When Bernie Kollman decided to go to the University of Regina, she made sure to pick a program of which her farmer parents, who believed in the value of hard work and raised her near the town of Major, Saskatchewan (population of 100), would approve. Bernie decided to pursue Business Administration, a degree that included the opportunity for cooperative work terms.
“My parents being farmers, they didn’t really understand the concept of going to school for four years and never applying what you’d learned,” says Kollman.
“I was actually the first person in my extended family to go to university, and the way that I was able to convince my parents that it was a good idea was to take this cooperative work/study program, which turned out to be one of my best decisions.”
An inclusive community
Kollman spent a co-op work term at a bank in Calgary, a television company in Helsinki, and two terms at IBM in Edmonton. She knew almost nothing about the Information Technology (IT) industry, but once exposed to the tech sector she stayed for thirty years, building a distinguished career. Kollman quickly became a key member of the community at IBM— a community that emphasized teamwork, business results, and camaraderie.
“When I walked into a room early in my career, as a woman, I was very much a minority, whether it was with clients or colleagues. But I never made that an issue,” Kollman explains.
“I worked in a pay-for-performance culture so results were what mattered and what was rewarded. Fortunately, I consistently achieved stellar results so opportunities were endless. I liked to socialize with my colleagues, who were mostly men. We would do things like go golfing, go on business trips, or drinks after work. Whatever we did, I was very much a part of the team. It was inclusive.”
Driving awareness for women in technology
The tremendous career opportunities and potential for inclusivity that Kollman sees in IT as well as the Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry is what drives Kollman to increase awareness for women in these industries.
Two years ago, Kollman attended a session in which three men were promoting Edmonton’s role in AI. Kollman listened to their presentation and said, “You know what, I love what you’re doing, but where are the women? I would like to support this initiative with a specific focus on women.”
This led Kollman to launch AlbertaWomen.AI, an organization that educates women about the possibilities of a career in AI. She chose to partner with the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII) and recruit Yasmin Jivraj, a friend and former business associate to serve as co-Chair. In 2020, they have planned eight full-day workshops with industry connector events in the evenings to raise awareness of career opportunities available in AI. These events are directed towards university-age women.
Investing in the community
Kollman’s work with AlbertaWomen.AI combined with her ten-year history as chair for Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) Women in Technology ultimately comes back to Kollman’s passion for enriching the community. Whether at work, in her personal relationships, or the business community at large, Kollman sees the value of investing in the community.
“I certainly learned that from my parents who were very active in our community. My dad was the mayor of Major which means he got to grade the roads and run the water treatment plant as a volunteer. My parents served on the rink board, the library board, the centennial hall and the church-- in all parts of the community. Everyone had to pull together and participate to have those amenities available,” Kollman says.
“If you want something for your community, you have to be a part of it.”
Alberta: A Supportive Business Community
Kollman’s many positions include both campaign chair and board member of United Way (where she led the campaign cabinet to raise 20.7 million for the community in 2007), Board Chair of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, and Board Chair of Travel Alberta. All speak to her passion for enriching and promoting Edmonton, Alberta, and Canada at large, and make her a fierce advocate for both the organizations that she serves and the people helped by them. Kollman believes that Alberta is not only a fantastic destination, but an encouraging, fruitful place to grow in business.
“I have found that the business community in Alberta is supportive and encourages success among all of its members. People here really want to see their colleagues and the whole community be successful.”
Mentoring to promote success
Alongside her volunteer work, Kollman chairs a MacKay CEO forum, a national entity consisting of over 1000 CEOs and Executive members with 60 chairs across Canada. Kollman’s forum is comprised of 14 CEOs and Executives from a variety of industries who engage in peer mentoring, with the aim of helping each other solve their biggest business challenges.
“As my forum members support each other through shared experiences to address their biggest issues, I am able to be involved with their businesses and what they need help with, but also their success,” Kollman says of mentorship.
“That’s what make life fun for me now: celebrating someone’s success and knowing in some small way that I was a part of them achieving that success because I am a part of their community.”
3 Tips for new entrepreneurs:
- Take a risk and trust yourself. Get out of your comfort zone and take on a new challenge. “Why not me?” for that next advancement or opportunity.
- Be resilient. If things don’t work out as you first envisioned, know that you have still learned from the experience and it has made you better – in some way – for that next challenge or opportunity.
- Build a network and rely on it to help you succeed. Edmonton is a community of incredibly supportive people. If you need advice, inspiration, or an introduction, just ask for it. Most people would give you 30 minutes of their time but be sure to use it wisely. In return, be ready to help others.