International Women’s Day is celebrated globally every year on March 8th. It’s a day when we come together to recognize all of the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women. Although in recent years social media has brought IWD to the world stage, you may not realize this internationally celebrated day pre-dates social media–by nearly a century.
At Wave, we pride ourselves on having an inclusive workplace that celebrates diversity and strives for gender parity. But what does that really mean? How did we get to where we are today when looking at our diverse leadership team and our 55:45 male to female ratio, in a male-dominated industry?
Hear from our leadership team on the stories that shaped them and what brought them together.
Ashira Gobrin, Wave’s Chief People Officer, shares her story from the lens of a woman with a deep history, immigrating to Canada and having to rebuild a new life for her and her family:
In previous years, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we have hosted or participated in panels that curated examples of inspiring women to recognize their achievements and inspire us all. This year, I am choosing to share my own story which is deeply personal, at times painful, but mostly a really happy one. So here goes:
My great grandparents were born and raised in Eastern Europe - in the countries of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania until the late 1800s during a time where it was nearly impossible to find a job if you were Jewish. The conditions of poverty, cold, hunger, violence and suffering became unsustainable. Many got on boats with nothing but their children and the clothes on their back, and in my family's case, my great grandmother’s silver candlesticks - often without knowing the destinations they were heading to - an escape from the unimaginable: anything had to be better. In our story, they landed on the coast of South Africa with no money, no skills, and no English, and set out to rebuild their lives again. Over 100 years later, those candlesticks still sit on my mother's table every Friday night to remind us of our family values: who we are and where we came from.
I grew up in the late 1970’s - I’m almost exactly the same age as my friend and colleague Ideshini Naidoo. But her family is of Indian descent and so we would never have been allowed to play on the same beaches, or go to the same schools. My upbringing in many ways was sheltered from the horrors of segregation, poverty, and lack of opportunity that she lived through. But we were reminded frequently, that Jews were only one step above the non-white population, and that rampant antisemitism was always waiting around the corner.
Two generations later, my family packed our bags again and moved to the U.S, but I made my own journey moving to Canada–which was not always easy. I was a young woman trying to find a job in a new country with no friends or professional network, while also trying to raise a family and plant roots all over again. These times were overwhelming, to say the least. I try not to think too much about that time period because it was hard and there were many tearful moments. When I do look back at those years, I am grateful for the support of my devoted husband who was also navigating his own struggles. I am proud of my achievements having raised 3 children, volunteered many hours to my community, built a great career and made some true friends. But getting here was a story that is familiar to many immigrants. It is one of sacrifice, tremendous grit, and tenacity. Especially for women.
Today, I work at an extremely inclusive company for an extremely inclusive CEO. The reality is though, that with so few women leaders in tech, over the 22 years I have lived and worked in Toronto, I was and still am often the only one, or one of the very few women at a boardroom table, in a meeting, at a conference. At times in my career, I have been left out or left behind. I don’t play golf and I hate beer. I keep kosher and I don't work or travel on Saturdays. That almost always means not being able to eat when we are out. Sometimes it's isolating but I don’t feel undermined and I don’t feel less able to do my job because of where I work and who I work with. I have chosen to work with people who recognize what I bring, who make me feel comfortable, who give me opportunities. If I didn’t, I would move and find it somewhere else. No one has yet succeeded in stopping me. I am exactly where I want to be, and that’s truly what I care about.
In addition to my fulfilling career, I have the privilege and the responsibility to be involved as a volunteer in a leadership capacity at a few prominent and very senior Jewish community organizations. I have acted as “Chairman” of two separate boards of not-for-profit organizations. Through these roles, I have been privy to intelligence and information about antisemitic “incidents” and threats that are almost never public, but comes from serious and reliable sources and is monitored constantly at the higher security levels out of Israel and North America.
As a mother, as a wife, a daughter, an employee, a manager, a leader. How do I make each day count? How do I invest my heart and soul and every ounce of energy I have in everything I do? How do I give people opportunities to shine? How do I notice and open doors for others that may have a hard time getting through otherwise? How do I leave a legacy so the people that come after me have an easier time? That is my struggle, that is our eternal struggle, I think.
If you really look around, there are so many incredible women with unbelievable stories. We are white, Indian, Asian, brown, black. We are Jewish, Christian and Muslim, some not religious at all. We are single women, women with families, careers, dreams, and aspirations. We are women that have overcome great challenges to be where we are today. We are women of the world. Women in Tech. We are Women. We are just like you, only different. Ask us to tell you our stories. I am sure you will find them inspirational.
Read Ashira’s full story.
Kirk Simpson, Wave's CEO and co-founder, shares his story from the lens of a husband, father, and leader and the female influence on his life.
On International Women’s Day, I wanted to reflect on all of the amazing women in my life. As with many people, it all started with my mom. Bev Simpson is an incredible woman, who despite having a significant brain tumour in her late teens, went on to build a successful nursing career in Montreal. She did shift work in the emergency room and intensive care unit, all while raising three young children. When my dad relocated for his career it meant moving the family, so my mom decided it was time to go back to school. After getting her undergrad from McGill she went on to get her Masters from U of T. She started a consulting company aimed at increasing the organizational effectiveness of hospitals and other health care organizations.
My mother is a friendly and approachable force of nature. She is small in stature and mighty in her actions and beliefs. Her impact on health care has been felt in a lot of areas. She worked closely with colleagues at the U of T Faculty of Nursing to create the first Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program in Canada. She also helped create the award-winning Dorothy Wylie Nursing Leadership Institute and the new Nurse Innovator’s Award that my wife and I are thrilled to help support. What an incredibly inspiring woman.
In 2000, I was lucky enough to meet my next role model: Carolyn Meacher. After the dot com collapse, my first startup had gone bankrupt. I was about $40,000 in debt and after having dropped out of University twice I had almost no marketable skills. Little did I know that Carolyn had been following our progress and reached out to me. “I hate to be a vulture”, she said, “but what are you going to do next?”. A few days later I was in her office at Key Media, a reputable Toronto print media company. She was a strong, confident woman who had a plan for helping the print business transition to online and she thought I could help.
We had an amazing discussion and she offered me the job. I was so grateful for the opportunity.
When I first started I was nervous. I had never worked in an environment like that before. But Carolyn, being the amazing leader she is, immediately took me to meetings with executives, important suppliers, and partners and would introduce me by saying “this is Kirk, he was a co-founder of an amazing startup that was doing innovative things on the internet, we are lucky to have him”. The confidence she instilled in me with those few words was career-changing. Suddenly, I was operating from a position of strength instead of fear. It made me want to do everything I could to live up to her expectations of me. It was the most formative experience of my career and it was because of how she empowered everyone around her.
Around the same time, I met my wife Anke. I could immediately tell that she was strong, smart, vibrant, fun-loving and incredibly charming. Over the years Anke reinforced the qualities I had first seen in my mom, her unwavering strength that I could only dream of possessing. I try to do my part but in the end, I’m usually in awe of the energy and devotion that my wife brings to all aspects of our life whether that be in her career, at home, with our friends and family and now with our growing philanthropic pursuits. The most magical part is that I see so much of Anke in our daughter Avery. What an incredible life she has in front of her.
Wave started in 2010 and at that time there weren’t any women or much diversity on the executive team or on the board. I wish I could say the company started out differently, but it wasn’t until 2015 that we hired Ashira Gobrin to lead Wave’s People and Culture. And just like the other role models in my life, her strength had a tremendous impact on me, and the business. Ashira was my right hand, and almost immediately she completely evolved the culture and through it the performance of the business.
To be honest, Ashira also helped improve some of the bad habits that I had developed. She was able to cut through the noise, help me put my ego and impatience aside in order to make more insightful and value-based decisions. She was an exceptional listener who was able to deliver simplified and actionable plans that enabled me to make better decisions for the business.
In 2017, Ashira helped find Wave’s next CTO, Ideshini Naidoo. Ideshini came to us with an impressive resume, having helped build one of the most successful online banks in South Africa. She had then gone on to lead online banking for the entire continent of Africa for Barclays. Wave was starting to embed more financial services into our software, and Ideshini’s experience made her perfect for the position.
Admittedly, I was still stuck in my own bias of having a strong-willed forceful engineering leader, which my history would suggest could only be filled by a man. Ridiculous I know, but it took me months to wrap my head around having a soft-spoken leader with a small stature who never bragged about her own achievements. Upon further reflection and after many more conversations with Ideshini, I knew I had to put any bias aside–and in November of 2017, Ideshini took a chance on me and moved to Canada to lead our engineering team.
Over the past few years, I have witnessed first hand that despite her stature Ideshini is one of the strongest managers I have ever witnessed. I’m embarrassed that I even questioned her strength as a leader, which proves just how ingrained our own biases can be.
Unsurprisingly, she is now considered to be one of the best CTO’s in Canadian tech. She goes above and beyond showing tremendous support to organizations that support women in tech and is always looking to offer mentoring opportunities for others.
Overall I am proud to say that Wave has come a long way since 2010. The team looks different than it once had, with a 55:45 split of male to female ratio throughout our organization.
In 2018, the Wave board was the last frontier of deep gender bias. Because the venture firms that we took money from were male-dominated and both James and I (co-founders) were male - the entire board was made up of men. As I looked to put an independent on the board, I enlisted the help of the BoardList to help educate me on all of the amazing female candidates who had relevant experience, because I knew they could help transform the business, as I had seen before. Through them, I gained access to dozens of amazing women who were looking to help companies just like ours.
I centered on Joanne Bradford who has had an amazing pedigree in tech. An executive with experience at Microsoft, Yahoo, Pinterest etc. and was CMO at Sofi. I valued her experience, wisdom, and knowledge of fintech and marketing at scale. After many lunches, breakfasts, and glasses of wine she agreed to take on an independent board role, and needless to say, I was thrilled.
Although her time on the board was short (as we got acquired 10 months later), I consider Joanne a friend. She brought a level of professionalism, humour, and wisdom to our Wave board. As with many strong, results-driven female executives, there was also a softer, more people-focused side to her that I admired. Although we weren’t able to work together for long, she made the board better with her knowledge, demeanour, and personality.
Strong, caring, inspirational women have been such a force in my life. I wanted to take a moment to share on International Women’s Day my gratitude to all the women who have shaped my life and my career.
Read Kirk’s full story.
Ideshini Naidoo, Wave's CTO, shares her story of experiencing discrimination first-hand and how she overcame it.
Growing up in South Africa, fields like teaching, accounting and law were considered the most acceptable for women. However, from a very young age, I was drawn to science and mathematics as my favourite subjects. My father was very encouraging of it. When I was choosing a degree, I wanted to incorporate the two, which is what led me to take computer science. Since computer science is a predominantly male-dominated industry, my extended family was not excited about my career choice.
Despite this, my dad always supported and encouraged me to do what I was most interested in. He taught me the importance of hard work and to never be satisfied with ‘good enough’. Early on in my career, shortly after South Africa became a democracy, racial integration was still very young. Even though discriminating was illegal, it didn’t stop people from doing so. I still remember when I worked in a lab and a senior engineer saw me and said he didn’t want to work in a lab where there was a woman present. I knew he said that not because I am a woman, but because I am a person of colour. My boss immediately apologized for his behaviour and assured me he would address the issue. I politely declined because I understood that hearing this kind of feedback from your manager means that your title, salary and performance reviews can be on the line, so you will likely stop the behaviour that could put these things at risk. However, simply adjusting one's behaviour to stop such public outbursts does not create a change of heart or belief system.
Instead, I chose to work with this man for quite a while. I worked hard and treated him with respect even though it wasn’t easy. I learned a great deal from him and through my treating him with respect despite his harsh behaviour he soon started to see past his own prejudices to recognize me, not just a person of colour, but also as someone of value who he could respect and learn from. This approach of responding to his discrimination and prejudice with compassion and empathy instead of giving in to anger and the desire to lash out ultimately helped change his perception and outlook about people of colour.
Since that experience, I have learned a lot about myself and my leadership style. I’ve come to know that empathy and compassion can often be mistaken for being soft or weak, but in reality, it takes a lot more strength and courage to respond to your persecutors with kindness or to give hard feedback to someone who needs to hear the truth so that they can grow. You have to be willing to do this knowing they may feel hurt and perhaps even dislike you. As a leader, holding back important feedback people need in order for them to grow means choosing to spare their feelings but hurt their lives.
Even in Canada, where for the most part we are thoughtful about inclusion, in some places, discrimination still exists against minority groups. To change the status quo, women, especially young women, need to see themselves reflected in the women who are CEOs, Founders, CTOs, CIOs, and other influential roles. I hope they look at other women and see what is possible for them. I also encourage women leaders to serve as mentors and sponsors for young women and as a general peer group supporting each other. That’s what is going to get us through the phase we’re in now where the industry doesn’t look the way we want it to. Women supporting women is a powerful catalyst for creating the change we want to see.
To hear more stories shared by our leadership team, read Paul Marshall’s story about how his work ethic was instilled in him from a young age by his mother, and how generations of women have helped shape Les Whiting into the person he is today.
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