Member Spotlight - Doina Oncel

Tell us a bit about what you do, and what do you enjoy most about it?

I am a social entrepreneur and the Founder of hEr VOLUTION, a non-profit organization focusing on getting more youth, especially girls and young women, from diverse backgrounds in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).  The best part about my job is that I create change in a field that I am passionate about – and that is women in STEM; and I get to work with young women who aspire to get into STEM related fields. These young women inspire me to move forward and not give up. I also get to work with the women who inspire girls and other young women that anything is possible. This alone gives me the motivation I need to put in the necessary work to create change for all women.

How does your workplace promote an inclusive environment?

At hEr VOLUTION we provide an inclusive environment starting with the volunteers who give their time to help the organization grow to ensure that everyone benefits from our services. Our mandate is to include more women in a more male dominated industry by creating opportunities for them. We ensure that our programs give young women the tools they need to dive into a profession that speaks to them, while we highlight the diverse women who have paved the way for them. It is very important for the young women that we serve to see themselves in the professionals who are inspiring them. There is a saying that I closely follow:  ”You can’t be what you can’t see” This surely applies here. A few years ago, I saw a question that I found it to be very thought provoking: “What if the cure to cancer was stuck in someone’s mind that could not afford an education?” Therefore, inclusiveness is very important to me and I emphasize on serving the underserved community such as low-income population by assisting them to get into STEM.

I have my own personal past that speaks loudly to why being an inclusive organization is very important.  When I came to Canada I was a new immigrant that did not speak English and I did not know about services that could be beneficial to me – I was a low income youth at risk. I experienced homelessness three times in Canada, I witnessed violence and experienced first-hand domestic violence. My children are raised by a single mother who strives for a better future for them. And with all of this, because of my circumstances and being able to rise above it all, I strive on making a better future for my daughters, while making sure that young women like them get the opportunities they deserve.

How are you leaning in?

Good question. The way I see it, being that I am only an honorary woman in STEM, I had to learn about the benefits of STEM by accident. So, I am leaning in by disrupting the industry as a non-STEM woman who creates opportunities for the next generation to enter STEM fields. My formal background is as a social worker, and being someone that has been on both sides of the system, as a service provider and service user, I know that STEM skills are not passed around to people in the system even though many of them have interest in it. Before I started hEr VOLUTION, when I learned about the gender gap in STEM, it was confusing to me as to why no one is introducing STEM skills to the underserved communities. By creating an organization to assist the underserved population while closing the gender gap in STEM, I am leaning in, and hopefully inspiring others to lean in with me. It is one of the best things I have ever done, and the most disruptive.

What attracted you to Lean In Canada?

Being that I am considered a leader, it is sometimes challenging to find other leaders who are women that I can identify with. Lean In Canada was that avenue for me where I felt that there are other women like myself who are disrupting and making waves in their industries. I needed the Lean In community so that I will not feel alone.

What was one thing that most resonated with you from the last event you attended?

The events that I enjoy the most are the ones that men are the speakers and they get to tell us, women, how they support us to lean in. I believe that we need men to lean in with us, to hear us, and to make space for us when we need it. It is important for men to take the time to learn about our issues so that they can support us with what we need. We can’t do everything alone and having men lean in with us is very important.

If you were to recommend Lean In Canada to anyone, what would you say?

Lean In Canada is hub for women to help and support each other by sharing their stories, network with each other, to inspire one another to lean in, and become the best version of themselves.

Tell us about the best ‘mentorship moment’ or networking opportunity so far in your career.

Back in the day, when hEr VOLUTION was just an idea, my mentor, who happens to be a man, was listening to what I had in mind, when I shared with him the idea that someone should create an organization to support women from the underserved communities with STEM skills. I shared my thoughts on how it could facilitate closing the gender gap. Tech has been my way out of poverty and it is a great way to give women independence. If someone were to do this, not only will we help in closing the gender gap, but a byproduct could be the reduction of women who experience violence or poverty. I don’t remember anyone telling me about these opportunities when I was in the system, yet here I am. I do not have any STEM background, but I am capable to facilitate opportunities for others just as much as anyone else. I said to him that I thought that a woman in STEM should do this. After I shared these thoughts, my mentor then said to me, “You are the one who should do this. Don’t be like everyone else waiting for someone else to do something. You have it in you and you are the best person to do this because you understand what it is like to be in the system and how powerful STEM can be”. That was my ticket to being where I am today. I am grateful to my mentor for giving me that ‘push’ to lean in and do the unthinkable. 

How do you promote leaning in to female youths through your nonprofit?

Leading by example is the best way to promote leaning in to young people. As I mentioned before, the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see”, stands strong in all areas of life. Being that I am an honorary woman in STEM and that I am disrupting the industry by introducing STEM skills in areas which others don’t dare to go in, speaks volumes of what one can do.  When young people have role models to look up to, they start believing in themselves more, and aspire to do and be more. I use myself as an example many times to assure young people that, despite challenges, there are opportunities as well and we all deserve to have them; however, it does take some hard work, discipline and the courage to lean in to achieve our goals.

Name one notable woman (or women) you think deserves a shout out – and what would you like us to know about her?

Do I have to resume to just one?! I have so many women that I look up to and that support me, stand by me and help me become the best version of myself.  All the women who sit on the board of hEr VOLUTION who are passionate about supporting the organization. All volunteers who give their time and expertise to the organization to ensure that we support all the young women in our programs. There isn’t one volunteer who doesn’t deserve my deepest gratitude. The young women who sign up for our programs, they deserve my respect for the fact that they dare to lean in to get their seat at the table despite the circumstances they are in.

A huge shout out goes to the Women in the Salesforce team. Barb Smeltzer who believed in me and hEr VOLUTION to introduce me to some of the other women at Salesforce where our partnership has flourished and together we get to help so many young women from the underserved communities. Tia Joseph who has delivered summer programs with us at Salesforce and who’s story inspires me; I look to her as a great example because she’s never afraid to share and inspire others to succeed. Lastly, Natalija Pavic, who has raised her hand and now gives her time tutoring young women in highschool who have challenges in Math. They are a great example of community and corporations working together to change the ratio for women in STEM.   


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