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The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business in Canada is Bahar Miraftab, Head of Marketing & Communications, Sonderly, the learning division of the Geneva Centre for Autism
Name: Bahar Miraftab
Job Title: Head of Marketing & Communication at Sonderly
Years in the Industry (in technology): 8 Years
The Quote That Most Inspires You: “Leadership is about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage.” (Brené Brown, Dare to Lead)
What drew you to a career in the consumer and/or business technology industry?
As a marketer, I’ve always loved trying to understand consumer behaviour to deliver the best solution to meet their needs. There’s a lot of insightful data to be gleaned through digital marketing, so that’s why I decided to advance my career in that space, as well as e-commerce.
Eight years ago, it was mostly tech companies that were continuing to embrace what has now evolved into the era of digitization. So, I moved where the opportunity was. Today, I’m the Head of Marketing and Communications of Sonderly, an online educational and training platform that provides autism and mental health resources to over 17,000 professionals and educators across Canada, where I’m responsible for growing and developing the brand.
Using tech, we’ve curated a robust digital library of applied behaviour analysis-based (ABA) courses that are founded in vetted clinical research, and presented in a user-friendly and effective way. Our goal has always been to spark change in the education industry nationally, and tech has helped address the traditional issue of accessibility. I’m proud and humbled to be doing the work that I do, and to be serving this vulnerable community.
Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?
As we’re all aware, the tech industry has typically been a male-dominated environment. I can only speak to my own personal experience, but as a woman in tech, there have been moments where I’ve felt like an outsider who just couldn’t quite fit in. While I successfully secured the position that I now hold at Sonderly, part of me often thinks of how the outcome might have been different had there been a male counterpart also competing for this role.
With that said, I’m happy to see that the gender disparity has improved over the years, and that more women are applying for and landing jobs in the tech sector. Our unique perspectives and skill sets can contribute so much value to this sector. This is changing the face of Canada’s, let alone the world’s, tech industry – and all for the better.
What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?
Whether by nature of my personality, or simply being in marketing and communications, I have always been extremely collaborative in professional settings, and that’s a quality that I’m proud to have brought to Sonderly. Since we operate in quite a sensitive realm – autism and mental health topics, unfortunately, are often still tiptoed around – it’s been important to create a company environment that is open, inviting, and non-judgmental.
Another thing is intuition and being able to pick up on non-verbal cues. I’ve noticed that bringing compassion and empathy into the (virtual) workplace has encouraged team members to be more vocal – to speak up, provide feedback, and feel both inspired and motivated to take initiative and really own their roles.
This has had a ripple effect on our ability to communicate clearly and effectively as a team, which has ultimately led to a happier workforce. It has also allowed us to adapt quickly and continue evolving as a company. At the end of the day, when the people within the organization are engaged and empowered, there are great implications for our customers.
Technology is historically a male-dominated industry, yet the use of tech is fully embraced by women, and many studies even suggest that females are the primary buyers of tech in the home. What do you feel the technology industry needs in order to attract more women, particularly into high-level positions?
There’s a significant gender pay gap that the tech industry needs to address. According to a 2019 survey, Canadian women earn on average $7,300 less than their male counterparts. This unfortunately doesn’t come as a surprise, but it does make women more reluctant to enter the field – potentially leaving them with the sense that they won’t receive the compensation they deserve. As a result, the industry remains male-dominated, and the cycle continues.
The industry needs better representation. Once we start to see more women holding leadership positions in tech, we’ll be in an even better position to change the narrative that has been written, by continuing to challenge these stereotypes and potentially eliminating them.
If you had to sum up what it is like being a woman in this male-dominated technology industry in just a few words, what would you say?
There’s a learning curve that successful women in the tech industry need to embrace. The field is filled with innovative, brilliant, and forward-thinking leaders, all of whom are working to use new technologies to improve the world we live in. Women need to embrace that they too possess this ability to impart global change, through tech, and that leadership positions are attainable to them, even though they might not see themselves represented at C-suite or executive levels right now.
Having this mindset has led me to pursue my potential as a tech professional, and to continue refining my own leadership skills. It’s a highly competitive space that we operate in – but it’s also equally as inspiring and holds many opportunities for growth.
Are there other women in the tech industry who inspire you?
Fortunately, the problem we have today is that there are more inspiring women in leadership positions that are having serious impacts on the ever-evolving tech landscape.
For me, Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, is a huge inspiration. Her experience dates back over 20 years, at a time when being a woman in tech would have been even more challenging.
What are some of the misconceptions/myths about women working in the technology space that you’d like to dispel?
When people think about women in tech, they tend to think in terms of the technical skills that we might lack – whether that’s related to data or engineering. While these gaps in knowledge or capabilities are undoubtedly important to consider, there are other skill sets that women excel in.
Things like effective leadership and strategic thinking, as well as relationship building and networking. While the tech industry does rely heavily on tech-centric capabilities and expertise, there are equally valuable skills that women can bring to have successful careers in tech.
What’s one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?
Most of our female employees at Sonderly come from non-technical backgrounds. Yet their passion to create a community of inclusion for autism – and other vulnerable sectors – has driven them to embrace technology to make awareness of these topics more accessible and widespread.
One thing I wish was done differently is that women would be more willing to challenge the stereotypes of the tech industry. Despite the barriers they, and I, face every day, I hope that they will start to feel empowered by the roles they are in, and to recognize their own potential and impressive capabilities.
Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?
Absolutely. The number of female graduates coming up in the tech sector is increasing, and it’s empowering to see. Today, there are more female role models for new graduates and entry-level candidates to look up to that can spark their interest in the tech industry and encourage them to take that step into this space. Although we still have a long way to go, I’m happy to see that we’re moving in the right direction.