Women in Tech: Bringing Humanity and Technology Together at Aritzia

 

There are 3,000 employees in 80 Aritzia stores across North America.

There are 3,000 employees in 80 stores across North America.

Walk into any Aritzia store and you’ll be greeted with impeccable service. Need a tank top to try on with that blazer? You’ll see an obliging hand poke through the heavy velvet curtain faster than you can say “Wilfred.”

This is exactly the type of service Karla Cheon, Director of Internal Communications at Aritzia, wants to extend to the employees, and with 3,000 employees in 80 stores across North America, she’ll be relying on technology to do it.

Like Kerry, who we profiled last week, Karla never set out to work in technology. After growing up in Bangkok and graduating from university, she arrived in Vancouver with only the dream of working in advertising. The dream was cut short, however, after realizing the work she was doing at an agency didn’t really align with her interests. “They did a lot of traditional advertising, like on TV and billboards, but it didn’t resonate with me. This wasn’t how I was interacting anymore. I didn’t read the newspaper; I was online.” With the move to Aritzia in 2005, she had the opportunity to widen her reach to include digital media.

Karla Cheon is the Director of Internal Communications at Aritzia.

Karla Cheon is the Director of Internal Communications at Aritzia.

“We were a marketing team of two then,” recounts Karla. As a small team, they did everything: design the packaging, choose the music to be played in stores and create the website, among many other tasks. Over time, as the company grew, so did her team. Karla eventually became one of the leads on the e-commerce team and in 2011, they took Aritzia online. “I understood the user experience and content strategy but this opportunity made me appreciate the backend – tying the technology to the business. Marketing today is in technology,” she says, echoing this recent post featuring Traction on Demand’s strategic marketing automation manager.

Around this time, Aritzia was also looking to build out their internal communications, recognizing that people were their most important asset. “What we do for our customer experience, we need to do for our staff,” says Karla. “The ‘aha moment’ for us is that this really is marketing. Your staff are also your customers. You need to create the same amount of thought and curation to keep them engaged.” Although the internal communications department was built out of the marketing department, they are now more closely aligned with human resources. “How do you not lose the humanity? How do you connect with employees in a meaningful way?” For Karla, these are the questions that will continue to propel her forwards.

The “We are Aritzia” intranet has come a long way since launching in 2013 in partnership with Traction on Demand. It is the central place for all employees to go when looking for information on the brand and the day-to-day logistics of working for the organization. “There’s so much potential. Our retail employees are mostly millennials so this is what they are used to. If anything, they want more.”

Working alongside nearly 90% women, Karla’s in a minority position in tech to be part of the majority. “The president and COO is a woman. I don’t see a barrier in being a woman in tech here. If anything, it would be tougher to be a man!” she laughs. But getting more serious, she says the idea of trying to “have it all,” while traditionally perceived as a barrier for women, is actually a gender neutral issue. “A choice is always being made, it’s the same for everyone, everywhere. No one can give themselves 100% to everything at every time. It’s a choice, and it has to be about what is the right balance for an individual.”

While it may be true that no one can give all of themselves to everything, Karla’s contribution of 13 years at Aritzia is proof that continual dedication and desire to innovate can lead to better business solutions and, ultimately, the best possible experience for the customer.

This post is the final one in a series profiling Tractonites and Friends of Traction ahead of Women in Tech Week taking place from February 27 – March 3. Sign up for one of the many events taking place across North America here.