplace.

The panel explored other issues. Participants explained how it feels to be the only woman in a room full of men, as is typical in the data center industry. Another issue examined by the panel was on the subject of what men and women can both do to improve the experience of working together on jobs.

“It has to start at the top,” said Deborah Barnes. “Leadership must have representation from women. We need to take on formal mentorship and sponsorship practices and implement inclusivity from the top down.”

“During the hiring process, there should be a diverse panel,” elaborated Karen Pugliese. “We should be looking at diversity as it pertains to hiring and promoting with the input of both men and women so that a specific set of behaviors of one gender aren’t prioritized over another.”

Making a difference for future generations.

While there is still a long way to go, events like this start a dialogue that helps work towards a more inclusive culture within the data center industry. AFCOM is aiming to further encourage the next generation of female engineers to enter the data center industry by providing a bursary fund for female graduates from the McMaster University Graduate Data Center Research Program. 100% of AFCOM event proceeds this year will go to this bursary fund. If your organization is interested in donating to this fund, please contact the AFCOM Toronto Chapter President, Kevin May.IMG_5628Left to right: Sean Smith, Hersha Leung, Ana Badila, Deborah Barnes and Karen Pugliese.

Morrison Hershfield is a market leading, employee-owned professional engineering and management firm that has been making a difference since 1946. We deliver technically sophisticated, cost effective and sustainable infrastructure solutions across the globe.

Posts by Topic


see all topics