This year’s theme for International Womens Day is all about Embracing Equity. While DEI has been a growing topic in business for years, many equity-deserving communities are still waiting to see the benefits of lofty DEI plans. We need to do better. And we can start with the basics of equity.

The first step is acknowledging that we all have different experiences. We are not all the same, and we cannot expect everyone to act or think the same way. This means we must be mindful when making decisions about people’s lives and experiences and invite those with different viewpoints and experiences to the decision-making table. 

We had the pleasure of speaking with some accomplished businesswomen calling the Brampton Innovation District (BID) home. These trailblazers aren’t only making waves in their businesses, making things happen, and encouraging young women to get involved in the industry.

Read on to learn about the different roles available in technology and the innovation economy and to hear their advice for transitioning into tech. Or watch the interviews on video here.

Nabiha Noorani – Brand & Marketing Manager at BVZ

What is Brampton Venture Zone?

Brampton Venture Zone launched in 2020, so about two years ago now. And we are an early-stage incubator for technology startups, and we specialize in five different sectors, so health and wellness, mobility, logistics and food sustainability are just some of the areas of focus. We provide a six-month-long program for founders to be able to launch in the market.

Tell us about what you do as a Brand and marketing manager. 

My role pretty much entails everything branding, marketing, and communications related, everything from developing brand strategies and marketing strategies for the different campaigns that we have to recruit founders to our programming. I create marketing strategies for campaigns for our events and communication strategies just to create overall brand awareness of the zone.

Were you always in the tech industry?

No, so I actually started off in the fashion industry and then worked for a media agency for a little bit and then worked for a nonprofit. I wanted to transition to gain more experience in a different industry. I saw the endless opportunities in Toronto in the tech industry. I started to reach out to different startups and work for multiple other startups as well and just kind of gained that experience in marketing to be able to bring those skills over into the tech industry. 

I’ve been in this role for the last two years, and at that time, I had started up a podcast for artists and creatives and entrepreneurs. So when I saw this position, I was like, this is right up my alley. So that’s kind of how I transitioned into tech.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

As a child, I originally wanted to be a doctor – specifically, a surgeon. But as I kind of went into science and took courses in that in high school, I realized it just wasn’t for me. So I always knew that I wanted to do marketing and business, but in terms of the particular industry, I never knew that I wanted to work in tech until about a few years ago. 

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of?

 I think more women can take advantage of being in leadership roles as a founder. There are a lot of opportunities out there in the entrepreneurship world, in the tech world, to be able to build your business with the resources that are available. And I would love to see more women take advantage of that and be a part of that and really take that initiative to startup businesses in the areas that they’re passionate about.

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity? 

I think a lot of what companies can do nowadays to embrace equity more in the workplace is with their hiring practices, to include more diversity in their hiring practices, more opportunities for leadership for women and for women to be in leadership positions in the corporate world or even in the tech world. And really just more accommodation for people who have mental disabilities or physical disabilities and more inclusion for them in the workplace as well.

What advice would you share with women looking to transition into tech? 

To women looking to transition into tech, I would definitely say go out and seek out those opportunities. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there, a lot of resources out there. It’s just about seeking them out, making connections, and attending tech events. 

There are a lot of tech events in Toronto that you can go to kind of meet like-minded people, make the right connections, and eventually, that will lead to an opportunity with an employer that you can meet or even go into starting up your own tech business.

At Bvz, our ratio of male to female founders is quite high. I would say about 50% are females, and we’re very proud of that. We do take an active effort to recruit female founders to go out and help women who have these great businesses and these great ideas but don’t have the right resources or access to the right resources or may not know about the programming that’s available to them to really help kickstart their business and also to help them launch their business and take them to the next step.

What’s it like being a woman working in the Brampton Innovation District? 

It’s great to see the number of other women in the innovation district working alongside the other women we have on our team and me. Our director is a woman, so seeing the diversity is great. There are many opportunities for women in leadership positions in the Innovation District. And I think tech is definitely something that’s becoming not so much like a male-dominated world. There are definitely a lot more women coming into the space, and it’s so for that reason I love working in the Innovation District alongside all the other great women out there.

Arleana Rajkumar – Program Specialist at the BVZ

Tell us about what you do as a Program Specialist.

As a program specialist at the Brampton Venture Zone, there are a lot of responsibilities that we have with our startups and also our different stakeholders within the Innovation District. So operationally, I help support the programming by building it, by creating content with our entrepreneurs and residents and our executives and residents as well. 

We also help manage the relationships and facilitate relationship building between the Innovation District, the city of Brampton, Toronto Metropolitan University, and different corporates within the city of Brampton as well, and the region of Peel. 

And finally, the one-on-one support with the startups. So we have one-on-one meetings with our startups and our founders regularly every month, and we help them accelerate their growth, so from ideation to entering the market and ramping up their sales as well.

Were you always in the tech industry? 

I was not always in the tech industry, so I started as a life science student and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with myself after school. I worked in a lot of non-profit organizations, and I didn’t really discover tech until grad school when I worked in an incubator for a little bit, and that’s when I really fell in love with it. So it took me a little while to understand the intersection between science and technology, and now I work with some of the best founders in the city. 

I always thought I would do something clinical after school, so I always thought I would be a doctor, but things sometimes go differently than planned. As soon as I’ve, you know, discovered what technology is and how that intersection with science and technology, there was no going back to something clinical. I had to enter this industry. There’s so much opportunity out there. 

What did you want to be when you were a child?

As a child, I wanted to be a pediatrician. It was my lifelong goal until the end of university, and then, yeah, I fell in love with technology.

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of?  

There are definitely a lot of opportunities for women in this industry. As of right now, there’s a lack of representation for women in Stem who have leadership roles. So those with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics background, there are not many of us in those leadership roles. However, we have seen that growth in the past couple of years. So there is a lot of opportunity for folks to grow here. 

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity? 

What I would like to see done to embrace equality in this industry is having more people of colour. Being hired as a racialized woman and growing up, there were many tough times securing employment and networking as well. And as we’re changing as a society, it would be great to be more inclusive towards racialized people and also women and women of colour.

What advice would you share with other women looking to make the transition? 

My advice for women who want to enter the tech industry is don’t be afraid to fail. A lot of times, we’re scared to make the first move or make that transition. Sometimes you just have to embrace it. So please don’t be afraid to fail. Just embrace it.  

What’s it like working in the Brampton Innovation District? 

There’s a lot to love in the Brampton Innovation district. We have so many different incubators within arm’s length. Just across the street from the Brampton venture zone is BHive down the street. We have City Hall. There’s also the Brampton Economic Center. There are so many resources and opportunities here, and it’s great to see everybody interact with each other. There are no closed doors, so we’re always having fun with each other and creating opportunities for one another.

Vijaya Jeyakumar – Founder + CEO of Storeo at BVZ

Tell us about your company and job.  

Storeo is bringing innovation and creativity to self-storage. We’re doing this by connecting those who have space in their homes with those who need it. As the founder and CEO of Storeo, I’m taking a hands-on approach of running things here – whether it’s coding, figuring out finances, or talking to potential business partners, I’ve got a bird’s eye view over everything.

Were you always in tech? 

Actually, I began my career in nuclear, and then I moved on to finance, where I held many progressive roles over time. My work in finance ranged from analytics and reporting to understanding private investments. 

However, throughout my whole career track, the allure for entrepreneurship has always enticed me. My idea for Storeo was born through living in cramped city apartments with little to no storage. This, combined with my desire to start my own business, I decided to jump in head first into kickstarting Storeo. I learned how to code, I figured out what these frameworks are all about, and I’m really proud of all my progress. Between the CTO of Storeo and I, we were able to bootstrap the entire Storeo platform into a convenient and user-friendly mobile app.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

Funny story, but I wanted to own a theme park when I was a child, so I think it has a lot of influence from a video game that I was playing called Roller Coaster Tycoon. But that’s really what made me really passionate about owning a business. I really wanted to know more about how theme parks and large industries are run, and I was so intent on making sure that at the end of the day, the customer was satisfied.

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of? 

I think right now, technology is at an all-time high. It’s really changing the way we interact with each other, the way we work, and the way we live. There is so much out there that women should not shy away from diving into. Don’t ever let your gender define your roles or what you’re capable of. 

I also see a great opportunity for women and people of colour to take part in a lot of different diversity and inclusion initiatives that just about every organization is spearheading at the moment. This is a great platform for them to get their feet wet and join the tech industry doing what they love.

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity? 

I would have wanted to address my own unconscious bias on what a leader looks like. I would have been able to encourage women to have a seat at the table and help make decisions and take on leadership roles.  I really wish I had taken the time to understand that I could make that difference. 

What’s it like working in the Brampton Innovation District?

I love it. There are so many different startups, and just seeing how everyone is so equally, if not more motivated than you, in making their businesses succeed makes it perfect for me to be there. It feels right to be here. I’m amongst the best.

Anita Schretlen – Business Development & Account Lead at Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst

Tell us about your job. 

I work with the corporate training team at Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst. We work with private and public organizations of all kinds, helping them strengthen their cybersecurity posture. This means that we create bespoke training focused on their needs and goals, making it relevant and meaningful to their organizations. It’s all customized, which makes every day different, which is what I love about it.

Were you always in tech?

I started my career in media and then worked with small entrepreneurs in various roles. This is my first role in tech. I very consciously decided to move out of more traditional industries because I saw the opportunities for growth that existed in tech. I was also very attracted to the evolving nature of tech. There’s always something happening, as well as a quicker pace.

What did you want to do for work when you were younger? 

I didn’t really have any specific career goals when I was a child. I grew up in a very small town where everyone worked in the mines or the local shops or schools, or hospitals. I don’t feel like I had a good sense of what was out there. I think it goes to show the importance of role models and how you really can’t be what you don’t see.

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of? 

Tech companies have all kinds of roles they need to fill throughout their organization. It’s not just technical roles. There is marketing; there’s project management; there’s legal, etc. So really, take a look at what your skills are and think about what can be transferable. Take courses to fill the gaps or keep your skills up-to-date.  

Also, take advantage of training opportunities targeted towards women. For example, the Catalyst has a program, the Mastercard Emerging Leaders Cyber Initiative, which is targeted at Women and helps them get up to the next level. It focuses on executive leadership and more strategic thinking around cybersecurity and digital risk. So finding opportunities like that and being able to take advantage of them is great.

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity? 

If I were to pick one single thing that would have had the greatest impact on my early career progression, it would be more flexible work policies. The Catalyst does a great job of this, but as a young parent, things like flex hours, the ability to work from home, etc., would have gone a long way. I also think for other underrepresented communities, it’s been shown that this has a big impact on their ability to participate in the workforce and on their career progress. It’s something companies have to consider if they want to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

Roxana Rozembaigher – Admissions Manager at Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst

Tell us about your job. 

So the Rogers Cyber Security Catalyst is Toronto Metropolitan University’s National Center for Collaboration and Innovation in Cybersecurity. We do many things at The Catalyst, one of them being running a cybersecurity training program, and I manage the recruitment and admissions process for that program. 

I had been in my previous role for about twelve years, and I had outgrown it, and I really wanted something more dynamic, somewhere where I could make a difference. And at The Catalyst, I changed people’s lives daily. So it’s a very fulfilling role.

Were you always in tech? 

Definitely not. So I moved into the tech industry about three years ago when I moved to The Catalyst. Before that, I was also working for TMU, but in a completely different department. And if you had asked me, you know, five years ago, if I ever saw myself in the tech industry, I would have said not because I am not a technical person at all, or I don’t consider myself to be, anyway. 

There are so many opportunities in this industry. I think that a lot of people don’t fully understand what’s involved.  And I’ve learned so much in the last three years, specifically about how most people need to see themselves in tech and that there really is an opportunity for everyone in this industry, and especially in cybersecurity because that is the next big industry.

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of? 

Well, there are a ton of training opportunities in the tech industry and cybersecurity especially. People are not aware of all the free resources online that they can take advantage of. There are things like coding for girls, for example, which helps elementary and high school girls learn to code and program. 

CyberStart Canada is also for high school girls to get interested in cybersecurity through gaming. And then there are organizations like Women in Cybersecurity, a global network of women that help promote tech education and tech professional work experience and help women get into cybersecurity. So there are a ton of resources online that you can take advantage of.

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity? 

That is a very good question. I would have taken some more workshops or training or gone to some conferences to really understand the landscape and what’s being talked about, what’s important in the equity and diversity landscape at that moment. And I would have probably encouraged some of my coworkers to do the same. But in hindsight, everything’s a good idea, right? 

Do you have any advice for women looking to transition into tech? 

I really love this question because this is what I do every day. So the first thing I would recommend is network, network. Get on LinkedIn, and get a mentor. Talk to your family and friends who might be in the tech industry already. They could have some good advice to offer. And the second one is to get into some fast-track training, so you don’t need a four-year degree or a two-year college diploma to break into the tech industry. 

There are many fast-track boot camps and training programs that could get you into a tech career within six months, one of them being the one offered at The Catalyst. We have many training programs offered, specifically in cybersecurity. So if you’re interested to learn more, I’m happy to talk about it. 

What’s it like working in the Brampton Innovation District? 

So I like that it’s up and coming and that Toronto Metropolitan University is investing a lot of their time, infrastructure, and programs into Brampton. You may have heard they’re opening up a medical school soon, in 2025. And The Catalyst is based out of Brampton, along with all the programs that we offer. It’s also close to my house. Much better than travelling downtown.

Kathryn McCabe – Project Manager, Cyberstart Canada at Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst

Tell us about your job. 

CyberStart Canada is a gamified and immersive cybersecurity learning experience for youth. What we’re trying to do with CyberStart Canada is introduce cybersecurity in a fun, beginner-friendly way for students to explore careers in cybersecurity and create awareness for students as they start to consider what they want to take in post-secondary or alternative education in pursuit of their future careers.  CyberStart Canada is creating a foundation for them to explore cybersecurity and experiment with the possibility of a future in cyber.

Were you always in tech? 

No, actually. I was in sport and recreation and moved into tech when I joined the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst in March of 2022. The move was about transferable skill development for me. This is really important and why I love CyberStart Canada as well; we talk about the interdisciplinary side of cybersecurity. We look at the transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, and collaboration that students can develop.

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of? 

Take that step. It can be scary, especially switching fields or industries, but you know what you bring to the table, and you know how much value you can bring to the table, and ultimately that will stir up the industry. It can be a lot of fun to be part of that conversation. That would be my recommendation.

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity? 

I don’t know if I would say change, because where I am and what I’ve accomplished was the result of the experiences and the opportunities that I had, and I learned so much from them. I’m so grateful for different workshops, seminars, and conferences, having a seat at the table and speaking to things I was interested in and seeing that representation in the different fields. Create space if it doesn’t already exist and be part of the conversation. 

Whenever you’re developing a program or making a decision, you want to have those stakeholders at the table; you don’t want to be making decisions on behalf of someone else. You want to ensure they are part of it so they can say, “Yes, this is an amazing idea,” or “No, maybe you don’t want to go down that route, and this is why.” 

I learned that through my experiences and through the opportunities that I’ve had, to always be open-minded and have conversations with others. Get to know the people around you. Network and engage with your community. It’s a lot of fun, and you never know who you’re going to meet or what your next opportunity may be. 

I went from sport to tech, working in cybersecurity. A lot of it is about who you know and really leveraging your transferable skills and the development opportunities that you want to see for yourself. 

What’s it like working in the Brampton Innovation District? 

It’s so much fun! I am part of an incredible team of strong women, and they are so inspiring, and it’s wonderful to get to meet different people and hear about their innovative work and how creative everything is and the direction that we’re going. It’s been great to be able to explore entrepreneurship and startups and cybersecurity and all these different things that the district has to offer.

Marina Wei  – Founder + CEO of Kredit One at BHive

Tell us about your company. 

Kredit One helps lower barriers for people to get lines of credit and build credit scores.  In many developing countries, like India and Mexico, a lot of people, they don’t have a credit card. They cannot access to the bank service credit. 

When we developed the app, based virtual credit line, people could install our app and submit a short application in 5 – 10 minutes. They’re going to get a virtual line of credit whenever they need money. They just have a few clicks and get this credit line and use it any time they want.

Were you always in tech? 

Yes, I worked in the fintech industry for more than ten years. I see that fintech shifts everyone’s life. Especially in Asian countries like China, people don’t use cash anymore. People don’t use the credit card anymore. We transfer to a payment wallet. I like the fintech industry, and it makes people’s life much more convenient. 

What did you want to be when you were a child? 

When I was a child, I wanted to become a writer. I like reading books, and I like to write books. One day when I’m getting older, I will write a book about starting a new business in a different country like India. It can be challenging for females for women to start a business in developing nations.

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of? 

Women can take more advantage of in fintech financial technology; I see a lot of opportunities special, like financial inclusion. As I mentioned before, many women don’t have access to bank or financial services in many developing countries. 

So we can contribute a lot to financial inclusion, digital payment, digital wallet, and virtual banking because people don’t want to wait in a big line at a bank. Now we are transferred to the virtual bank or virtual banking. 

In fintech, there are a lot of jobs for women, but first – you need to build a network. If you have a network and can get into this industry, you get many opportunities. 

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity? 

I remember when I worked in China if the HR manager knew you had just got engaged and didn’t want to hire you, they thought you would be spending most of your time preparing to get married. They think you’re going to have a child very quickly. So they want to hire something other than a young, just married woman. So, if I return to that time, I want to change that. It’s not fair. 

What advice would you give to women looking to transition into tech? 

Networking is important, and also you need talk with many mentors who are experienced in this industry. If you aren’t looking forward to starting your business as a business partner, it’s also important because a startup is a difficult journey. You need a very good business person to help you, and choosing a good business partner is important. 

First, every woman needs to believe in herself. Sometimes we think this is difficult; I don’t know if I can do it. But if you have the confidence, you will build the capacity to do everything you want. 

What’s it like working in the Brampton Innovation District?  

First, we have a very supportive team; the BHive team is perfect. Second, we have a very beautiful office here. We have a beautiful kitchen, we have a very beautiful working station. The location is super good. We have free parking. Yeah, we love this place. We love the people here. It’s like family.

Natalie Mendes – Program Manager at BHive

Tell us about your job. 

As a program manager at BHive, I work with international founders and prepare them to launch their businesses and lives here in Brampton.

Were you always in tech? 

No, I made the transition into tech because my business was a main street business here in Brampton and I saw a lot of opportunity for growth and development within the business by entering the tech industry. And that was about five years ago.

What advice would you give to women looking to transition into tech? 

I think it goes along the lines of networking and making sure not to stand back and to take the opportunities that you don’t think you’re gonna get because you’ll be surprised with what may come up.

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of? 

I would love to see women taking advantage of the different networking opportunities and the mentorship built into many of the existing programs, just getting out there and having the confidence to do that. 

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity? 

So to embrace equity, it starts with yourself. Being present daily, showing up and willing to do the work and standing up for yourself and others. 

To embrace equity and create a positive career environment, I would have implemented diversity initiatives such as hiring more people from diverse backgrounds and providing them with training opportunities.

Kristen Ferkaunus  – Chief Opperating Officer at BHive

Tell us about your job. 

My job is just about everything under the sun. I get the opportunity to work with our amazing founders and our fantastic BHive team, helping them, our founders, build bridges here in the new market of Canada, helping them understand where their gaps are, how they can get to their goals, and how we can help build bridges to get them where they need to be.

Were you always in tech? 

I’ve worked in several different industries. Always with a passion for entrepreneurs and people who want to create change. 

After I finished my Master’s in Business, I was excited to learn about the venture capital space and the Innovation economy. I was already working with entrepreneurs, but when I got my foot in the door of the venture capital space, incubation, and innovation space, I could never look back. 

What did you want to be when you were a child?

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with cash registers. I have a collection – my mother still has it –  of about six or seven different cash registers that were all appropriate for my age. My favourite, my mom bought at Costco. It was a legitimate cash register when I was about twelve. 

I always wanted to do something that had to do with making that cash register go ching. So it’s just always been in my blood. When I was eight, I had a very profitable lemonade stand, and I’ve never stopped going in that direction.

What opportunities do you see in the industry that more women can take advantage of? 

There is this notion that tech is a boys club. It may be a boys club because we haven’t pushed our way in there fast enough – yet. But there are so many opportunities for women in tech diversity, and women’s voices at the table will make all the difference. 

Technology is all about solving problems for everyday people, and women make up a huge portion of the population. So more women at that table mean that we are expressing the needs and dreams of women and then solving for that. 

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you would have changed in your work environment to embrace equity?

This is a good question. Looking back, I’ve learned the value of speaking up and taking up space. Sometimes we’re taught to be small, to be quiet, to be there and do what you’re told, and that’s about it. 

And we have such an opportunity to sit at the table, contribute, and really take up space and be known for who we are and what we stand for. And so if I were to tell my early Kristen self something, take more risks, be more courageous, and make space for yourself and those around you.

Join the Brampton Innovation District!

Looking to find opportunities, inspiration, and a passionate community that can help you grow your startup? The Brampton Innovation District has incubators, business resources, and learning opportunities to take your business to the next level. 

Studies have shown that diversity—through the lenses of race, ethnicity, ability, gender, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, and beyond- can benefit a business. When more perspectives look at a problem, you will receive a wider range of ideas and inputs to find a solution. 

Thank you to all the women from the Brampton Innovation District who came out to talk about what a job in tech can look like, the opportunities for women in the innovation economy, and advice for those looking to transition into tech. 

Want to learn more about the opportunities at each of our organizations? Check out the Brampton Venture Zone, Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst, and the Brampton Innovation District websites to learn more.