Gerri Sinclair uses her success in the tech sector to support and encourage women at all stages of their careers
Gerri Sinclair says there was a clear moment when she decided to become a mentor to other women. In 2001, Sinclair sold NCompass Labs Inc., a Vancouver-based web content management software firm she founded and led, to Microsoft Corp. “I was a CEO with a successful exit, and a woman, so I knew that therefore I had something that would be immediately valued in the marketplace,” she recalls.
The technology guru and entrepreneur has since taken on many other roles, from chief executive of the Centre for Digital Media to head of the Vancouver office of Kensington Capital Partners, the Toronto-based firm that has run the provincial government’s $100-million BC Tech Fund since it launched last fall. Along the way, Sinclair has always made time for mentoring.
“My first thought when I think about mentorship is my own mentors and how I would love to apply what I’ve learned from them and the way they treated me to the younger people that I have the privilege of working with,” she says at the Vancouver Club on a frosty January morning.
Sinclair gets many requests from would-be mentees; she finds great pleasure in mentoring more-senior women who want to rise higher as leaders. One area she focuses on with women is insecurity about what she calls “putting the full force of their voice into the world”—by working a room, for example.
“They don’t want to be seen as pushy or aggressive or too forceful,” says the quietly assertive Sinclair, who’s headed to Barcelona, where she’s part of Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica S.A.’s advanced research group. Her advice: “Hook into your passion—your passion about the company, your passion about the product.”
One woman who has benefited from Sinclair’s counsel is Aoife Dowling, manager of digital strategy programs at Vancouver City Savings Credit Union. Sinclair advises Vancity, where the two met in 2014 and quickly hit it off. Dowling says Sinclair, who is now officially her mentor, played a key role in her promotion from an administrative position to a management post.
To help Dowling conquer a fear of striking up conversations, Sinclair sent her to a conference to make an introduction. But first, she explored that anxiety with Dowling. “Then she set me the challenge—she’s like, ‘Go and do this. You can do it,’” Dowling remembers. “We ended up having a business relationship with the two organizations because of that connection that I made. I was there literally going, ‘OK, what would Gerri do? Be her. Channel her.’”
Sinclair, who holds a PhD in Renaissance drama and started out in the tech sector as a coder, says the fact that the industry is male-dominated makes her feel an added responsibility to mentor young women. She thinks things have improved a little from early in her own career, when she couldn’t find a Canadian female tech executive to be her role model: “The numbers of women in high tech and in venture capital are increasing, but still they’re not at the levels that we need them to be.”