Q&A: How Monika Jaroszonek is adapting to a new normal.

Monika has always been fascinated by dynamic cities. She believes that technology can be used to build more liveable cities through increased density, affordable housing, well-designed municipalities, and better access to urban information. After 15 years in the architecture industry, Monika co-founded Ratio.City, a proptech company that helps city builders make data-driven decisions for urban transformation. Since launching in 2018, Ratio.City has become a trusted source of information for some of Canada’s largest real estate developers and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). Monika is frequently asked to speak about the future of city building and the intersection of real estate and technology. She shares how she plans further for her business, what areas are getting the bulk of her attention, and advice for other entrepreneurs.

 

What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

I’m focused on reframing these unusual times to see the unique opportunities. It is of critical importance to not only keep moving our business forward but be able to contribute meaningfully to the greater discussions about how our cities and urban areas can thrive in the coming months and years.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

For my entire career, I have been focused on answering the hard questions about cities: how can we house a growing urban population sustainably with limited resources? How can we build better, more liveable and equitable cities? How can we empower professionals to access critical information more easily in order to allow them to focus on solving complex problems about our built environment?

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

Our platform allows professionals in the City Building space to access, visualize and analyze urban data. We take fragmented and siloed information and make it accessible and searchable, and allow anyone doing any kind of business in cities to derive complex, geospatial insights. 

How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

Like everyone else these days, we are using video conferencing to the extreme. We are in a fairly traditional industry where in-person meetings were the norm and we have been able to develop relationships over time as a result. It is much harder to read a room or react dynamically to an audience via video conferencing so we have to be very conscious to actively listen and give space to others to react. We have a number of weekly team meetings where we can share information and make collective decisions, and I have also started having regular one on one meetings with employees to be able to check in informally.  

What financial resources are you tapping into?

In times of uncertainty, we have been looking at the financial implications of the extreme scenarios and modelling them up. Once we have a game plan in place for both the worst case and best case, we can get back to work confident that reality will fall somewhere between the two extremes and we can adjust accordingly as more information becomes available. 

 

“It is of critical importance to not only keep moving our business forward but be able to contribute meaningfully to the greater discussions about how our cities and urban areas can thrive in the coming months and years.” 

 

What has surprised you? 

We expanded our team significantly less than a year ago – we have an incredible group of diverse and talented people with a wide range of professional experiences. What has been amazing for me to watch is how they have all contributed towards a very ambitious product launch under remarkably challenging circumstances. Everyone has adjusted to new roles and responsibilities and been remarkably successful at pulling together.  

How far ahead are you planning? 

I am always looking at next week, next month, 6 months & 12 months out. As a start-up, we always need to manage immediate short term concerns but I want to always be looking to the horizon to make sure we are heading towards our larger vision. I tend to spend most of my time thinking about how to best spend my time to get us into an ideal position half a year from now.  

What keeps you positive?

I get energy from talking to customers, listening to their daily challenges, and seeing their initial reactions when they see how our platform can help them. I have also really enjoyed the creative aspect of designing a business around a complex problem.  

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Entrepreneurship has been incredibly challenging and also personally satisfying. My advice is to make sure you have a strong personal and professional support system.

Meet Meseret Haileyesus: Founder of the Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment and Maternity Today

A social entrepreneur Meseret is the founder of both the Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment and Maternity Today. With a background in, midwifery, economics, and global health, she drives social change by advocating for high-quality and accessible sexual and reproductive healthcare for women on a global scale, with a goal of ending gender-based violence. By starting and leading the non-profit research and educational organization, Maternity Today, Meseret has assisted many African women through their new motherhood journeys. As the founding president of the Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment, she inspires research, advocacy, and policy for economic justice in Canada. Meseret is a member of multiple UN and World Health Organization programs, where she produces strategies to reinforce the reproductive health components for health sector reform programs in developing countries. Meanwhile, she is supporting Centre Town Community Health Centre and Community Development Framework Learning Forum in Ottawa while building her plant-based wellness and lifestyle brand, Nacre Organics. She is the proud mother of one beautiful daughter who inspires and motivates her every day.

 

My first job ever was… as a midwife at a rural place in Ethiopia — a place without enough water, electricity, technology, and reliable transportation to save mothers’ lives during childbirth. 

My proudest accomplishment is… 1) I’ve demonstrated through my own journey that women can be successful leaders. I’ve empowered my community to improve women’s access to economic empowerment, achieve gender parity and financial independence, and serve as role models. 2) I have mentored women-owned businesses and emerging women leaders and provided opportunities to marginalized groups in Ethiopia and Canada.

3) I’ve served as a zero-waste advocate: promoting healthy lifestyles by promoting nontoxic plant-based personal care products, green cosmetics, fairtrade, biodegradable, and zero-waste packaging.

4) I have created a platform to address mental health problems, that has supported over 45 women during the pandemic with mentorship. Most of them are already dealing with a lot of PTSD symptoms, loneliness, and isolation, which are then made worse by the pandemic. 

My boldest move to date was… learning how to say “no.” After pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I can now work towards my goals and dreams. 

I surprise people when I tell them… about my journey, my resilience to thrive, and my goal of helping others. 

I launched the Canadian Center for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) because… Economic abuse is misunderstood in our community. I have seen domestic violence victims and survivors struggle with financial abuse, even after separation. Their partners regularly take their money, paycheques, social assistance payments, and tax refund checks, leaving them with little or no money. Most survivors have also accumulated debt because their partners used their credit cards, took out loans, or put bills under their names. It directly impacts a woman’s future, including mental health, and her ability to rebuild economic security and develop emotional well-being. As I see it, the solution is to invest in survivors and their financial security and build an ecosystem to support their long-term safety. 

Usually, in the public policy context, women’s economic security and violence against women are often examined separately from each other. Understanding the impact financial abuse has on women’s safety, and economic security is critical for developing policies, programs, and practices that promote these aims. CCFWE seeks Economic Justice for a victim of domestic violence.

What is the goal of CCFWE… to address Economic Justice through education, advocacy reviewing systems, policies, procedures, and advocates to remove any barriers to economic safety. We fight to influence policy that supports survivors’ successful transition to economic independence and healthy and safe life. Our advocacy efforts include engaging with survivours, policy-makers, developing education and awareness campaigns, and creating a policy agenda.

Gender-based violence is increasing during a pandemic… The top three reasons are 1. Self-isolation: It makes women more prone to domestic abuse as they are cooped up at home with their oppressors 2. Financial abuse: Financial abuse is on the rise as women and oppressors feel the pinch in this unprecedented time 3. Lack of a support system: The lack of a support system for survivors, such as counsellors, friends, or other means, is another main factor for the increase in domestic violence. Women are finding it difficult to reach out for help during this unprecedented time.

 

“Know your value and how much you are worth. Push your boundaries as it will help you reach the sky and surround yourself with positive people.”

 

My biggest setback was… As I reflect on the last 10 years, two big challenges stand out for me. The first was learning how to get out of my own way. This meant letting go of what I think others expect of me and focusing on being myself. The second was learning how to juggle priorities as a working mother. 

I overcame it by… Recognizing that I can’t do it all helped me learn how to trust and delegate.

One piece of advice that I often give but find it difficult to follow is…because I truly love my work and have ambitious career goals, it can be difficult for me to keep a healthy balance between work and my personal life.

The best thing about what I do is… I am creating a unique platform for marginalized women leaders to address economic justice. I also want these women leaders to support other women. I want them to stand together to raise their voice, fighting against poverty and social justice. We need more women acting as global leaders!

My best advice from a mentor was… The best advice I received from a mentor was to stand up against the odds. Know your value and how much you are worth. Push your boundaries as it will help you reach the sky and surround yourself with positive people. 

I would tell my 21-year old self… To find the power of knowledge, aspire to inspire, and set periodic goals. To look for mentors and invest in relationships- be authentic, but see things through another lens. To embrace the opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone and learn from them. And finally, don’t let anyone define who you are and what you can do. 

If you Googled me, you still would not know… In 2012, I was a co-host of a local fashion blog, Be-Inspired, in Nigeria. I love to paint, cook and have a keen interest in interior design. 

The future excites me because… Professionally, there’s a lot to be excited about and manifest. A year ago, I remember thinking, “If only we could” do A, B or C. Now, we have actually made some of those wishes come true, and I have no doubt that we are on the right track. I can be a part of a group of inspiring global women leaders while also watching my daughter grow up at the same time. The strong people around me who collectively want to help others and make this world a better place make me excited.

My next step is…Innovating for the future by maintaining a dual focus on present performance and future trends and opportunities. I want to keep CCFWE adapting to change, to develop self-understanding, to go through renewal and self- preservation to keep improving as a leader. I am always looking for authenticity, talent, a clear vision, and the motivation to succeed. I will ensure continual high performance by all marginalized women leaders, leading to tangible progress toward the goals we wish to accomplish.

A conversation with Sarah Kaplan on COVID’s greater impact on women — and how we can rebuild equitably

At this point in the pandemic, we should no longer be asking if COVID is affecting women to a greater degree than men.  

The evidence shows it is, and in many ways; a primer on the gendered impacts of COVID-19 released in April by the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) pointed to higher participation in risky front-line work, greater susceptibility to economic uncertainty, increased domestic and caregiving responsibilities, increased vulnerability to domestic violence, and barriers to sexual and reproductive healthcare — with Indigenous, racialized, low-income, LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable groups worse affected.

Even as social distancing rules are relaxing, the situation has not improved. The latest statistics show women suffered a greater loss of jobs and are experiencing a slower recovery, have higher reported mental health issues, and a higher COVID mortality rate in Canada — and relatively speaking, this is still just the immediate impact. We don’t have a clear view of the long-term effects of the pandemic for women. 

I spoke with Sarah Kaplan, Founder and Director of GATE, to get her take on why it’s important to look at COVID with an intersectional gendered lens, where we are headed with respect to gender equality, and what we can be doing to build a more inclusive future. 

The interview has been edited for length. 

 

From the very beginning, you’ve been looking at the pandemic with an intersectional gender lens. Why is this so important? 

When we first put out our primer on the gendered impacts of COVID, I had a colleague reach out to me irate that at a time when people were getting sick and dying, and the economy is in the tank, that I would dare be talking about gender issues — as if gender were something on the side, a nice-to-have, but it has nothing to do with the core economic or health impacts. 

And of course, when you actually do look with a gender lens, you see how much it does have to do with gender, and you see the very unequal economic and health impacts. Gender, or women’s issues, or issues of masculinity, are not just something you focus on when times are stable — this moment of crisis is when we should be spending the most time looking at these kinds of issues. 

 

Some people might argue we should take a ‘neutral’ approach to these issues, rather than a gendered approach. Is that even possible? What do you think could be the impact of that kind of thinking? 

There is evidence from previous economic downturns and previous corporate layoffs that often diversity suffers, because if you approach it with rules like ‘we’ll furlough all the part-time workers’ or ‘we’ll furlough the people with the lowest evaluations’ or ‘we’ll furlough the people who are most recently hired’ — all of those are gendered. Women are more likely to be part-time, we know that performance evaluations are often gender-biased, and because companies have historically been bad at diversity, women are less likely to have seniority. 

These supposedly gender-neutral rules have really gendered outcomes. We need to have an explicit diversity lens on these decisions, or you’re going to kill off whatever diversity we’ve been fighting to get in the last decade or so, including in corporate Canada. 

 

That’s a very bleak thought — but not unsurprising, considering how many ways women are being affected from an economic standpoint. Are there any repercussions that you are particularly concerned about? What’s the worst case scenario here? 

I think we could end up quite far back. Take a situation like yours, with young kids at home — if there has historically been a gender division of labor in the household, then it’s much more likely that the woman is going to drop out of the labour force, because it’s too hard for her to manage small children and perform in her job. 

Among heterosexual couples, we know that we don’t have equal sharing of responsibilities in Canadian households — there is an incredibly gendered division of labour. The likelihood that we are going to see a whole generation of women with pre-teen children dropping out of the workforce is extremely high. It’s just not manageable. And until we get a vaccine, I think we’re going to see a whole slew of people leaving the workforce, and that will undo a lot of the progress. 

 

“We’ve known for 30 years that childcare is the secret to women’s advancement in their jobs, and now we’re talking about how the secret to economic recovery is going to be childcare — it gives me some hope that we might actually get a universal child care solution.”

 

What about the argument that men are now seeing how much work is involved in care responsibilities?

Yes, on the positive side, and again talking about heterosexual couples, there are situations where the male partner is seeing exactly how much care work is required at home, and actually participating more and becoming more committed to getting corporate policies adjusted to adapt. 

This may be a wake up call for many male leaders about what exactly has been happening behind the curtains. Some people predict that maybe we’ll get a wave of more equal households going forward, but I’m not sure about that. I think it remains to be seen exactly what social changes are going to be wrought from this. 

I think one thing is true: we are never going to go back to everyone always working in their offices, now that people are set up to work from home. The future of work is going to change because of this, or accelerate at least, and I don’t think we have a good way to predict which way it’s going to pull — whether it’s going towards more gender equality because men have gotten more involved in care work, or it’s going to uphold inequality because women will have to give up their work in order to deal with the additional care work. 

 

In the face of losing ground in the push for gender equality, what gives you the most hope? 

A few things give me hope, including this broader conversation about care work. We’ve known for 30 years that childcare is the secret to women’s advancement in their jobs, and now we’re talking about how the secret to economic recovery is going to be childcare — it gives me some hope that we might actually get a universal child care solution. That would be great. 

The second thing that gives me hope is that we all got thrown into a period of experimentation. We had been talking for years and years at the Rotman School about doing some online education, and there was resistance to that change — and then from March 13 to March 16, the entire in-person experience got transferred to online. We’re seeing similar things in all sorts of companies; between experiments with collaborative work, and different tools, we may come up with a better way of working. 

We’re also able to include so many more people at work than we were ever able to include before. For example, people in smaller communities can now get a remote job at a big corporate in Toronto, get the advantage of that salary, and the advantage of staying in their communities. And many of the things that we have ended up doing because of the pandemic have been things that people with disabilities have been asking for for years. We can still do a better job of including people with disabilities — virtual meetings can be harder for people who have a vision impairment, or people who have a hearing impairment if they can’t read people’s lips — so it’s not perfect, but I see all kinds of experimentation leading us to think about ways of work that could actually be much more inclusive, and that gives me hope.  

 

These are all examples of positive side effects of the pandemic, which are great, but what do you think we could be doing to intentionally rebuild in an equitable way

GATE has actually partnered with the YWCA to develop a feminist recovery plan — because we definitely need to be intentional about what is included. From a more narrow focus, corporate recovery plan, to a broader focus, like where governments should invest in infrastructure. These kinds of big projects have major feminist dimensions to them. 

As an example, investing in caregiving pays huge dividends — it basically pays for itself in a very short period of time — but it seems really expensive and so people don’t want to do it because it’s just caregiving, it’s not a highway. Investing in social infrastructure as opposed to physical infrastructure is a way of reconceptualizing the major government spending that will happen to help recover the economy.  

It would be very different from how countries typically spend to recover the economy, and without some more very serious conversations, it’s unclear we’re going to get the feminist solution that we need.