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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.”

Video gaming no longer a male dominated culture

I love video games and that’s possibly the understatement of a lifetime, however contrary to popular culture, so too do many women.

As most people can attest, whether it’s movies, reading a book or watching sports, the diversion from everyday life is almost always welcome and moreover, necessary.  Similarly, the style of gaming doesn’t matter either; alone, cooperatively or competitively, there is always some level of entertainment value for varying tastes.

Bearing this in mind, I quite often find myself fascinated and impressed by women who play video games, especially those who do so solely for enjoyment.

In fact, when I did my research on the prevailing rise of the Gamer Girl- those ladies who are taking over the video gaming world, I found that women account for 45% of overall gamers in North America in 2018, meaning the ratio for women to men video game players is almost equal.

While boys’ competitive nature drives their gaming habits, where they play more shooter and role-playing games, research suggests that girls prefer games with a cooperative element and can be seen playing more casual games.

Therefore, the evidence suggests neither gender is better at video games; rather the differences lie within the preference of game or style of play. However, that does not mean there are not women who also enjoy first person shooters and role-playing games. Furthermore, there are several women involved in game-play- live- streaming across the globe, with some also turning their love of gaming into a source of income.

In Australia, for example, some female gamers earn up to six figures annually from playing games online.This includes sponsorship from their viewers, brand sponsorship and advertising revenue on live streaming media such as Twitch, in addition to recorded montages uploaded to YouTube, and donations from viewers which range from hundreds of dollars to thousands.

While the temptation to believe the old trope ‘guys are better at video games than women’ is strong, my reply to that is bollocks.

In my opinion, these facts dispel the myth of the female gamer as the casual player interested only in Facebook games such as Farmville and the ever-present Candy Crush. Instead, they prove that women are more than capable of competing against male players in stereotypically male-dominated games.   Added to the stereotype of an already perceived lack of skill, disinterest in violent games, and those with a high emphasis on competition, gamer girls often find it difficult to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts.

Among the challenges these female players face is the backlash from male competitors and sometimes their viewers, which goes beyond abuse, thereby leading women to hesitate to identify themselves as gamers.

This kind of behaviour must not be tolerated. Instead, women who appreciate video games on a deeper level, and make the effort to forge an understanding and master their games of choice, need to be lauded.

Besides, any guy who is lucky enough to have a gamer girl in his life needs consider it a box on his list, ticked.