International women's day

“Chunk it!”  

If you take nothing else away from Stela’s incredible story, take that phrase. (But we have a feeling you’ll have plenty more to take away by the time you’re done reading.) 

“Chunk it!” is a strategy Stela learned early in life that has helped her “immensely.” She discovered that if she tries to figure out everything in the foreseeable, and even more distant, future, she’ll get overwhelmed, and “the world starts looking like a scary place.” Stela learned to identify a goal or dream and break it into immediate, digestible chunks. She says, “Focus on the first chunk and do the best you can, assess how you’re doing, adjust the next chunk as needed, and move forward.” 

We should all heed Stela’s advice. She “chunked” her way through a B.A. in English, a move to the United States from her native Bulgaria, a fellowship in Literature and Psychology, a Master’s in English Literature, a Ph.D. in English Literature with a focus on psychology, and an incredible tenure at Corel/Alludo of almost 27 years and counting, with an impressive record of impact. 

Bridging the gap between tech and academics 

At first glance, the tech world might seem incompatible with Stela’s stellar academic background. And yet, it makes perfect sense. Stela started as a woman in tech at what was then known as Corel. She began her career as a technical writer while still pursuing her Ph.D. She crafted content for Help systems and manuals, created templates, authored marketing documentation, and worked on localized documentation and training materials, among other tasks.  

Stela had to test products to write effective documentation, so she learned the products well. She also learned about product design and user experience, which coalesced perfectly with her interest in psychology. She started thinking “a lot” about UI/UX and focused her attention on elements of design and user experience that could be improved. 

She made more than a few suggestions that were implemented, and she loved that element of her job. This excitement motivated her to keep learning. As a woman in tech, she’s still improving product design and user experience at Alludo—and still learning. 

“I have managed design teams for 17 years. I took design courses, went to conferences, and learn every day from the talented team I work with. Through User Assistance, I am still rooted in creating learning materials for our customers, and I currently work with two amazing professionals. I love my job and am happy that my journey took me to where I am today.” 

Stela and her team serve as user advocates who understand users’ unique pain points and needs, workflows and businesses, and interactions and aspirations. They design and enhance features, create customized experiences, and produce learning materials—all while balancing Alludo’s legacy with leading-edge innovation. 

A community of strength and support  

Through many promotions and successes, Stela keeps “chunking it.” She reminds young women fresh out of school to “Keep an open mind” and “not assume that they need to make all the big decisions for the rest of their lives.” She encourages young women in tech to dream big, explore opportunities, and always surround themselves with supportive people who lift them up. 

Stela is quick to name the people who have elevated her throughout her career. She heaps praise on her team, on mentors, and on her mother, who relocated from Bulgaria to help her care for her children when they were young. Now that Stela’s children are grown and she has achieved significant success in her career, she’s eager to pay it forward. Today, she is heavily involved in community work in addition to her job and actively seeks opportunities to mentor others. “I have been a mentor to quite a few women already, and this has been a very rewarding experience. If anyone is interested in approaching me, I will be honored.”  

As we continue celebrating Women’s History Month, Stela says, “There is no field in which women cannot be successful if we stay strong and persevere. “My hope is to build a strong community of women supporting each other, and I see myself contributing to this vision as a mentor and advocate.” 

By the way, if you’re inspired to “chunk it,” you might also enjoy Stela’s list of principles that have helped her personally and professionally. Here they are, in her words: 

Be strong but be humble. 

Work hard and persevere. 

Work on your emotional intelligence and situational awareness.  

Don’t compare yourself to others, just to the best version of the person you could become.  

Don’t be afraid of change and embrace new opportunities.  

Be empathetic and a good human.  

Joanne’s journey into the tech industry, more than 30 years ago, was anything but conventional. After graduating with a Business Degree, she embarked on a soul-searching adventure through Southeast Asia. Returning home, she found herself at a crossroads, unsure of her career path. A chance recommendation from a friend led her to a technical data center position at Transport Canada, despite her limited computer experience.

Taking a chance on tech

“When I joined Transport Canada, the only computer experience I had was with a DOS-based computer and WordPerfect,” Joanne recalls. “I didn’t know anything about Windows, UNIX, CAD, or GIS systems, which is what the job entailed.”

But Joanne’s friend saw potential in her, citing her management science degree as a solid foundation for learning the ropes. It was a sink-or-swim situation. No one was available to train Joanne for the highly technical role, which tasked Joanne with troubleshooting complex workspaces and working with cutting-edge technology featuring unfamiliar software and hardware tools. “I had to rely on myself to figure out and overcome each problem I encountered,” she reflects.

Joanne sought out available resources and not only survived in the role but thrived in it. She mastered the tech surrounding her—and got her first taste of CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, which was a fortuitous introduction. She and her team had a high-profile project that involved taking maps from Transport Canada’s CAD/GIS systems and importing them into CorelDRAW, where a large format poster would be printed to represent the size and scale of every airport in Canada.

Leading and inspiring others

Her time at Transport Canada laid the groundwork for the rest of her career as a woman in tech. She joined Alludo when it was still known as Corel and flourished in various roles, ultimately landing as Lead Program Manager.

“In my current position, I wear many hats,” Joanne explains. “I work closely with cross-functional teams, from project management to product development, ensuring we’re all aligned towards our goals.” Joanne is a Scrum Master and versed in Agile and iterative development, and is a long way from her earliest days of being thrown into the deep end of the tech pool. She’s sailing through it now as a woman in tech, leading and inspiring others along the way.

An advocate for women in tech

It’s not lost on Joanne that she has achieved success in a traditionally male-dominated field. Being a woman in tech has posed a number of challenges, particularly during pivotal life moments such as starting a family. “There weren’t a lot of my peers or team members who were starting a family,” she shares. “I became very efficient with how I spent my time.”

Joanne’s journey has inspired her to advocate for other women in the tech industry. “When I encounter someone who is considering a job in this field, I tell them to jump in and to not be afraid to take a chance,” she says. “I have helped many newcomers to high tech make introductions with hiring managers.” And if anyone feels intimidated by a steep learning curve, Joanne can relate firsthand and encourage others with her history of resourcefulness and tenacity.

Finding work-life balance

Despite her demanding role, Joanne prioritizes work-life balance, carving out time for outdoor activities like walking her dogs and paddleboarding. “Being a Program Manager means that I am acutely aware of time,” she admits. “But getting out into nature every day seems to have a calming effect for me.”

With almost three decades at our company, Joanne’s story is a fantastic reminder of the talent, skill, resilience, and determination of women in the tech industry. As we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we’re honored to spotlight Joanne as one of the women who makes Alludo shine. We’re proud to have an exceptional ratio of women working at Alludo compared to our peer organizations, particularly in leadership positions*. For us, every day is International Women’s Day—and we have people like Joanne to thank for that.

* We are extremely proud to report that we are above industry standard for the percentage of women in our workforce: Nearly one-third (31%) of our workforce is comprised of women, and we have a particularly strong—and rare—representation at the leadership level. Our Chief Executive Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, and Chief Legal Officer are all women; our operations committee, which consists of our most senior leaders, includes a 32% representation of women; and 33% of our people managers are women, highlighting the efforts we make to ensure equal opportunities and empowerment across all levels of the organization.

If you were a fly on the wall in an Executive Leadership Team (ELT) meeting at Alludo, first of all, you’d be swatted or escorted outside. We take security seriously around here. But you’d also witness something interesting:

The ELT at Alludo is made up of 43% women. And, of course, we have a female CEO. This should be typical—especially given that women represent more than half of the population and more than half of the current workforce[i]—but it’s not.

Globally, women hold 31% of senior management positions. That statistic masks another gap, because according to Catalyst, women are significantly more likely to be at the helm of HR than they are to be in other top roles such as CEO or Chief Legal Officer.[ii] Only 23% of managing director and CEO roles worldwide are held by women, and that number is less than 10% among the Fortune 500.

Perhaps it’s worth noting, then, that Alludo’s CEO and Chief Legal Officer are both women, and the head of HR—we call it Chief People Officer—is a man.

Women in leadership

CEO Christa Quarles is frequently asked about women in leadership, especially since she’s at the helm of a company in the male-dominated technology space. For Christa, representation is not a “nice to have,” but rather an essential. “You need to see it to be it,” she says. “When women are represented, more women participate. Of course, that’s an inherent Catch-22: in order to have more women represented in the first place, you have to have more women participate.”

That means someone has to show up first. At Alludo, that someone was Christa herself. After she joined, people followed. Many of them were women. They joined because she’s someone they wanted to work for, with a vision and purpose and leadership style worth following. After all, choosing a role based on the person you’re working for and their sense of purpose is often more important than choosing a role based on the company itself.

Working for a female CEO

When I was researching Alludo prior to joining the company as the Chief Marketing Officer, it was clear to me that Christa walks the talk when it comes to pursuing diversity in the C-suite. In addition to a little less than half of the Alludo executives being women, I knew that Christa had built a diverse team in her previous CEO role. In my mind, Christa demonstrates very tangible support for woman in executive positions.

Becca Chambers, Alludo’s SVP of Global Brand and Communications says,  “I understand the power of representation. I came from the cybersecurity industry, where there are only a handful of female CEOs in the entire industry.  I had never been able to envision myself comfortably seated at the table, so to speak. Christa is the kind of person who pulls the chair out to offer you the seat at the table, and I knew it from the first time I met her.”

Importance of gender diversity

Christa has spoken at length about the power of diversity in the ELT. She’s serious about elevating women, and it’s not just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also smart business. As she says, “Diversity and inclusion aren’t just nice to have—they’re fundamental.” The stats back her up: A McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

And the importance of gender diversity and representation in our organization goes well beyond just the ELT.  At the end of 2022, we launched our first Employee Resource Group (ERG): the Alludo Women’s Empowerment (AWE) group. As the executive sponsor of the group, we meet monthly to raise awareness of women’s rights and support female representation in all areas of our organization.  More than 26% of our global female employees are members of this active group.

A diverse leadership team is a business asset

This ability to show up fully, with innovative ideas that challenge the status quo and draw on your whole bank of experiences and skills, is a clear business asset. After all, a leadership team characterized by homogeneous identity and ways of thinking won’t get very far. In business, particularly in tech, inertia is fatal.

With that in mind, it’s important to note that Christa’s power of a CEO isn’t only in her identity as a woman, nor does she have the same perspective and skill set as other women CEOs. And that’s kind of the point. As she’d tell you, there’s no one way to be a woman CEO, and there’s no one way that leadership should look overall. Diversity and inclusion are exponential. Again, the more you see it, the more there’s an opportunity to add to it.

Let’s keep adding.

[i] US Dept. of Labor
[ii] Catalyst