Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, president of Digital Nova Scotia, sat down with WCT to share her career journey. Learn more about her life before moving to Canada, and her perspective on the Canadian diversity and inclusion landscape.
When did you start your career path and why did you choose it?
I am a firm believer that things happen in life for a reason. I believe that as long as one is willing to learn, embrace change, take risks and keep an open mind while staying true to one’s values, anything is possible. I did not choose a career in the ICT sector - a head-hunter and subsequent ICT company in Israel were intrigued by my attitude, diverse background and potential, and provided me with the opportunity to work in a networking company, compiling a student handbook on Ethernet Technology. Coming from a background in Film, Literature and Linguistics, all of this was new, unfamiliar territory for me, but as I thrive on challenges, it was a much-welcomed opportunity. I’ve remained in the tech sector ever since and I am loving it!
My career path has been a unique journey within this particular industry, and my diverse background and fortunate experiences have helped shape where and who I am today. Although I was raised in Germany, I have always been exposed to other cultures, countries and languages, spending summer vacations with my family in various European countries, living and studying in California right after high school, completing my Masters in Texas, and going on to live/work in and with five different geographic regions. It was these formative experiences that allowed me to understand the value of openness to other cultures, business practices and processes, and it is that exposure and learning that empowered and equipped me for my career.
My early roles working internationally at the headquarters of RAD Data Communications in Israel, Intel Corporation in the UK, and Compaq Computer/HP in Germany, prepared me to take on anything. I learned to excel in fiercely competitive job interviews, which enabled me to work in high-level senior management positions at a young age in global markets with very diverse teams. I climbed the senior management ladder quickly and was fearless in doing so. This laid the groundwork for my future employment in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. I was inspired by the diversity of the workplaces in which I had the good fortune to work, in particular at Intel in the UK and Israel, and Commtouch Software in Israel. This is where I learned that diversity and inclusion are critical drivers for business and personal growth.
What or who helped you get you to where you are today?
My parents had the greatest impact on me. They were my first mentors and role models. My father had a very strong work ethic. He traveled extensively for a technology company, and was fluent in English, which was rather uncommon for his generation. During his career he travelled to 65 countries and showed me the value of seeing the world and all it has to offer. With each business trip, a unique souvenir and new story from another culture entered our house, which enriched and inspired our minds. My mother was extremely involved in our early education and academic well-being. As far as I can remember, she never missed one parent-teacher meeting and was an incredibly active volunteer in the local community. In summary, I had a well-rounded, happy and fulfilled childhood, which undeniably fostered my quest for a satisfying and fulfilling career.
Throughout my career, I have met many amazing people, but honestly? It’s the ordinary individuals that most often inspire me with their extraordinary positivity. Whether it’s a stranger I meet or someone I’ve known for years, either personally or professionally, I get motivated by the possibility and opportunity others can see in challenging situations, in particular, how they overcame the obstacles they had to face. I’m a lifelong student and keen learner. Each person I either meet, read about or read insights and stories from, adds a “knowledge edge” that wasn’t there before. If I were to pin-point one specific person that has been my greatest support, friend and inspiration over the past 24 years, that would be my husband!
What are some challenges that you faced in your career? How did you overcome these challenges?
It’s in my DNA to approach challenges as opportunities. I take great pride and joy in leaving my comfort zone, especially, if it’s for the greater good and results in a positive impact for others. That natural tendency to confront and conquer challenges head-on has driven me to succeed as a leader in a fastpaced, ever-changing, male-dominated sector. Being a married mother of two, a lifelong student and having lived and worked in over six countries, I’ve also learned that the easiest, most effective way to overcome difficult situations is to approach them with an open mind, curiosity, flexibility and a positive outlook. A good sense of humour can certainly help! One of the most significant professional challenges I’ve experienced to-date was my first year as President and CEO with Digital Nova Scotia (DNS). When I joined in January 2013, the organization was facing a make-or-break situation. In order to turn things around for DNS, we needed strong leadership, coupled with courage, resilience and diplomacy, and experience to develop, implement and drive a solid plan to ensure the organization’s survival. To achieve these goals, I built a team of three dedicated full-time staff, worked diligently on improving board governance, committee engagement and accountability.
When you look around the room in meetings, do you see enough diversity?
I truly believe that we are all enriched by different languages, backgrounds and perspectives. Diversity is a missed opportunity if we do not embrace it. People-diversity will lead to greater diversity in sectors, markets, product innovation and business models. By building and embracing a diverse and inclusive workforce, it will in turn help you to build sustainable, successful and diverse businesses that are globally competitive.
We need more diversity with in the ICT Sector on many levels. I think it’s important to see more ICT employers in Nova Scotia implement pay equity, equal professional development opportunities, a welcoming and inclusive corporate culture, an increase in female senior leaders within their businesses, a greater percentage of women on Boards, and overall, much greater diversity and inclusion. I’d also like to see more immigrants and youth being hired and provided with meaningful, rewarding employment! Through my own engagement, dedication and public presence, I continue to encourage more women, youth and immigrants to be on panels, Boards, and to put their name forward for speaking opportunities, nominations and awards. It’s essential that their voices are heard, expertise is being listened to, and that they are visible. We need far more diversity when it comes to role models, in particular in STEAM - to become a more innovative, thriving and prosperous nation.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Always take that extra step, exceed expectations and challenge yourself! Be proactive. Be resilient. It’ll take you to new, unexplored places, and opens doors to often unknown, unexpected and rewarding growth opportunities personally and professionally. When looking to give advice as mentors or advisors, we must take the time to be candid, inspiring and passionate – while allowing ourselves to be mentees. After all, personal and professional growth go handin-hand with lifelong learning. I’d sum up the value of mentorship using three “I’s”: insight, inspiration and impact. In other words, be insightful and open to the insight of others; be inspiring and inspired; and have impact, while allowing yourself to be impacted by the ideas and actions of others.
What is a quote that you live by?
"The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before."
- Albert Einstein I have no fear of the unknown – in fact, I welcome it…as long as it’s a “calculated risk” and reasonable adventure that doesn’t put my family’s or my own safety or health at stake. Safety and health above all!