There is no one answer to #BreakTheBias, but you can start by asking one question…

Today is International Women’s Day, a day to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women all over the world. It is an invitation to acknowledge the steps we’ve taken towards gender equality – and to reflect on how far we still have yet to go.  

If there was ever a time to rewrite the narrative and accelerate action towards creating a gender equal world, it is now. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the Global Gender Gap index examines the evolution of gender-based gaps in 156 countries using four dimensions:  Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment. Early evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, re-opening gaps that had already been closed. On its current trajectory, it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap – increasing a generation from 99.5 years pre-COVID.

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme – #BreakTheBias – urges all of us to strive for a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. It is about taking practical steps, embracing diversity and working together to make big change happen – something the Digital Supercluster strives to do. Today we want to spotlight some of the incredible women in our innovation community who are smashing barriers, overcoming biases and working hard to grow gender parity in their communities, workplaces and places of study.

Balraj Bains

Balraj (Bal) Bains is the Director, Corporate Development, Providence Health Care (PHC) and Director, Providence Health Care Ventures. Her secret power is connecting people and building lasting relationships based on trust and respect.

Three words that best describe Bal: Collaborative. Driven. Strategic.

Yvonne Coady

Meet Yvonne Coady, a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Victoria. She is also a Visiting Professor at Northeastern University Vancouver and Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Digital Media.

“I was once told by a boss that my secret power is resilience,” she said. “But I think that might have been a kind way of telling me I’m incredibly stubborn.”

Three words that best describe Yvonne: Willing. To. Learn.

Anita Pawluk

Anita Pawluk is the President of RaceRocks, a women led, certified Indigenous technology company dedicated to creating a world of limitless learning.

Her superpowers are honesty & versatility which she has used to break the biases of male dominated leadership teams in tech, by promoting women from within to the leadership table.

“Previously I maintained the status quo systemic approach to leadership that ensured I did not challenge it, even though saying yes to things would knowingly mean inequitable impact for the team, and the business. I am proud to be grounded in my integrity, courage and empathy as I become a more inclusive and impactful leader.”

Dr. Alina Turner

Dr. Alina Turner is Co-Founder and Co-President of HelpSeeker Technologies, and is in the business of consulting and Software-as-a-Service.

Three words that best describe Alina: Brilliant. Tenacious. Boss!

Alexa Young

Alexa Young is Vice President, Government and Public Affairs for the BC Council of Forest Industries. Her infinite optimism is a strength that shines through everything she does.

Three words that best describe Alexa: Authentic. Trustworthy. Purposeful.

Dr. Sheila Wang

Dr. Sheila Wang is leading the digital wound care industry as the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at Swift Medical. In addition to being a supermom, Sheila is relentlessly working towards continuous improvement and impact in healthcare, to enable better care and health equity for all patients.

Maryam Sadeghi, CEO MetaOptima

Maryam Sadeghi

Maryam Sadeghi, the CEO and Co-Founder of MetaOptima, completed her PhD in Computing Science at Simon Fraser University in the Medical Image Analysis lab. She is known for her resilience and will power.

“I don’t give up easily.”

Three words that best describe Maryam: Hardworking. Caring. Trustworthy.

Question: Can you recount a conversation or change that made you feel gender bias is on its way out?

Sheila: My son asked if boys can become doctors too!

Bal: PHC’s President and CEO hosted an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Town Hall in November 2021. The organization brought in an expert. The discussions were frank and the issues were in full view. I felt at that moment, the organization was serious and not just ticking a box. The issues are systemic. It will take commitment, time and effort to see meaningful change.

Maryam: I think I generally can, but there are many situations that I smile and ignore as I need to focus my energy on what’s important at the end. The result to prove them wrong!

Alexa: I’ve witnessed some shifts in mindset and actions and it’s important that we applaud any, and all, progress whether it’s big or small. However, it’s all relative and bias isn’t on its way out for everyone. There are layers of privilege associated with to what extent progress is being felt. Many, including BIPOC women, face disproportionate bias in everything from accessing job opportunities to financing to grow businesses. All that to say, we have a long way to go and it’s up to all of us to accelerate our efforts.

Yvonne:  I am very fortunate to work with both Mina Hoofer, Dean of Engineering and Computer Science at UVic, and Bethany Edmunds, Director of Computer Science at Northeastern University in Vancouver, who are leading the way for change to happen—so I’m very optimistic about the future!

Anita: As a Metis woman leading a technology company with clients in aerospace and defence, it is not hard to believe that not everyone supports leadership from underrepresented or marginalized groups. Reflecting on my experience and what I was required to do to be respected and seen as a leader, I want to help remove systemic barriers to create a positive change that supports a culture that provides equal access to growth opportunities.

Alina: Seeing and admiring all these bad-ass women founding, running and working for tech companies (and other traditionally male-dominated industries)!

Question: How do you think women’s issues overlap with other important issues in the world, like systemic racism and climate change?

Alexa: These are multi-layered issues that impact everyone in society – but women around the world disproportionately. These major problems will require having diverse perspectives at the table and the actions of many to solve.

Alina: Women’s issues are intersectional. BIPOC women and 2SLGBTQI+ women face greater discrimination and systemic racism than cisgender white women. Women’s issues are exacerbated and reinforced through systemic racism and climate change.

Maryam: We all work hard to contribute for a better gender equal sustainable world. But Systematic racism puts higher walls to climb for women when you are from other racial minorities! About climate change, I think women play an important role in the fight against climate change issues. I also recently read an article on the role of climate change on worsening women’s situations globally, especially in the societies where women are more vulnerable. We need to create an equal world for all of us to unite and fight for sustainability.  

Sheila: These issues all threaten our future. The pandemic has highlighted the growing inequalities in our society and is a warning that we, as a global community, need to overcome inequality and dangerous planetary changes, for ourselves and future generations.

Bal: I believe that women bring a unique perspective to the table. Yet, most positions of power and wealth are held by men. Women have a different way of viewing things and without their voice, we are not realizing the full potential of what can be possible. There are missed opportunities and women’s views on important issues such as climate change are critical in developing sustainable solutions.

Yvonne: Efforts to increase participation from underrepresented groups in our University programs often end up targeting the intersection of these kinds of critical issues. For example, at UVic we are launching an experimental new microcredential this summer, that will allow remote Indigenous learners, high school students, and undergrads in both Engineering and Fine Arts to participate in a storytelling project involving their relationship to the environment. 

Question: What “meaningful little things” can we do to incite big change?

Bal: I believe there are several things we can do. Three things I can readily do is:

  1. Bring up the topic in conversations to create awareness and dialogue
  2. Monitor my unconscious bias and taking corrective action
  3. Support organizations that further EDI

At the organization level, I believe that accountability and EDI progress reporting can help build an inclusive culture.

Sheila: Speak up but always listen carefully before we speak. Care for others and care deeply. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – the process is as important as the eventual outcome. 

Yvonne: Start conversations. Personally, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and it’s typically been in discussion with others when I can see that I could have done better at creating inclusive environments.  There’s certainly never only one answer, but I’ve learned that one way to start can be just by asking one question.

Alexa: Choose the woman who has demonstrated she can deliver to lead the meeting…the team…the project…the portfolio…the organization. Challenge the answer when it’s “we looked for a woman to fill the role but we couldn’t find one that fit the bill” or “she checked all the boxes but the guys are more comfortable taking advice and guidance from other guys”.

Anita: The meaningful little things that we can do daily to incite long term change is to start with yourself and be willing to learn new ways of doing business that supports a more equitable and inclusive workforce even if this means moving away from the system that benefited you but not everyone else. 

Alina: Use our influence and our voices to call out systems and processes that are biased/unjust/outdated; put our $ where our mouth is – support businesses that align with our values; instill in our children/the next generation these values and the sense that they do have power to incite change.

Maryam: Starting from ourselves, being mindful about cliches with a super long history in our families, culture, workplace etc. We need to stop this and if you think a bit deeper about this issue, you can find hundreds of them in our everyday life! Don’t ignore them as no one will fight for us and for our daughters and the future generation to come if we don’t stop this. Also gender bias is one of the many biases we are facing. I think we should value equality and diversity in general which will pave the road to make a better world to live for all of us.