Interview with Emily Key
By day, Emily Key is the founder of Shiny Objects, a new STEM-focused education resource provider in Vancouver. Her mission is to indulge curious minds and foster lifelong learning, and in that, motivate systemic changes so that B.C. and Canada will be great places to grow technology companies. And by night, or in those precious hours that many use to Netflix and chill, she volunteers with Rotary International and the Children’s Wish Foundation. Emily is passionate about her advocacy work in promoting inclusion in the tech industry. She stresses the need for increased gender diversity, especially for future generations – which includes her own two children.
[Zeynep Tuck] Can you tell us about what your average day looks like?
[Emily Key] It’s full! I’m up around 5:30am to walk my dog, Stanley, wrangle my kids and get them to daycare, and spend majority of my work day coaching and working with top tech talent, helping them scale their companies. It’s all over the map, from consulting with their exec teams, listening in on board meetings, diffusing conflict and helping align teams on what’s going to best serve their employees and clients. After work, I get to hang out with the kids, and love nerding out and catching up with my husband. Sometimes I’ll head to a networking event or speak on a panel, or host a dinner with friends. Then it’s wine, a good book, and bed. It’s lights out pretty early in our house!
[ZT] What attracted you to work in tech? Was it a life-long dream, or was there some other factor that pushed you to it?
[EK] I’ve always been very motivated to change the world, and to continuously improve upon existing systems. My true intro to technology was around 2009, when I partnered up with [a] software engineer who wanted to start a business. I’d figured out early on I’m interested in and effective at building and scaling businesses, and that paired nicely with a more architecturally-focused person. Together, we built a little dev shop and grew that over four years, and I learned and absorbed an incredible much about product, engineering, and design. I was hooked. It’s face-paced, creative, and ever-changing, and I’ve learned that my skill set and strengths are of value in tech, even as a non-engineer.
[ZT] There’s a lot of buzz around “building your community” as key to being successful in tech. What does your “community” look like?
[EK] It takes effort but I agree with that buzz! I try to stay well-networked with the crazy innovators, top engineers, futurists. I do this by attending conferences or making those quasi-uncomfortable asks of my own network. Over the years, I’ve sought out and developed relationships with mentors and experts in my field, love spending time brainstorming with and being a sounding board for entrepreneurs, and definitely love working with executive coaches. It’s also important to me to have monthly hang outs with other working moms, and we’re usually out for a jog or training for a race while we’re catching up. My favourite people are the busiest ones!
[ZT] What kind of barriers have you faced as a woman in tech, and how did you overcome them?
[EK] That’s a big question. I’ve faced several, but as a caucasian woman, I certainly haven’t had to face the challenges many other underrepresented groups are confronted with.
As it stands, I’ve had people use my husband’s success as a reason to not be deemed worthy of a salary increase, my pregnancy deemed an inconvenience for the business, and the standard mélange of ‘too confident, too critical, too aggressive’. I’ve dedicated a lot of my continued education to conflict resolution so that I can artfully face and overcome some of these challenges, and have used my leadership position to invoke critical change in policy and procedure so that businesses that I am a part of are more inclusive overall. I keenly advocate and calmly educate. I speak up for women, promote women, and invest in women. I call out below-bar behaviour and business practices. There is so much more work to be done and I try to do my best and draw attention to important issues like this.
[ZT] What does the phrase “diversity in tech” mean to you?
[EK] I honestly wish “diversity in tech” and “women in tech” or “women in leadership” weren’t even phrases or hashtags, and that those concepts were simply normalized. Wouldn’t that be something? As it stands, I think that diversity in tech is having creative, insightful, differing perspectives from people of a wide-variety of backgrounds and experiences participating in all facets of a business. It will invariable lead us to more optimal solutions and better outcomes, both technologically and financially.
[ZT] Is there anything you’d like to add?
[EK] Less talk, more action! Let’s get to work. If you’re reading this, reach out! I love meeting new people and hearing what they’re up to. Can’t wait to meet you!
We would like to thank Greg Bell and Jen Hazel for nominating Emily and helping us share her story with the Women in Tech World community through our Voices of Women in Tech series.
Want to learn more about the underheard experiences and key insights Women in Tech World has collected from tech communities across Canada? Sign up now to get early access to Canada’s Gender Equity Roadmap, to be released this fall!
By Kristine Vacola & Zeynep Tuck