#WomenInTech: Growing a Diverse Tech Team with Eva Wong
As Co-Founder and COO of Borrowell, as well as an influential voice in the Toronto tech community, Eva Wong knows what it takes to grow a team and scale a business. She spoke to us about changing trends in the FinTech space, the importance of examining your hiring practices, and the things we tend to overlook when talking about diversity.
Menaka: Where did the idea to create Borrowell come from?
Eva: The idea really came from our CEO, Andrew, and he assembled our founding team. He was at PC Financial at the time, and he saw that there were real opportunities in consumer finance outside of the big banks. He was also noticing the growth of FinTech, and seeing that the emphasis was shifting to the consumer.
Another big impetus to found Borrowell was that consumer credit seemed very broken in Canada. Lots of Canadians, with good credit scores, could go to the bank and get a decent price loan, but instead they choose the convenience of credit cards, where they end up paying 20-30% interest. So we thought there was a real opportunity to have the convenience of everything online, but the rate that you could get at a bank. We realized we could give people a more attractively priced loan and help them stay out of debt.
Menaka: You were recently quoted in a CBC article about the importance of company leaders advocating for diversity. What kind of difference does that make?
Eva: I think one of the things that really makes a difference is that the drive for diversity comes from an authentic place. If it’s just the diversity and inclusion person who cares about it, but the senior leadership team doesn’t, then it doesn’t have the same focus, the same business strategy, or the authenticity.
Company culture is really a reflection of the people who work there, and because our senior leadership team at Borrowell is very passionate about diversity, it really permeates everything we do and has become part of our cultural values and our strategic values.
And our conversation is broadening: we’re not just talking about women in technology anymore, we’re talking about diversity in technology. We want to make sure that underrepresented groups are represented and feel included.
Menaka: What are some of the things you think about in order to ensure that you’re hiring and building a diverse team?
Eva: We’ve learned a lot of things over time. Initially we’d thought that all we have to do is make good hiring decisions out of the pool of candidates we get, but then we realized we needed to work to make sure we were attracting a diverse set of candidates. We weren’t doing enough to attract people with different backgrounds.
In terms of specifics, there are a few things. We’re very public about our diversity goals – we want to have a gender-balanced company, and we talk about that. It helps because people see that we take it seriously. We also look at our job descriptions to make sure we’re not using words like rockstar or ninja, or talk about more stereotypically male things. We talk about things like flexible hours, or even just the fact that we provide training.
We also have a team page on our website, with people’s pictures, and where we showcase some diversity stats: the percentage of people who were born outside of Canada, the percentage of people with kids, and also the number of people who are below 25, or who are over 40. We really think about how to ensure our culture is friendly and open for anyone who is interested in this work.
Menaka: Do these measures change the kind of candidates you have applying?
Eva: We’re always about hiring the best candidates, so it’s important that we get really good applicants. The stats have been promising. For example, if we look at gender balance: a year ago 20% of our team was female, and now, with a bunch of growth, 40% of our team is female. There are still imbalances between teams, but our management is 50-50 men and women, and our Credit Operations team, which is similar to Customer Success, is not fully female – we felt that team needed diversity as well.
Menaka: There are a lot of initiatives in Toronto these days that are focused on making the tech sector more accessible to everyone, but is there anything we tend to overlook?
Eva: One of the things that is really important is that there are role models. Some people say “you’ve got to see it to be it,” and I think sometimes it just doesn’t cross people’s minds to have a career in technology if they haven’t seen people they identify with go that route.
So in the media I think we need to see more women and people from different backgrounds and abilities in all kinds of roles, and I think that will be a big part of changing things.
I know that some technology companies are having elementary and high school kids visit so they can explore what a career in technology looks like. I think just opening young people up to these opportunities early on is really exciting, because when they’re making decisions about what courses they’re going to take, they know this sector is an option.
Menaka: What are you reading?
Eva: Recently I’ve been reading Give and Take by Adam Grant. It’s about how certain people are givers, others are takers, and others are matchers. I think he provides very compelling evidence for being more generous with our time and resources, and how that kind of collaboration makes businesses more successful. I thought that was really interesting, and has lots of implications for partnerships and team building.
I also recently read The Opposite of Spoiled, which is by Ron Lieber, who’s a finance writer for The New York Times. It’s a book about instilling good financial habits and values in children. I have a son who’s quite interested in getting an allowance, and since a lot of people are never taught how to manage money, I think it’s very interesting to start learning these things at a young age.