#StaffSeries: Fatima from e@UBC
Updated: Feb 26, 2019
In this staff series, our Creative Specialist, MJ, catches up with our HATCH manager, Fatima, on her work, life, and the experiences that led her to e@UBC today. Read on to learn about the rewards and challenges that Fatima has witnessed through her journey.
Hi Fatima, how are you doing this morning?
Good, it’s calmer now. It’s been a busy morning, but everything is under control now.
I see that you have no coffee on your desk, do you not drink coffee on your busy mornings?
I’ve had no time to get coffee, I’ve been here since before eight to set up breakfast for the ventures. I had 3 grapes for breakfast this morning that’s it!
(laughs) 3 grapes.
Can you tell me more about how you started working for e@UBC?
Well, I was working as an independent consultant in Microfinance after returning from a fellowship in India. I had been approached by Vancity and Mosaic to help them create a program offering Microfinance in a Canadian context. I accepted and created a program to offer Microfinance loans to immigrants to help them start their own business. I really enjoyed the work I was doing, but after having my first child, I wanted to have a regular 9-5 job.
"During my work in Microfinance, people had the ideas to start but no funding"
Later on, I came to UBC and began working with ICICS. About two years ago I was asked to help with the concept of an incubator, and here we are now! It worked perfectly for me because during my work in Microfinance, people had the ideas to start but no funding. I was happy to have access to this opportunity to work with e@UBC, which already had a process in place for individuals who wanted to start a venture. On the ICICS side we had the ability to provide funding, training, space and access to entrepreneurial minded students and professors.
“For us, bringing ideas from the lab and making it useful to the average Canadian is knowledge translation."
For the people who don’t know, what is ICICS?
ICICS is the Institute for Computing Information and Cognitive Systems. Essentially, it is an organization that fosters interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary study and allows professors from different departments to come together and work together. We provide them with lab space, administrative support, funding and things like grant writing. It is a natural home for HATCH because it is this idea of bringing different people together and helping them with knowledge translation. For us, bringing ideas from the lab and making it useful to the average Canadian is knowledge translation.
What is the relationship between ICICS and the entrepreneurship program?
It's a partnership. We look at it in terms of supporting the space, training and the beginning of the entrepreneurship funnel. We try to provide students and researchers support, and e@UBC powers it all through their programming on how to develop the companies. It is a really good partnership!
How long have you been working here?
Since 2008, so 11 years this year. I am also a UBC grad, so definitely longer than I thought I would be at UBC. (Laughs)
How has it evolved since the time that you started here?
I think it is very different. Our three core departments are computer science, electrical, and mechanical engineering, and if you look in the past, it is a very male dominated structure. However, one of the great things about ICICS is that one of the first directors and one of its creators, Rabab Ward, was female. But the majority of people I interacted with when I first started, used to be all men. There’s been a big shift in the last few years because there are more female professors and definitely more women joining through e@UBC, so it has definitely shifted the balance.
How was it to work in a male dominated environment? What did that look like and how did it feel?
I don’t think my opinion counted for much for a really long time - it took awhile for me to prove my value, before my opinion was considered seriously.
Most of the administrators on campus were female and most of the directors were male - they made the decisions, we implemented them (at least that was my perspective). It was just the culture of campus at the time. ICICS did have some female directors for a period of time, but it was still a challenge for me, because I was the only one with young children.
"Often times it's not as simple as wanting to, there are at least 20 other mitigating factors that impede women from participating."
On Mother’s day my children’s school did a Mother’s day tea at 10am. Keep in mind, their school is an hour from UBC, so there is no option to go back and forth; if I wanted to participate in an event at the school, I needed to take a day off. So there were all these choices I had to make, that no one else in the office had to deal with. Some people's kids were grown up or in some cases, I was dealing with men whose wives dealt with these sort of things. It might sound controversial, but I remember a time when asking to take a half day off to attend a child’s Christmas concert was challenging, I would get a lot of pushback, with questions about whether it was essential, or if my husband was also going to take time off to attend. I had to make the decision whether or not if my kid going to be the only one without their mom at Mother’s Day tea or if am I going to miss an event I've been planning for the last 6 months. Often times it's not as simple as wanting to, there are at least 20 other mitigating factors that impede women from participating.
Has that changed?
yes- I think that is one of the most amazing things about working here now- I have flexibility. Rob (the director) has kids my age and he is a very involved parent, so he not only understands the challenges of balancing life with kids and activities, but he also sees the value of the work I am doing. He recognizes the fact that if I have to duck out early one day, I make up that time working from home, or working a longer day on another day.
This is a big change as the old school way of thinking was always, “staff have to be in the office, in order for work to happen". Even though many of my other directors were kind people, they didn’t believe in the concept of working from home, although they were often doing it themselves. As a parent, this didn’t leave me with a lot of options. Working from home wasn’t as common in Vancouver, when I began working at UBC, whereas now most people I know (especially parents) work from home for a portion of the week.
My oldest son is soon to be 12, so i’ve been negotiating this for 11 years with different people on campus. Some have been very reasonable about it and some have not been reasonable at all. Some of the people who have been the most unreasonable were women. I think women sometimes feel like they need to be harsher than men, as they don’t want to seem soft and they don’t want feel like they are giving special privileges to women because they have children.
“I think women sometimes feel like they need to be harsher than men, as they don’t want to seem soft and they don’t want feel like they are giving special privileges to women because they have children.”
I personally think flexibility in the workplace is essential, whether you have children or not.
Tell us more about your art’s degree.
Sure. I earned a double major in History and International Relations with a focus on the causes and consequences of development and underdevelopment. My goal had always been to work at a non-profit in a developing country and help foster sustainability and development. I did do some work in developing countries early on in my career, and a lot of my volunteer work is still related to that. I often work with immigrants and people in financially challenging situations. When I was in still in university, my friends and I created a not-for-profit selling shawls and other goods that were hand embroidered by Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. It was an opportunity to help women earn income at a time when they weren’t even classified as citizens, and had no formal education as a result of the Taliban.
“When I was in still in university, My friends and I created a not-for-profit selling shawls and other goods that were hand embroidered by Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. It was an opportunity to help women earn income at a time when they weren’t even classified as citizens”
What is your favourite part about your job?
Seeing the transformation in our teams. We work very closely with our teams and part of our role is identifying areas where we think they could grow or change. The teams that really take what we say to heart, and put in the work tend to do really well. It's is amazing to see the growth and the change and know that we played a part in supporting it.
There are different levels of transformation that happen, sometimes you see people who call themselves the CEO but don’t know what being the CEO entails, and you think to yourself, “Oh God, this isn’t going to end well. Yet by the end of the year, they have transformed themselves; they have taken to heart all the lessons they have heard along the way and really spent the time preparing themselves and they are phenomenal. I love it when I see that happen, and I think to myself, I stand corrected!
There is one common thread - they are all in love with their ideas. In the beginning they all think they have this amazing product and that they have it all figured out and all they need is some money to start selling. Over the course of the year we kind of break them down a bit and build them again. We help them realize that it’s as much about the team as it is about the product.
“Seeing someone transform from an individual who couldn’t easily explain what their company is about, into someone who is comfortable walking into any situation and adapting their story accordingly is very special”.
I get to see how much they’ve grown and how much they have benefited from the EIR support and the programming that I have helped to put together and it’s amazing - it’s the thing that makes the job worthwhile.
Thank so much for the interview Fatima! I'll catch you later.
You are very welcome.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.