Raychel Wooten, Natasha Acoff, Jaime Showalter (pictured above) and Sherien Youssef all have something in common: they’ve learned to say yes in the face of fear and have carved their own paths as women in technology. CGI aims to create opportunities for women to thrive, and we celebrate these stories of women leaders who are creating change by unabashedly pursuing their own goals and encouraging other women to do the same.
Raychel Wooten learned early in life to be fearless. “My grandmother was a single mother who raised four headstrong daughters while working three jobs," she says. "She went back to school to earn her college degree and start a better career. She graduated with honors. She never let anything stop her, and I think I embraced that for my own life.”
As a Director of Consulting Services, Raychel is often focused on serving clients, but she views her work serving the members on her team as equally important. She pushes them to be fearless too.
“If you’re early in your career, act as a sponge; absorb everything. Seize opportunities when they’re presented, even if you don’t think they’re in your wheelhouse. I don’t think you can start out knowing exactly what you want to do—so in your first few years, raise your hand and look for learning opportunities. You may find something unexpected that you really like.”
Raychel is also passionate about getting more young women into tech and changing the misconceptions of what it means to work in software solutions. “It’s not just whether you can write code. You can be the person who is able to speak the technical language and bridge the gap between the business and the technology teams. You can be a graphic designer. You can be the person who speaks with clients. And if you do code, I think some people don’t realize how creative you get to be.”
While Raychel took every opportunity earlier in her career, today she’s learning the importance of saying no as she balances career and family.
“I’m a mother, but my career is also a big part of my identity. I need to be able to do both. CGI encourages and supports balance. I have flexibility in my schedule as long as my work is getting done. I can take my daughter to a doctor’s appointment or run to see the school play when I need to and still get satisfaction from doing a good job at work.”
For Natasha Acoff, part of being fearless is having the courage to set boundaries while you juggle family, friends, work and your own well-being. “I’m in the sandwich generation," she explains. "I have two small children and take care of my elderly mother. I take my mother to doctor’s appointments. I’m an active parent at my children’s school. I go to football, t-ball and gymnastics practices and my own appointments. I was also diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2014, and I volunteer with the MS Society and in my underserved community. It’s a balancing act because you have to continue to show up for yourself, your family and your career.”
Natasha is a Senior Business Analyst whose been with CGI for over 16 years, through a variety of roles and a number of cities. She continually shows up in a lot of ways outside of her assigned role—for example, she is the Co-President of the Black Member Alliance at CGI. In short—Natasha is busy. At the same time, like Raychel, she’s learned that sometimes you have to say no.
“I recently had to say no to a longstanding volunteer opportunity. It’s an important quality to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes you just have to say ‘I can’t do it, I need to focus on other things right now.’ I have to remember that self-care is vital. I can’t pour from an empty cup!”
As she learns to set boundaries, Natasha still wants to be great and be there for the people who need her. Why? Because she enjoys it.
“Regardless of how stressful life can be sometimes, I enjoy what I do. I work with a great team of people, and we take time to laugh together while we get our work done. It makes work more enjoyable and helps with stress. It’s a lot and it’s not always easy, but I think for women, it’s built into us to continue to push through regardless of how tired we are or how long our to-do list is. We still push through.”
Jaime Showalter had the courage to take a less traditional path to her career at CGI. With a background in art history, graphic design and marketing, she took a leap of faith when she joined CGI to work on technology projects in support of the federal government.
“I have a friend and mentor who believed in me and continuously encouraged me to look at CGI," Jaime recalls. "She said I could apply my skill sets in a new way. I was skeptical because working in the IT industry with the federal government would be brand new. I finally took the step because I wanted more stability. I’m forever grateful I took the risk because it changed my life in many ways, expanding my perspective and providing a career’s worth of skills.”
Since joining CGI, Jaime has worked with our federal clients for over 12 years, in five different CGI offices throughout metro D.C. Today, she is the Release Train Engineer (RTE) and supports product strategy for CGI Atlas360: an omnichannel customer relationship management and business process solution.
“What I enjoy most is the problem solving and innovation. I’m able to bring the creativity from my background and weave that into my work products," she says. "As a team, we’re able to generate new ways of thinking to solve problems and break down obstacles. We are leveraging the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®), which pulls from industry best practices to serve our teams with foundational principles that promote transparency, organization and trust.”
Jaime encourages other young women to be unafraid to share their ideas and creativity.
“If you have an idea of how something can be done differently, bring that to the table. Be bold, and bring all of yourself into your job, with professionalism and passion. Good leaders will give you the space to explore and see what’s possible. We spend a major part of our lives at work, so bring your passion and turn it into a place that sparks and ignites you—crafting your own path that brings you joy and creates value—that’s the CGI dream! And it makes work fun.”
Sherien Youssef has never met a barrier she was afraid to break down. As an immigrant Arab-American Muslim and a woman of deep faith, she wasn’t often surrounded by people who looked like her and had her background who were embarking on a career in technology. She attributes much of her professional achievement to her grandmother: a fearless woman who was the first in her family to immigrate to the U.S.
“My grandmother gave up a life of comfort for a life of struggles for the benefit of her children and grandchildren," she says. "She had a vision and was committed to seeing it through. I have fond memories of her calm and collected words of wisdom.”
Thanks in no small part to her grandmother’s bold choices, Sherien is now a Vice President at CGI who serves as a trusted advisor to many of CGI’s Federal clients. Along the way, her grandmother’s words were always with her.
“My grandmother told me, ‘God loves that when any one of you does a job, s/he should perfect it’—as relayed by Prophet Muhammed. If you perfect what you do, you improve your condition and the condition of your surroundings. I focus on perfecting what’s in hand," she says.
By concentrating on those immediate concerns, "I am able to make a difference in the growth of myself and those around me, while innately building a reputation of trustworthiness and dependability. That is how I approach every engagement at CGI, and to which I largely attribute many a success in my career.”
Many a success, indeed. Sherien has never stopped growing in her career. She earned her MBA as a mother of four while working full-time, and she continuously seeks new industry certifications. She says, “I’m a life-long learner, and I am passionate about mentoring others and seeing them rise.”
Today, Sherien is relied upon as a thought leader and expert in her industry.
“In my 22 years at CGI, I’ve taken on a variety of roles that were challenging and different, breaking down barriers and creating my own career path. I have always felt a sense of responsibility to pave the way forward for other women who are looking for someone they can relate to who has succeeded in their career—so they know they can do it too," she says.
Being fearless as a woman in tech isn't easy, and there is no secret formula—but you can learn from those who have found success. Seize opportunities. Say yes when you can. Say no when you need to. Share your ideas. Try something new. And always bring your best.
Read more CGI member stories in the Life at CGI blog series.