Presented by Renew Life
In this new video series, Saadia Muzaffar, founder of TechGirls Canada, talks about leaning into her curious nature and overcoming barriers for women in science and tech industries. Find out how she’s opening the door for more women and diversity in STEM.
What did you learn from your parents?
My dad, because he’s an engineer and how he’s wired as a person, he never talked down to us. He built these giant machines for big corporations, and I was like, “I can do this.” And then somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12, I decided that I couldn’t, and went in a different direction with my education. Much later, in my early 20s, was when I realized I had reacted to cultural cues that girls don’t belong in professions where your hands would get dirty and you build something big. Nobody around me ever said, “You can’t do that.” I think it was more being told where I belonged, and by virtue of that, where I didn’t.
What assumptions did you have coming to Canada when you emigrated from Pakistan at age 19?
I was aware that there would be new opportunities. I was also a little naive, in hindsight, in thinking that if a place says that women and men are equal, that they mean it. What I’ve learned is that it means different things in different places and we have our work cut out here [in Canada] as well. In a lot of places, I fit a lot more easily, where my mobility wasn’t restricted by the fact that I was a young woman; but here, the colour of my skin set me apart. I was often the only woman, and the only person of colour in boardrooms. That’s hard. Sometimes you feel lonely.
How do you encourage women to speak up in the boardroom?
It’s not an easy thing. Sometimes the risk of making a mistake is really, really high. Especially when you’re early on in your career and you’re making choices where you don’t know enough about anything really, because you’re learning. As long as you’re okay with trying again, I think [speaking up] makes you braver.
At what point in your life did you learn to trust your instincts?
I have certainly had to work on listening to my instincts better. Which is to say, if something feels not safe, not good, not nurturing, that I give myself permission to leave.
When did you learn the power of saying “no”?
I think saying “no” is like a muscle. If we spend a bit of time getting to know ourselves and what our boundaries are, it gets easier.
What’s the ultimate goal of TechGirls?
My responsibility going forward is to be that person who wedges her foot in the door, and gets in as many people as I can, who [otherwise] wouldn’t get a seat at the table.