A new term to explain our current predicament has gained popularity since the pandemic. The term multicrisis, while not new, has taken on new meaning in our problem-plagued times. Multicrises happen when several different societal problems exist together and are interrelated. The challenges of our time are growing, but a crisis is an opportunity to ride a dangerous wind, as the old Chinese proverb goes.
Claudette McGowan is the sort of problem solver who shines in these moments. A tech knowledge leader, women-in-tech advocate, author and much more, Claudette is taking on what challenges our world provides and inspires others to do the same.
“The goal of life is to find the weakness and to be the strength. And if we could train people to be problem solvers, then we'll come up with great solutions because your problems are different from my problems.”
As the founder of Protexxa, Claudette has been providing business-to-business cybersecurity protection for companies, nonprofits and individuals. But this is just one of her many talents. Sitting down with her, we got to talking about her world and her challenges.
Insanely quotable and inspirational, Ms. McGowan does not sound like a typical tech leader. That's because she isn’t one. It’s not common to see many Black women in the tech space. According to Randstad Canada, women comprise only 23% of the science & tech workforce, and the rate is even lower for Black women.
“There's an infamous meeting about women's reproductive health, where there wasn't one woman at the table. How successful and how on the mark are those solutions going to be? So when you think about all the people that use tech, there are 5 billion people online. How many of them are women? And how can you develop solutions for the multilayered intersectional women's experience? You don't want to miss out, right? So, I think I certainly found myself in the room speaking up and saying, ‘hey, let's think about this perspective.’ And sometimes it's the diversity of my experience, and sometimes it's the diversity of my thinking.”
She is right. Social identities, for example, being a Black woman, feed experiences that inspire creative thinking, but without self-expression, creative thinking is for naught. As a jack of all trades and a master of some, Claudette has a variety of perspectives influenced by the other aspects of her career. Through being a children's book author, Claudette has mastered self-expression as authenticity, and that has made her iconoclastic in her other fields:
“I started writing those books when I was on mat leave. I was on bed rest for the majority of the pregnancy. And so what can you do? And so sometimes, you are at your most creative when you have to be still. And so I wrote these books in that space, and every couple of years, I'll release one, but the books are written.
It's about when I have time to promote it and get the message out there. But, yeah, a few more books are waiting to be printed, and I love being able to do that. And also, that's where the creativity piece came in: you can build something that will outlast you and give people utility and value for generations. That is why I like to create things. I think about leaving that mark and adding that value.”
It’s not just her books that are about leaving a mark. She also founded the Firehood network, a women-in-tech group focusing on raising and elevating women’s participation, leadership and prosperity in tech. The Firehood Movement meets monthly at the Verity in Toronto and offers mentorship and training support for women. The group of extraordinary ladies also has an investors side:
“We're connecting employees to employers, and the last thing is investees to investors. So people with a business idea want to know how to create a pitch deck and pitch VCs or angels. We get angels in the room, we get investors in the room, and then women get funded. And so that's what The Firehood is all about. So increasing the participation, the leadership and the prosperity of women in technology.”
Claudette has also founded the Black Arts and Innovation Expo, an event about connecting more Black people to roles in innovation. She also chairs the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism, whose members include Meta, Google and Dell. Managing everything is taxing to the average Jane and Joe, but not her. By building a philosophy, she finds that energy to continue every day:
“I live with enjoyment. I get to do the cool things that I want to do. And I don't limit myself. Right? You don't have to be one thing. We're multidimensional beings, and we can be many things.”
A tech leader, community builder and author, Claudette is just living in her truth.
“You have to live authentically, and each year you find you get more authentic. The older you get, you realize there's no time to waste. So just live in your purpose. Be authentic, be intentional.”
This story is part of our “Women’s Month" series, where we celebrate the remarkable journeys and accomplishments of Black Women In Canada.