Saba Shariff on Representation and Tackling Traditional Expectations

This month, WCT is profiling Saba Shariff, Symcor's Head of New Product Development and Innovation. With over 20 years of experience in IT, Saba has made a remarkable name for herself in the tech sphere. We sat down to talk with Saba about her career trajectory, growing up as a first-generation Pakistani Canadian, and her advice for young women entering tech. 

WCT: Can you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory? What led you to Symcor as the Head of New Product Development and Innovation?

SABA SHARIFF: I’ve enjoyed almost 18 years at Symcor in a variety of roles in technology, and prior to that had worked at a couple of startups. At Symcor, I’ve been afforded many opportunities to tackle new and exciting challenges and roles throughout. That diversity of experience helped me when the chance to lead the development of a new line of business presented itself a few years back. My team and I worked alongside some of Canada’s largest banks to launch COR.IQ, an Alliance that helps financial institutions detect and prevent fraud. On the heels of that success, we now get the opportunity to bring a new generation of products to market.

WCT: Was there anyone who had a tremendous impact on you and your career journey, be it from your personal or professional life? How did they influence where you are now?

SABA: I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have worked alongside, and for, some great leaders. I’ve always admired the ones who have demonstrated authentic leadership - especially those who did so with a sense of humour. I’d say, however, the person who perhaps unwittingly had the greatest impact on where I am at today has been my father. At a time when first generation Pakistani Canadian girls weren’t exactly being encouraged to get a post-secondary education; he was my biggest supporter—even when that involved my moving away to do so. Knowing that this wasn’t in line with “traditional” expectations for me, I can’t squander the opportunities his support afforded me. It’s a continued motivation for me to repay my father’s backing of my educational and career goals through how I show up every day and represent.

WCT: What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? 

SABA: This is a bit of a hard one for me, as I’m forever an optimist and don’t typically like to think of barriers. I prefer to figure out ways to get past them! That being said, I think we still have a ways to go to improve representation of female leadership throughout major Canadian corporations. The more we can continue to encourage and support diverse female leadership, the easier it will be for the next generation to achieve their career goals. Symcor is a good example of this: Two-thirds of our senior executive is female, including our CEO. That level of representation is great and should serve as an inspiration. The best companies are those that are powered by a diversity of opinions and perspectives.

WCT: What advice would you give to the next generation of young women entering tech? 

SABA: Don’t give up. Despite the fact that it’s 2020, only a quarter or so of STEM workers are female. I get how that can be intimidating and that we’re not going to change a gap like that overnight. So, it will take hard work, but stick with it and you’ll be inspiring the next generation! I certainly didn’t come from a traditional tech background and, despite that, have been able to enjoy many years in the field.

WCT: Is there a quote you live by? 

SABA: Life is 20% what happens to you, and 80% how you deal with it—or perhaps more succinctly, life is what you make of it. I’m inspired by those that have made the most of life, despite difficult situations and am a big believer that almost everyone has an opportunity to direct, improve or change their own circumstances.

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