The Canadian federal government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has made headlines for its approach to gender equality. The government took meaningful steps to support women’s leadership “by appointing Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet and deciding to restore funding for women’s rights advocacy,” in November 2015.
While the government has put an increased focus on gender-based policy analysis and women’s rights in international development, there is still room for improvement.
Female leaders are important for the attitudes and ambitions of young women. According to a 2012 study from MIT, “Seeing women in charge persuaded parents and teens that women can run things, and increased their ambitions. Changing perceptions and giving hope can have an impact on reality.”
The theme for International Women’s Day in 2017, is #BeBoldForChange; a call on the masses, or call on yourself, to help forge a better working world and a more inclusive, gender equal world. On ways you can declare bold actions to help progress the gender agenda, visit the International Women’s Day website for a list of resources.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, the CVCA reached out to successful female investors and entrepreneurs to expand on their career stories, address current roadblocks to success, and to provide some advice on how to combat inequality in 2017.
The CVCA’s Celebrating Canadian Female Investor & Founder Trailblazers continues with advice for future generations.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you & how can they overcome that challenge?
My mother`s generation had to deal with a lot of systemic barriers to professional success. But persevering through those barriers created opportunities for me that were truly unimaginable for them. I hope my generation of women are continuing that tradition for the women that come behind us. But with every opportunity that is created comes with choices and those choices require sacrifices. The trick is to figure out which sacrifices you won`t regret and I think that is going to be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women.
Take the time to get comfortable in your own skin so you can own the choices you make. That necessarily implies stretching your own boundaries and doing things that don`t make you feel comfortable. – Shirley Speakman, Partner, CYCLE Capital Management
I think the biggest challenge will continue to be finding your passion and not quitting because times get hard. I don’t believe in safety nets and parents running to rescue their children. I think the next generation needs to find their passion on their own through self learning and growing wings. They also need to appreciate how good they have it and challenge themselves every day to keep a positive perspective so they can “keep on keeping on” (as Joe Dirt would say). – Whitney Rockley, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, McRock Capital
I am concerned that harassment will continue to grow as an issue for women in the next generation. This will be made worse if women continue to represent a minority in the tech industry. I’m concerned that the shrinking pool of jobs, particularly well paid jobs will contribute to this. Another enabler of harassment may well be the growth of social networks where one can bully and stalk women with relative anonymity, if the issue of harassment is not dealt with by those operating the social networks and concerned members of society.
I believe that the next generation needs to continue to pursue opportunities in the tech sector. Growth in numbers of women in other industries, like financial services for example, has lead to improved results for women and could happen in tech. I also believe that women and men need to lobby hard for accountability and action from leadership teams regarding no tolerance of harassment. Those operating social networks need to innovate to ensure that there are safe ways for people to express their views and concerns without fear of harassment. Women have a great advantage that they can use with respect to the harassment challenge. Their purchasing power, which is often greater than that of men, can and should be used to support organizations promoting equality. We all should encourage and support fellow women to use that same purchasing power to reduce sales of products and services from companies that continue to let harassment thrive in their corporate cultures. – Kerri Golden, Partner & CFO at Information Venture Partners Inc.
As technology becomes more prevalent in our day to day life, we will need more and more talent that can work at the next big AI company. Young girls make a decision at a very young age to pursue math and science – the core skills required to pursue a technical degree. If we are going to ensure there are more female leaders with the right skills to lead in the new economy, then we need to ensure that they are expose to STEM curriculum early on. – Michelle McBane, Director, MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund
While there are challenges to being a woman in business, there are also huge advantages. We bring a unique skill set to the table; there is a recognition for the need to have more diversity; and there are more women in positions of authority than ever before. – Janet Bannister, Partner, Real Ventures
I believe work-life balance will become increasingly difficult for future generations of women. While women continue to flourish in leadership roles, the work environment isn’t necessarily evolving alongside them. Ideally, workplace culture will shift to encourage things like flexible working hours and not discriminate against young married women or those who are looking to expand their families. Many organizations claim they already support this, but women continue to be penalized for such things. It has to be something that is part of an organization’s core belief and be driven from the top down. – Neha Khera, Partner, 500 Startups
Defining what female leadership is, or what leadership in general, means constant fight for equality, or once equality is established, then what? What will women do with the power and influence they’re given? How will the next generation also give back to the generation coming after them? For example, the wage gap is still a thing.
This is where we need to use inspiration and very positive language. Give hope to the next generation because we’ve come so far already. Having a connection to those who came before you to pass on life lessons. Persevere Michelle Obama’s speech. Young girls and women – know that you deserve respect and demand to be valued. Women are just as capable and strong, if not more so, than men. Keep believing that women can break glass ceilings everywhere – Tami Zuckerman, Co-Founder & Chief Customer Officer, VarageSale
Finding purpose with focus. There are so many amazing opportunities out there today and the attitude that women can have it all, but truthfully, the more depth and expertise you have in a certain area the better.
Be less distracted. With all the technology out there, exposure to social media and a 24-hour news cycle, we are all constantly connected and consumers of information and media. I believe it will take being disconnected to find your connection! – Jen Lee Koss, Co-founder and Builder of Business, Brika
We’re still in the early stages of women being funded for their businesses in any kind of measurable volume. I think that will be true for the next 5 years or so.
Just keep pushing. If you’re smart, mature and hard working, it will happen. – Carol Leaman, President & CEO, Axonify
Women are entering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs even less now then they were. The data is showing that more women are graduating from Universities than men, but a big percentage are graduating with Bachelor in Arts degrees. I believe the future economy will be much more about what specific skills people have and will be more of a meritocracy, and people will be able to rely less on a generic Arts degree. Also, the innovation economy will require even traditional roles such as marketing to approach their roles with strong technology skills, making decisions based primarily on analytics. Women will need to embrace technology, develop specific skills and use their different point of views as their big advantage in a workplace that is changing so quickly.
Be open to change and build their confidence. I always think about that study of a job description that had 10 requirements in it. Men whom had 4/10 of them applied and women whom had 9/10 felt unqualified and didn’t apply. I would say to overcome some of the challenges, women will have to embrace the “I don’t feel 100% qualified” and just “go for it” anyways. – Nicole Verkindt, President, OMX
I think that women have come a long way. As a female tech entrepreneur, I benefit from all of the work that was done by the great female leaders before me. Going forward, there will be less and less job security. Women will need to learn to balance the demands of a self-employed workforce. The additional flexibility will help, but they will need the time and support to gain skills that are marketable while (in many cases) also building and supporting a family. There will always be trade offs and the juggling will continue.
Take chances! Gaining experience and knowledge early on will help, as will fostering their development and offering increased support to help them achieve their goals and raise them to the top of their potential. – Stephany Lapierre, CEO, tealbook
Competition amongst each other. Sometimes I see women see other women as competitors, or as if since there are gender quotas, that they are fighting for ‘limited positions’ against each other. I don’t believe in quotas that employers put forth— this either makes women/the minorities question if they are only there because of a number that the employer needs to hit, or works against the gender/minority issue as if saying that women/minorities would only have a place in the workplace if there is an active effort to do so. Women shouldn’t compete against women, women should compete with everyone.
For employers, get rid of diversity quotas. Employers should only strive to hire the best for the position— making ‘exceptions’ on this rule because of gender, only makes the issue worse. For women, don’t compete against women, compete against everyone. If you are not striving to be the best amongst everyone in your field, you are lacking ambition. – Jaclyn Ling, Director of Partnerships at kik, Co-founder of Blynkstyle
I think the best thing Women can do is figure out what they love to do and what they’re good at early. Figuring out your passion and your strengths at a young age is the best gift anyone can ask for.
Experiment, take internships, listen to other people talking about their jobs, figure out what interests you, start working at a young age (flip burgers), never say no to the opportunity to learn something new, take risks, take more risks and just stay open-minded. – Marie Chevrier, Founder, Sampler
This goes back to the barriers to female leadership. If we don’t start elevating women to a place of leadership and giving the coming generation examples to follow, this spin cycle will continue.
We need investment in women-led companies (less than 4% of venture capital goes to women-led companies), groom women for senior leadership and board positions with the same enthusiasm as men. These are all things that are talked about a lot but until they actually start happening at scale, the conversation will never change. Our generation needs to overcome this so the next generation can flourish. – Lindsey Goodchild, Founder, Nudge Rewards
This article was the final installment of the CVCA’s Celebrating Canadian Female Investor & Founder Trailblazers. Celebrating Canadian Female Investor & Founder Trailblazers is a five-part series celebrating the success of Canadian women in business as part of International Women’s Day.