STEM POWER: Shahrzad Rafati

B.C.'s Most Influential Women 2018 - Media

Founder and CEO, BroadbandTV

When Shahrzad Rafati was seeking investors for digital entertainment company BroadbandTV Corp. (BBTV) more than a decade ago, being a woman didn’t help. “A lot of the discussions that we had in the earlier days highlighted the need for me to show that I have the expertise and I really understand the space,” Rafati says. “I’m not sure if I would have faced the same level of scrutiny if I was male.”

Rafati grew up in Iran, where she says parents want their children to be a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer. She chose the latter path, completing a BSc in computer science at UBC in 2005. That same year, seeing the opportunity presented by a new video-sharing website called YouTube, Rafati started BBTV. People told her it was an impossible task, she says. “That got me to think, ‘Hey, I’m going to prove everyone wrong, and I’m going to try to work hard and follow my passion.’ I think that’s what got me to be successful.”

Today, BBTV racks up more than 34 billion views a month from some 285 million unique visitors, U.S.-based marketing and data analytics provider comScore reports, making it the No. 3 online video property after Google and Facebook. One in three people on YouTube and other Google sites consume BBTV content. The Vancouver-headquarted company, which has more than 400 staff and offices in Los Angeles and New York, recently launched BBTV Interactive, a division that creates games and mobile apps.

From the start, Rafati set out to build a quadruple-bottom-line business that measures how it treats its employees as well as financial, social and environmental performance. At BBTV, the pay disparity between female and male staff is less than 2 percent, she notes. Likewise, even though the tech sector has a tough time attracting female talent, 43 percent of BBTV‘s employees are women—a 104-percent gain since 2014—and 46 percent of its managers are female.

How can we get more women into STEM?

Treating female employees equally and fairly is essential, Rafati maintains. “It’s about asking other entrepreneurs and demanding…that they actually do something about it,” she says. “By doing that and acting [on] that, you’re sending a very strong message to women out there to say, ‘Hey, ask for equality. Ask to be treated the same way. If you deserve a promotion, you have to get the promotion.'”