Meet Lisa Hallsworth, P. Eng., Chief Executive Officer at Rillea Technologies

After spending 30 years in the chemical manufacturing industry, Rillea Technologies was founded in 2016 by Lisa and her husband. As a chemical engineer, Lisa learned that many people didn’t have the resources to manage chemical safety. This led her on a journey to create a platform to help individuals manage chemical safety for any kind of facility. It’s amazing where you will find chemicals in today’s world.

What made you choose your career path?

I think the stars were aligned for me to end up in engineering. I grew up on a farm, and it’s a great meritocracy. Regardless of gender, you have to pitch in. When I was in school, I was doing pretty well. My physics teacher suggested I should consider a career in engineering. As a profession, I had no idea what engineers did.

But my dad also worked at a pulp and paper manufacturing facility, and he happened to know of a young woman who was working there for the summer. She was an engineer and they invited her over for dinner. I got to ask her all my questions, and I was sold. I ended up at the University of Waterloo to study chemical engineering. After 30 years working on the technical side, I was led to create Rillea Technologies.

What are the biggest barriers you have faced and how did you overcome them or are overcoming them?

I definitely have faced gender-based issues, certainly inappropriate behavior from male colleagues. And for the most part, I just ignored this, but I learned pretty early in my career, that that wasn’t necessarily the best approach.

Very early after I graduated from the University of Waterloo, I was working for a company, and one of my jobs was to oversee the young engineering Co Op students. The facility was 99% male, and in order to obtain my safety gear, I had to walk through the men’s change room to get to the stores. I worked around that for myself by phoning the store’s keeper in advance, and asking him to escort me through. But when I used the same process for a female co-op student, she was very uncomfortable with the situation. She didn’t share her feelings with me when we were working together but she reported it as sexual harassment and left her position.

I often think about her, and she helped me understand that it is critical to assess all situations. Would we be comfortable for our own children to come and work in that facility? And if the answer is no, then what can we do to make it better.

Since then, I’ve come across many opportunities, where I wouldn’t want my kids working in certain environments. And it’s hard to try to change it – it’s really hard and really uncomfortable. But in the end, if you can find the strength and the courage to make those changes, you find that not just you feel better, but your colleagues feel better as well.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Relax a bit. I remember being so focused on proving that I deserved to be in that job. I would say, find confidence in yourself and trust your intuition. Find really good mentors, and try to form strong and lasting relationships with them. If you’re feeling insecure, go to your mentors.

Why would you encourage young women to enter careers in manufacturing?

Making products needed by society is purposeful, necessary, and rewarding work. There really is something for everyone in manufacturing. From the food industry to the cosmetic industry, the medical industry, and so much more – there are so many opportunities to do purposeful work in manufacturing. We need women to be part of this transformative change that we’re going through and help shepherd the change with a keen eye on climate change, safety, and all those things that kind of come naturally to us. Manufacturing is such a rewarding place to work and offers so many invaluable learning opportunities.