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Advancing Women's Leadership

Q&A with Shahrzad Rafati, CEO and Chairperson of BBTV

shahrzad rafati
shahrzad rafati

Shahrzad Rafati is the Chairperson and CEO at BBTV Holdings.

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What was your vision when starting BBTV and where do you see it heading in the future?

The model for BBTV came to me when I first visited CES, observing the applications of digital audio which was pioneered by Steve Jobs through the invention of the iPod. I wanted to play a pivotal role in the democratization of content given my background. And that’s part of the reason why I started BBTV.

From that idea, BBTV has now grown from a small startup into a leader in the creator economy, operating in 12 languages with a presence in 30 countries. Our mission is to help creators become more successful, and today we house some of the most influential creators in the world that are defining the culture of today and tomorrow. BBTV also reaches more than 600 million viewers around the world who are consuming tens of billions of hours of video content every month.

As an entrepreneur, my goal has always been to build a business that is a platform for change, and at BBTV we’ve proudly had a 0% pay gap over the past 5 years, and have 40% female-identifying employees and managers across the business.

I’m also proud to say that BBTV reached an incredible milestone in October of 2020 when BBTV launched an initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The IPO made history on the TSX as one of the Top 10 Tech listings of all time, as well as the largest across all sectors with a sole female founder & CEO and the first in the technology sector.

It’s amazing to look back sometimes and see how far my vision for BBTV has been realized over the past 17 years. Not only are we a leader in our space, but we’re breaking new ground in so many ways.

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As a woman entrepreneur, what professional challenges have you faced?

When I look back to when I first started BBTV, I do feel as though I had to really prove myself, especially when we were looking for early investment. Our business is very technical and I think a lot of the discussions we had in the earlier days highlighted the need for me to really highlight my expertise.

Would I have faced the same level of scrutiny if I was male? It’s tough to say, but the advice that I give all young entrepreneurs, whether male or female, is to work harder than everyone else and show that you understand your space and the business opportunity inside out. If you show the commitment and the level of intelligence needed to get ahead, people can’t ignore you.

If I were to ask you to name a female founding executive, a CEO like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos, there are not many. We need more examples. I hope to inspire the female leaders of tomorrow by demonstrating that it is possible.

I want young women to think that “She’s done it, so I can do it too”, and I encourage everyone in this room to do the same thing.

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How can Canadian companies work towards increasing gender equality and representation?

I believe that true success is in how we can impact the world through our business, and that business is a platform for positive change. This is why I am so passionate about being a quadruple bottom line company and measuring success not just based on financial KPIs but also people, social, environmental and financial KPIs.

How can Canadian companies work towards increasing gender equality and representation? It comes down to setting goals, measuring them, and reporting on them. Companies also need to make sure they have the right processes, pipeline, incentives and systems in place to make those goals become a reality. Create a short-term and a long-term plan for all KPIs, budget for all bottom lines, and apply the same attention to detail given to financial goals, as they all contribute to a healthier and more successful organization.

If we look at BBTV’s People Bottom Line as an example, I’m very proud that we have had a 0% pay gap for over 5 years, and over 40% of our employees and managers identify as female. We’ve also implemented a gender interviewing policy that ensures we always interview at least two qualified female and male candidates for every open role.

Just like any business pillar, building a quadruple bottom line business requires the willingness and desire to be accountable to progress. Building a quadruple bottom line business can lead both to a more ethical business, and to a higher-performing organization. Research shows that when women are well represented at the top of an organization, companies are up to 48 percent more likely to outperform their peers.

Tackling gender inequalities in leadership can also help tackle gender inequalities, as there is ample evidence that diverse and inclusive companies are likely to make better, and bolder decisions. As explained by McKinsey, if all countries matched their best-in-region country in progress towards gender parity, $28 USD Trillion could be added to the world GDP in 2025.

While we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.

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