Women are important in technology, but it’s not exactly a cake walk being one in the industry. Just ask Ella Hilal, the director of data science at Shopify.

Hilal has been in Waterloo for nearly 15 years, completing her PhD in engineering at the University of Waterloo. She was one of about three women in her class of 40 and dealing with a pregnancy.

“During my PhD time after my comprehensive, me and my life partner found out that we were pregnant,” she says. While her male colleagues were sleeping in the lab to do more research, she had no such option.

Hilal tapped into many resources on her journey to a director at a massive tech company. She says resources like the community around her and ongoing mentorship helped her forward

Even with her maternity leave, she was able to finish her degree in 4.5 years.

“I cannot understate the impact of the community and mentors,” she says.

As someone who does hiring for Shopify, she says that more women in technology help make it more diverse.

She harkens back to the story of the seatbelt, wherein initial prototypes were only designed to fit the average man. This left many people injured, especially women and children, she explains.

“We want to have more women in engineering, we want to have more women in tech, we want to have more women in every single discipline, as well as we need representation from every gender identification in every discipline, because diversity is impactful,” she says.

Hiring is only one aspect of getting more women into the industry, but it is an important one.

Hilal says that the bar for standards needs to be maintained for all applicants, and it’s up to educational institutions to make sure that female applicants are prepared.

Then companies then need to make the environment conducive to retaining them. Shopify, she says, has a women’s employee resource group that helps to make a work environment with equal access to opportunity for women.

“If I would give one piece of advice for young women, don’t be shy to tap on someone’s shoulder and ask, because what you’re going through, you’re not the only one,” Hilal explains.

The third step is making sure that leadership and training are accessible for everyone.

Creating one’s own community can be a valuable step in the right direction, too. Take it from someone who’s been there.