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Woman of the Week: Eva Wong

 

When I first started giving some thought as to possible profiles of women of excellence to feature in the Woman of the Week section, I decided I wanted to write about women working in the technology space in Canada, namely Eva Wong. This is a very vibrant and growing sector, with the Toronto-Kitchener-Waterloo corridor nicknamed the “Silicon Valley of the North,” including innovation, AI, and fintech startups.

Eva Wong, is one of the co-founders and COO at Borrowell, a financial technology (fintech) company whose mandate is to help Canadians make great decisions about credit. Their service offering includes free credit scores and credit reports, advice and recommendations to improve customers’ financial well-being and personal loans.

Founded in 2014, Borrowell has grown to a 50-employee firm with 700,000 users to date, making it one of the largest fintech companies in Canada.

Eva’s professional background in business and years spent working for a non-profit prepared her for the creation of her present venture. Being a woman who was told that she did not have the ‘right’ background, she faced the prejudices of those who thought she was not qualified enough. However, thanks to her growth mindset, and memories of how she had faced challenges in the past and overcame them, she kept going to achieve her current success.

One of the things that she acknowledged as being a great help when she first started was not being afraid of asking questions, which in turn allowed her to build confidence over time and considers herself very fortunate to have  had of a strong co-founding team. She has had the opportunity to work in a team of people committed to the project and bringing different experiences and insights to the process. The founding team, embedded in the tech community, were part of an accelerator at Ryerson DMZ as well as the One Eleven scale-up hub. Therefore, “there were many people to connect to and talk to with similar experiences,” Eva said.

A lot of lessons were learned along the way, one of them being that success results from continual testing and trying new things.  “There are a hundred small things you have to do as opposed to one big thing. We were data driven in everything we have done, organizing, collecting data and making decisions.” said Eva.

Although Eva stresses the importance that a great team of people makes a huge difference in the level of productivity, and that great people are great people no matter the gender, she also emphasizes that one of her company’s goals is to reach gender balance. “Currently 40 percent of our team identifies as female.  It’s important to build diversity.”

Many startups have a reputation of being male-centric, Borrowell is an exception, striving to create a more inclusive culture and a more appealing environment for women and other under-represented groups to work in.

Eva acknowledges that it is a great moment to be part of the technology community in Canada. She continues, “We are on the cusp of something that can be really big. The community is still small enough that people want to be helpful and a sense of collaboration pervades the community. It’s very exciting!”

In her youth, Eva used to keep a scrapbook where she collected articles and photos of people who inspired her while growing up. She always wanted to make a difference. She recalls ,“I remember reading an article about some high schoolers belonging to the Junior Achievers group who had started their own business. Years later, I went to university with one of the people featured in the article.”

Being a young industry, technology holds a lot of young talent who are very helpful if you want to stay current and up to date. Eva said, “I am fortunate to work with people who are much younger than I am. Also, there is a news media company I’m subscriber to and found that it’s a really good source of information providing in-depth knowledge .”

As a woman and as a woman of colour, she believes that this is the best time for women to break through in executive roles and in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

Not only a co-founder and senior executive, but also a mother and wife, Eva’s hardworking attitude and strong work ethics may have led to spending too many hours at work. However, the pull of the family is strong and drawing a line between professional and private has become an imperative. With so many hours in a day, she wishes she “didn’t need to sleep to have more time to do things” and that is the superpower she wishes she had. In the absence of a real superpower, she is quite content with exercising the daily power of making things: she enjoys cooking and baking. Lately, she has experimented making sourdough bread and pizza.

Eva warns against a misconception that revolves around technology that a career in this sector is impossible without the necessary background. Just like any other sector, there are a lot of jobs within tech companies that are waiting for smart people to do them. She said, “I would encourage people who are interested in a career in tech, whether it’s founding a company or joining a startup. It’s been the most exciting time of my career. There are great opportunities, meaningful work, and a real chance to make a difference.”

Remote working may not be for you

Social media is full of remote workers exploring and discovering the world, while still managing to rake in sizable incomes but, is being a digital nomad really all it’s cracked up to be?

Will you really be able to relax in a pool while creating websites in Bali one week, and hop over to Germany’s Oktoberfest for a well-deserved beer the next?

Is remote employment the never-ending – work hard and play harder existence that many public highlight reels would suggest?

Those questions really boil down to a simple one – is remote working actually fun?

Before I get into the details, note that remote working doesn’t mean you have to be Instagram’s poster child for some travel network. You can work remotely from your hometown, population ten, if that’s what you want.

Most remote employment opportunities just require you to have a decent computer and an internet connection. Some will ask that you come in at times, but this isn’t a general rule. The idea of freedom and working from home – or anywhere really, has opened doors for people worldwide.

For women, it provides great opportunities as now the housewife or stay-at-home mum can have a job on the side, or the ‘9-5er’ can earn extra income, without having to do much but log on and get to work.

A few truths: It can be a hassle navigating freelance sites, trying to figure out the best way forward for your remote business, which jobs to take, and how much to charge. Basically, all the small print that social media doesn’t share, as it excites to the point that many want to be as free as the people in the pictures. Witnessing the glamour can make it hard to think about the work that comes with it.

My need for work freedom came well before Instagram made it visually enticing, and it truly wasn’t always pretty. As a contract/freelance worker for over five years, after being a journalist for many years prior to that, I can tell you that as with any job, remote work has its ups and downs.

Unless you’re already established in the field you choose and can immediately get new work, or are graced by a lovely bit of luck, it’ll take a little time to build a loyal client list. Even then, depending on your field you may get mainly one-off jobs.

In these cases it’s best to try to find contract work, which means you’ll be in the money while the contract lasts. In my opinion, as a freelancer or contract worker you need to always keep looking for that next job opportunity, even if you’ve already built up a lucrative base.

Why?

Things happen: companies change, contacts move on, and clients can decide to go in another direction. Being prepared can stave off financially lean months. Bonus though? The more you get out there and provide quality work, the better your chances of being discovered and sought after for your services.

Here’s the verdict: Yes, remote working can open a new world that can be pretty fun, just expect the actual work that goes with it.

 

Woman of the Week: Marina Arnaout

Marina Arnaout is Customer Success Director with Marin Software in London, U.K., where she helps clients transform their digital strategies and manage multi-million business plans. She previously held roles in emerging Canadian and Latin American markets, where she became Regional Head of Digital at SAS Software, a global analytics company. Arnaout was the youngest person at SAS to hold that managerial role internationally.

When she isn’t working, she is actively involved in the non-profit and mentorship sector. She helped raise over $500,000 for SickKids Hospital and helped launch a Clinton Foundation chapter in Toronto, the first of its kind outside the United States.

Arnaout was named as one of Marketing Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30, and Toronto Stock Exchange Future Leaders 150. Women’s Post sat down with her to talk about her role, her career path, and her advice for young businesswomen trying to break the mold.

Question: You went from studying communications to business in university – why the change? 

Answer: I decided to pursue a postgraduate degree in business management to enhance my real life business knowledge with critical thinking and academic frameworks, as well as to expand my knowledge of various business pillars.  

What was your first job following graduation? 

I started in tech helping a Microsoft Partner go to market with a brand new product, and have been in the industry since then. 

When you entered SAS as a manager, what was it that led to your growth and promotion to Regional Head? 

To put it into a formula  my own drive and determination paired with skills, and the guidance of a fantastic manager.  

Was it intimidating to hold a managerial role at a young age and being one of the youngest in the organization to do so? How did you overcome that? 

To be honest – no, it wasn’t. It felt like a very natural progression, and I had an amazing team. 

With such a strong position, why move on to Marin three years later? 

SAS is a fantastic organization on many levels, and my previous role helped me solidify my professional direction. That being said, I’m also a firm believer in stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking risks, so when an opportunity comes up to go to London, UK to work with enterprises across Europe, you don’t say no. 

Can you describe your role with Marin Software?  

As a Customer Success Director, I work with some of Marin Software’s biggest clients. I help them develop digital strategies and embrace the benefits of software especially those focused on customer intelligence and cross channel behaviour. 

You are finishing your Master’s part time – why return to school with such a successful career? 

If anything that’s the reason to do so! The executive global business management programme at LSE has been an amazing experience so far and I highly recommend postgraduate studies for anyone wanting to expand their horizons.  

Obviously, mentorship and community engagement is really important to you – why is that? 

Making an impact in both business and community drives my purpose and passions. I think that the more you achieve, the more responsibility there is to give back. So far, I’ve helped raise over $500 000 for a children’s hospital, helped expand the first ever Clinton Foundation 20/30 event outside the US, and currently sit on a UNICEF Next Gen committee in London. I recommend finding what you’re passionate about and dedicating time to it.  

What do you do to help women?  

Mentorship through involvement with organizations such as Tech London Advocates.  

What advice do you have to young women entering business, struggling to get noticed?  

Read – read the news, read business books, read fiction books. It will expand your vocabulary, make you more articulate, and give you confidence to not only keep up but also meaningfully contribute to conversations around you.  

What are you reading right now?  

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson 

 

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One woman’s journey in documentary, “As She Is”

“As She Is” is a documentary about one woman’s journey to discover what is missing in her life, and to recover her feminine identity in our westernized and often patriarchal society.

Director Megan McFeely embarked on a life-changing journey after experiencing the death of her boyfriend and two other family members in the span of three weeks. “My life fell apart 17 years ago and I began really trying to figure out another way. I never felt fully myself in the world and was being pre-constructed to live a certain way,” said McFeely.  “I started working with organizations that were trying to shift consciousness. I had to go to India and make the film.”

Director, Megan McFeely
Director, Megan McFeely

“As She Is” explores how the feminine is absent from many faucets of westernized society and needs to be embraced by both women and men. McFeely says she needed to draw away from the dominant and power hungry ethos of being a business woman, and instead wanted to live differently. “I started looking around for what it meant to live a life. What am I doing here? The question was so fundamental, that I started finding things that helped me understand,” McFeely said. “The question about the feminine came at a later state. It guided my life.”

Previously, McFeely had been working in public relations in San Francisco and had been a successful business woman in the software industry. After her life fell apart, she felt that her career focused on her more dominant traits and she desired to connect with her emotive side more deeply.

“I have been living from the masculine. My father was a federal prosecutor. I was really assertive and direct and I had a really good linear thinking mind. I was completely disconnected from the feminine,” McFeely said. “We were born into a patriarchy, and we have been trained. Our mind is more trained than our heart. The mind is a thing that separates us, breaking things down from the biggest to the smallest. The heart brings us together.”

McFeely quit her job and embarked on her journey to India to discover her feminine side. She decided to make a film, interviewing a variety of spiritual teachers and authors on the subject of the feminine and its import in modern society. Interviewees include Sufi teacher, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who is the founder of the Golden Sufi Centre in Northern California, and explores spiritual consciousness and the significance of the feminine within.  Co-founder of the Center of Entrepreneurship and Technology at University of California at Berkley, Stacey Lawson, is also a spiritual guide and talks about the strengths of embracing the feminine in the business world in “As She Is”.

“Interestingly, McFeely is interviewed in the film, which is rare in a documentary. She described the experience of being the subject of the film and the director as vulnerable and humbling. “I was very judgmental of myself and I had to trust other people. Imagine watching yourself for eight months, it is really humbling,” McFeely says. “You have to accept yourself in a certain way. It was an amazing learning process for me to be in the film.”

Since the release of “As She Is”, McFeely has met women all over the world that feel similarly. Recently her documentary was screened in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and was recently presented at the 14th Annual Female Eye Festival in Toronto. The festival showcases female documentaries and includes panels discussing women and the film industry.