Madeleine Santia, engineering the way to success

by MARISA IACOBUCCI

When you love math and problem-solving, and have a dad who is an electrical engineer, choosing a career in engineering seems to add up. But, when you’re a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, the odds are stacked up against you. For Madeleine Santia, beating those odds was just part of her success equation. “My dad’s graduating class 30 years ago had 10 women in a class of 100. We now have 40% entering into first year, but there is still room for improvement,” says Santia. Santia, 24, graduated with a bachelor of applied science (BASc) in industrial engineering from the University of Toronto in 2018. Upon entering the field, she was aware women were under-represented in academics and in the professional world—but that didn’t stop her. She wrote her final year thesis studies with the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering on the impact of verbal and sexual harassment on female engineering interns. “Engineering studies, in general, require a huge commitment. It is not uncommon to put in 70-hour weeks between classes, labs, assignment and homework. Some of my university courses were more challenging than others, but I found many mentors along the way and everyone is generally helpful,” Santia explains.

During her studies, Santia completed supply chain internships at both Walmart and Nestlé. In her final year, she worked on a capstone project for Salesforce, a tech company in the U.S. whose customer relationship management and enterprise cloud computing systems help companies connect with customers, partners and employees in innovative ways.

“It required us to design an operating model for the North American Sales Development Representative (SDR) team. My team placed second, and two of us who wanted to continue at Salesforce found positions here,” she says.

Santia joined Salesforce in July 2018 as an associate analyst (marketing analytics and strategy) and moved to the San Francisco Bay area. One of the things she values about the culture and vision at Salesforce is the feeling of ohana (family)—a term Salesforce adopted from the Hawaiian culture. “This refers to a principle whereby we collaborate, take care of one another, have fun together and leave the world a better place,” she explains.

A strong commitment to innovation and teamwork, giving back to communities and always trusting the customer’s voice are some of the characteristics Santia believes motivates the Salesforce team and makes them successful.

While Santia loves living in San Francisco—especially because of all the outdoor activities like surfing—she does miss having her friends and family close by. She also misses the food. “The food in Toronto is so much better, possibly because we stay closer to our roots in Canada and so everything is more authentic,” she says.

Santia’s grandparents, on both sides, came to Canada from a small town near Frosinone in the early 1950s. Her parents were born in Toronto, where she grew up with her older brother. Their Italian traditions include Sunday lunch with her nonni and cousins, polenta on a big board, zeppole and music events at their social club. When asked about what she likes about her being Italian, she says: “Nonna’s sugo and our sense of family.”

She also points that being the granddaughter of Italian immigrants contributed greatly to her work ethic and determination to succeed: “No matter where I am, a part of me will always feel Italian.” Looking ahead, Santia may be moving across continents as she considers continuing her work with Salesforce in Europe. Santia expects her accomplishments will debunk some common stereotypes about women in tech. “The greatest myth is that women can’t handle pressure and get stressed easily. My director is a woman and she is phenomenal,” she says. “I hope my experiences encourage more girls to pursue engineering.”