Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Celebrating Canadian Female Investor & Founder Trailblazers – Part 4: Hurdles

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The CVCA’s 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. 

March 8th was International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women all over the globe. However, progress has slowed in many places across the world, so global action is needed to accelerate gender parity.

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 obstacles to female leadership.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

Preconceived notions of what a leader looks like or how they behave (either self-imposed or externally imposed).– Shirley Speakman, Partner, CYCLE Capital Management

I can only speak from my personal experience on what the barriers are to female leadership. I think a lot of people are ambitious in their 20’s and want to take on the world. Our 30’s, however, are our best career-growth years for most professionals. This is also the time people start to settle down and have families. If one parent, regardless of gender, is expected to be the point person at home as well as the 247 professional working in a type A industry, I think it is a recipe for disaster. I found my passion through my career and stuck to it. It didn’t mean I ignored my family. I led by example and hope my children see me as a hard working, committed and kind mother who loves what she does. I always say to young ambitious women, never, never, never quit.– Whitney Rockley, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, McRock Capital

I really wish I had the silver bullet answer to this question. It would be the first step toward helping to remove the barrier. As I’ve matured through various stages of life and career, I’ve recognized that it is a very complex issue and that the barriers change over time. Particular to the tech industry, I believe that the scarcity of women investors is a significant barrier to female founders raising financing on the same scale as their male counterparts. That in turn leads to smaller scale businesses being built by women or other women exiting the industry due to their frustration. My primary motivation for re-joining the venture side of the business in 2014 was to play a small part in chipping away at this issue here in Toronto.– Kerri Golden, Partner & CFO at Information Venture Partners Inc.

That’s such complex question, but I believe a key barrier is the lack of visible role models. I recently read an article that discussed the lack of female VCs. A quote that resonated was as follows: you can’t be what you can’t see”.– Michelle McBane, Director, MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund

A culture that assumes leadership roles will be held by men and an ingrained, sub-conscious bias against women in positions of authority. That comes through the media and it starts at a very young age. I recently read an article about a kindergarten class that was asked to draw pictures of someone in the police force, someone in government, a doctor, and a business leader. Every single child in the class drew all four people as men. – Janet Bannister, Partner, Real Ventures

I believe this is a two-sided coin.

Women can be their own worst victims and, speaking from personal experience, hold themselves back from taking risks or moving outside their comfort zones. Yet on the other side, those in decision-making roles often fail to recognize that women exhibit strengths in ways different than men. 

These factors combined is what I believe pose the biggest barrier to women pushing into a place of leadership.– Neha Khera, Partner, 500 Startups

There aren’t enough women in existing leadership positions that younger people can look up to. I think the fact we have to call out female leaders and always focus on them as separate” people reinforces this. This may or may not be positive, E.g.: Silicon Valley and VCs are still vastly a male dominated industry. Women often have to fight twice as hard to be seen and heard. 

Fighting societal norms: A mismatch between how women are seen and the qualities and experiences people tend to associate with leaders. Valuing different leadership qualities. Sometimes stereotypes can be made that women lead more emotionally or are softer.’ That’s not always true and when it is true, there is value to the EQ” a woman can bring to the table. Men and women working side by side can fit nicely together like yin and yang.– Tami Zuckerman, Co-Founder & Chief Customer Officer, VarageSale

Other females and the lack of true mentorship as you get more senior in your career. I don’t think the glass ceiling has been created by men alone.– Jen Lee Koss, Co-founder and Builder of Business, Brika

The women themselves. They talk themselves out of it. – Carol Leaman, President & CEO, Axonify

There is still a subconscious bias – biases we all have that we aren’t even consciously aware of. Overall, the old school mentality” is the biggest barrier to all progress. It will kill businesses, because that mentality will not innovate, not be open to change and not be willing to take risks. That mentality also will likely not be willing to collaborate, share information and work with people with different opinions. And what naturally comes with all of those old-school qualities of leadership is a rejection of diverse leadership. The conversation we need to be having is that diversity is more profitable”, that by not being open to change and not listening to diverse opinions and not promoting women, people of various ages and races and backgrounds, your entire organization will be greatly held back. – Nicole Verkindt, President, OMX

Many women are held back by a self-driven pressure to prove to ourselves and others that we can be great leaders, mothers, wives and friends. – Stephany Lapierre, CEO, tealbook

In my experience, and in seeing those around me, the biggest barrier is usually self-doubt. Even though you, or she, may have everything it takes to be an excellent leader, often times uncertainty around her greatness often holds her back or slows her down, from realizing that greatness.– Jaclyn Ling, Director of Partnerships at kik, Co-founder of Blynkstyle

Herself. I’ve noticed that I was a lot less aggressive than my male counterparts when I first started in business. I’ve had to learn to put myself out there and take more risks than I might have been comfortable with in my nature.– Marie Chevrier, Founder, Sampler

First is the lack of female leaders in place to act as role models and mentors. I’m looking for a woman leading a unicorn company with the same impact and influence as a Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, for example. Second, women (myself included) can be our own worst enemy. One of the things we have to become more comfortable with is taking risks and not waiting until we have the perfect plan or solution. This goes back to my first point. Successful female leaders, have learned how to dive in, learn as you go, and make mistakes without having a perfect blueprint.– Lindsey Goodchild, Founder, Nudge Rewards

This article was part four 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.