BHP potash executive promotes technology careers for Sask. women

The company put on its first-ever Saskatoon event focusing on women in tech.

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Julie Kalynka, head of technology for BHP Potash, delivered a keynote speech this week at the company’s first Women in Technology event, hosted in Saskatoon in collaboration with firms including Accenture, Amazon Web Services, Infosys and Cisco.

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She spoke to the StarPhoenix about the event, her path to a high-level job in technology and the need for more women to join the fast-growing sector.

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Q: Why did you feel now was the time for an event like this in Saskatoon?

A: The tech industry, I think, is really booming. But we’re still not seeing enough women entering into the technology field. So an event like this really will bring women together, whether they’re new out of university or one of our post-secondary education institutes in the province, or they’re maybe returning from a long-term service leave after COVID, or whether they’re mature in the industry, like myself. Now’s the time to bring the people together to really have that opportunity to network. I think that’s really, really key.

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Q: How did you get to where you are in the technology industry?

A: A fun fact about me is I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a marketing degree and spent my whole career in (information technology). So I started off, I did some travelling, and I came back and started working on an IT project. And I really never looked back.

I’ve always been on the business side of IT. Which, if you think about marketing, you’ve got to be able to talk to the business, see what they need and translate that back to the to the technology folks. So that’s really how my career started. And 20-plus years later, I’m still here and loving it.

Q: How big a role does technology play in mining?

Technology is becoming so important in mining. And if you think about what we’re trying to do here at BHP, is to have the world’s most digitally advanced potash mine. So that does mean iPads in the field, that does mean the operators will be looking at screens, making decisions based on data that’s being pulled from the technology that we enable. So yeah, traditionally, mining hasn’t been as technologically advanced as it is today. And I’m really proud to be a part of that.

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Q: What are some of the challenges working in a field where there’s not as many women?

I would say one of the bigger challenges for me is just being the only woman at the table. So how do you have that confidence to have that idea, or project that idea across a really male-dominated group? I think that’s one of the key things that I’ve overcome.

Q: What advice would you give to women about building a career in tech?

So, really seeking out those mentors; challenge yourself. Doing something out of your comfort zone is often the thing that’s the most rewarding, and it builds that confidence. If I think back to the mentors that I needed when I was in my ’20s, it isn’t what I need in my 40s. So making sure that you’re adjusting to find those people that challenge you. Your mentor in your 40s is somebody that is really your champion or your flagship, your advocate around what that next role could be. They challenge you and push you in that way.

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And I think what I want to highlight is really finding that company that works for you. So BHP for me — I’ve got two young kids; I go to the ball games. I’m enabled to do that by flexible work. We have flexible and hybrid work, which I think is so key for women, whether you’re returning from maternity leave, or you’re just coming out of school and you’re balancing a lot of things in your life. So, I think that’s really key is just finding that right fit for yourself and your company to enable yourself to bring your best self to work.

Questions and answers have been edited and condensed.

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