Closing the gender gap in business and tech

Posted 2021-05-28

Social entrepreneur Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi attended the UBC Sauder School of Business for her undergraduate degree, then returned four years later to pursue an MBA. She went on to have an impactful career spanning marketing management, leadership consulting, academia and teaching. Now, she’s mentoring self-identifying women of colour to launch their careers.

While 70 per cent of women of colour in Canada have credentials from a higher education institution, fewer than seven per cent hold a management position, according to a recent report in The Globe and Mail. Golnaz hopes her legacy will be advancing representation and leadership of women of colour at all levels in organizations.

After 15 years in corporate marketing with large multinationals and 14 years spent as an academic, senior facilitator, professional speaker and published author, Golnaz launched Accelerate Her Future, a career program with a specific group in mind.

“As a leadership educator, feminist scholar and racialized woman, I have dedicated my research, teaching and mentoring to better understand the experiences and needs of early-career, racialized women,” says Golnaz.


Dreaming bigger

Her earliest lessons on the power of mentorship came from her mother. Golnaz was nine years old when she and her family immigrated to Canada from Iran. Settling in Vancouver, her mother opened a women’s clothing store with little English and no Canadian business experience. Eventually, through a community of people that rallied around her, the operation expanded to three stores.

Watching her mother empower herself through business and entrepreneurship inspired Golnaz to study business at university. Of all the subjects taught, she loved marketing the most, but wasn’t sure how to turn that passion into a career.

“Starting your career can be very daunting,” says Golnaz. “I still hear stories from my own students saying that, as new immigrants, their parents often don't have the same connections into corporate Canada as others do. I was in the same boat.”

One of her professors, Dr. Daniel Gardiner, Emeritus, Marketing and Behavioural Science Division, not only supported her interest in marketing as a career choice, but crucially, helped facilitate introductions to employers. He opened doors; something Golnaz has never forgotten.

“If Dr. Gardiner hadn't put his name on the line and introduced me to his connections, twice during my career, I wouldn't have had those opportunities,” says Golnaz.

Years later, her professors played heavily into her decision to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at UBC Sauder.

“I looked at the faculty, their areas of research, and the quality of their teaching for my MBA. UBC Sauder was the only school I applied to.”

She was accepted into the graduate program and specialized in strategic management. Following a successful marketing career in the private sector, Golnaz gravitated to teaching and discovered a love for working with young people.

“Their level of creativity and everything they brought into the classroom really solidified after one semester of teaching that I was ready to transition from my corporate career into academia.”


Creating a legacy of change

She eventually earned a Doctor of Business Administration from Athabasca University, where her research explored feminism and post-colonial theory within the context of immigrant labour market settlement in Canada.

“While publishing my research was my form of advocacy, after finishing my doctorate, I felt a deep calling to do more visible and impactful work in the community and create actual solutions,” explains Golnaz. “I wanted my research to play a bigger role in addressing systemic change and gender and racial equity within institutions and workplaces.”

In 2019, she decided to develop a program for young women of colour seeking careers in business and technology. Within two years, the program has grown from a one-day conference to a 10-week program. Participants receive leadership development, career advocacy skills-building, mentorship and importantly, access to a diverse and influential network of mentors and allies.

“Accelerate Her Future is a social enterprise,” she explains. “I have the privilege of working with an amazing team of women who are passionate about the mission and having an impact around big issues that we've been talking about for decades but are not moving the dial on.”

UBC Sauder assistant professor Dr. Rebecca Paluch, whose research and teaching focuses on diversity and inclusion in organizations, is thrilled that a member of the alumni community is engaged in such vital work.

“It’s very inspiring to see Dr. Golnaraghi working with young women from historically marginalized and under-represented groups to help them achieve their career ambitions,” says Dr. Paluch. “This is such important work that will contribute to a more diverse and welcoming workplace while building a more equitable society.”


Honoured as a changemaker

Data from Statistics Canada shows that women, particularly women of colour, continue to be disproportionately impacted by job loss and unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accelerate Her Future’s mission has taken on even greater urgency and Golnaz’s leadership in this space is gaining national attention. Earlier this year, she was selected by the Globe and Mail for the 2021 Report on Business 50 Changemakers.

“Canada is filled with many ambitious and talented self-identifying women of colour who have the power to advance their careers when given access to influential networks, mentorship, tools, skills and opportunities at a pivotal time in their lives,” notes Golnaz.

When asked what change she would like to see in the world, the UBC Sauder double alum says she hopes organizations will move beyond “tokenism” to truly embracing diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as creating the conditions within organizations for young women to thrive.

“I would love to see leaders bring early-career women to the decision-making tables in a meaningful way, as well as to provide mentorship and sponsorship. Don't wait for them to advance to the top. I think that embracing their excellence and leadership starts from the minute they step into organizations.”


Read Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi’s article: Mentoring as a pathway to more equitable organizations