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An Interview with Dr. Sarah Lubik on Generational Differences of Professional Women (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/06/08


Dr. Sarah Lubik is the Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Concentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She discusses: a glass ceiling; generational differences; and large amounts of funding.

Keywords: Canada, entrepreneurship, generational differences, innovation, professional women, Sarah Lubik, SFU, technology.

An Interview with Dr. Sarah Lubik on Generational Differences of Professional Women: Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & InnovationConcentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Part Two)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: As you mentioned about five to ten minutes ago, the glass ceiling was not an issue for you. It was something that didn’t necessarily come up.

Dr. Sarah Lubik: Oh! It wasn’t something I was introduced to growing up. But I wouldn’t say it was not an issue. I was lucky because I grew up with two sisters, a strong mother and a supportive father. Our family motto might also well have been: “Give ‘em hell.”

Because that’s all we got told when we got dropped off in the morning. So, there was never an issue of not being able to do anything. It was almost taken for granted that we could do whatever we wanted to and should, having a family that was hugely supportive.

A number of my female relatives were also mentors, not necessarily in business, but in how they live. They set examples. It was a culture in my family of being whatever you want. That importance of culture is actually something guiding how we are setting up the programs at SFU.

Even the work that I’m doing now with the federal government, culture might be one of the most important areas we can work on to build a more entrepreneurial society. If you have that culture and resilience, that drive, there is a feeling of security even when bad things may happen around us. That we can handle it.

I was lucky to have grown up with those mentors and that culture, but, when I moved away, that was the first time people just assumed I was my boss’ assistant.” The first time that happened I was shocked.

That was one of my first run-ins with that kind of experience, far from the last, but I didn’t experience a lot of that here. If I can make one more note there, still; I’m lucky and I’m aware of it. Even other women growing up on the west coast at the same time as me have experienced far worse.

And it’s still a challenge.

Jacobsen: Right, it’s one of those things where the trend line is clear, but individually it’s different.

Lubik: The trend line is clear: lots of strong role models. It’s one of some things that I experienced a lot of, but also, my co- my first co-op job was for a company run by women. The job working with SFU, MIT and Cambridge, was working with a strong, impressive woman here in SFU.

The woman I went to work with in Cambridge is also a powerhouse. It’s not all women, had a fantastic gentleman at MIT, but I didn’t spend much time with him. So I did have strong females all the way through.

2. Jacobsen: In the larger perspective, as we have what seems to be a complicated situation with two trend lines, one as we’ve discussed, which is the glass ceiling more seen in previous generations but still seen in current generations for women in, for instance, undergraduate education.

I’ll keep that there: the glass ceiling identified by women in previous generations.

Now, as you’re not only teaching, but you’re also mentoring, I suspect that you’re mentoring people that have had post-undergraduate training. There is in many developed nations more young women in undergraduate training than young men, as they are graduating, as far as I know, with higher honors, better grades, and at higher rates than their male cohort peers.

What seems to be going on there is not necessarily any glass ceiling, of course, it’s more of a motivational ceiling.

Since you have more of an on-the-ground, or your finger-on-the-pulse, interaction with youth in terms of their undergraduate training, does that seem to reflect another trend?

Lubik: So, what I can speak to is my own program at SFU, specifically around entrepreneurship and tech entrepreneurship. I’ve found about 50/50, male and female, in the first, 200-level, entrepreneurship class.

What used to happen was that, in my second and third year entrepreneurship classes, we have about one-third female. When you got to the higher levels, it was usually closer to a quarter. So, while the original trend of women at least having the same graduation level, et cetera, as men is fair enough.  What I was seeing in entrepreneurship was still fewer women going into it; however, that trend might be reversing. My most recent classes had much higher percentages of women, and some of the new tech and social innovation companies being formed do seem to have more women in them, which is encouraging to see.

This might also have to do with role models. When SFU’s early stage incubator came under my portfolio, we immediately increased the number of female mentors to make sure everyone has those role models. There is literature that points to role models being important for career choice. Then if you don’t see an entrepreneurial woman as a young woman, you might be less likely to enter entrepreneurship period.

I’ve been told there is this feeling in a lot of entrepreneurship spaces that this is still a “boys’ club” or because it’s most men, women feel less welcome. which can be off-putting. So, my experience has been that there’s work to do to do in entrepreneurship to make sure that it is an environment that is welcoming to everyone.

We’ve seen from research that women make excellent entrepreneurs, and have some natural or socialized traits like being able to make a connection across different disciplines, building relationships, and so on, that are beneficial in that environment.

These kinds of fields are where women could and do excel, but these aren’t fields that they get into as often as we’d like to see. That said, we’re seeing a rise in women in entrepreneurship at SFU since we’ve started to focus more on social innovation and entrepreneurship in all faculties, including arts, health science.  We also get a good percentage, higher than the national average, in our commercialization programs. That’s very encouraging and it’s better for the community, bringing in lots of diverse views and skills.

It comes back to culture. If you feel like are welcome and valued, and you can see people to look up to, you’re more likely to come and more likely to stay there.

Jacobsen: If those programs aren’t set up to capture that domain of interest for particular entrepreneurs and innovators, Canada does lose out in the long run in that particular domain because we lose out on those innovators and entrepreneurs. Their talent and skills and interest.

Lubik: Absolutely! It’s a conversation that’s being had incredibly publicly right now. The value of diversity. In a lot of other ways, having those different perspectives is key to innovation because innovation happens when new ideas collide. An excellent way to have high quality innovation is to have a whole bunch of people who don’t think like each other in one room.

So, making sure that you always have a different perspective is incredibly valuable, there is research that says companies with more diverse boards and leadership teams are more successful, whether it’s men and women, or whether it’s people from different backgrounds.

That said, it can also be more challenging. You have to spend more time developing empathy and understanding, and realizing the different interpretations or ideas people give might not be what you’re used to. But at the same time that leads to a much stronger performance It leads to far more innovation.

3. Jacobsen: I believe we both know the quote from Prime Minister Trudeau, where “Diversity is Canada’s Strength.” So, it’s reflected in commentary from the highest office in the land, and as you’ve recently earned a ten-million-dollar gift to look at innovation at large.

Can you describe a little bit about what that’s about and where you’re currently exploring its implementation?

Lubik: It’s a ten-million-dollar philanthropic gift that Charles Chang, the alumni of SFU Beedie who founded Vega, the vegan nutrition company. He gave that to the university specifically around fostering the entrepreneurial mindset in all of our students across SFU.

The core of the idea is to support entrepreneurship education across all of SFU.  So the Chang Institute is the interdisciplinary home for entrepreneurship mindset creation. Through the Institute, Beedie, in partnership with all of our other faculties can support entrepreneurship from before students even get here, working with high schools and elementary schools, to bringing together programs and faculty from all disciplines to develop and support programs, to working early stage incubation at Venture Connection and SFU’s social innovation lab and accelerator, RADIUS.  The collaborative approach is getting us known as a leader across Canada, and farther.

Because we’re much stronger together. We’ve come together around four core values: interdisciplinary learning, teams, social impact and experiential education: making sure that our students have hands on experience working and making a difference in the real world.

So we make them leave the classroom almost immediately, getting out and meeting people, experts and possible users in the community, learning what is really needed. That’s fantastic.

We also created, with this funding and some other funding for the provincial government a paid team entrepreneurship co-op. Also a very rare program.

This is a competitive award that allows students or student teams who have an idea they want to take forward, the ability to focus on just that for a semester. They each get a ten-thousand-dollar award, co-op credit, space in the early stage incubator and mentorship in bi-weekly mentorship sessions.

Not having to choose between dropping these fantastic ideas, putting them on the back burner, and getting a job, makes perfect sense in an entrepreneurial school.  We give scholarships to athletic and academic students so they can focus, why not entrepreneurs?

We have also been doing some research on where entrepreneurship is actually coming from in universities.

The short story is that university entrepreneurship and literature around university entrepreneurship until recently focused on first technology transfer, and by that I mean getting intellectual property and research out of the university out, then commercializing it somehow, often through being licensed to companies to integrate into what they do.

Then there is also a fascination with the rockstar scientist, or this idea that you can build an award-winning scientist into an entrepreneur, which has become interesting as people look at places like Cambridge, MIT and Stanford.

It may make sense there, but it’s an unrealistic model in a lot of places because most university systems are set up to reward academics for publishing research and teaching, not spinning off your work into companies. If someone is working toward a successful career in academia and publishing, then stopping all of that to start a business, isn’t usually going to make it have a sense.

So, more recent literature looked at: “Then where should we place our bets?” One of the answers was “We should put them on science and tech grad students.” They are deeply familiar with research, and sadly, we don’t have enough jobs in academia

All people who get a Ph.D. aren’t necessarily going to be professors. So, they’re going to need those transferable skills. And, ideally, there is a great opportunity for someone to take that knowledge out of the university.

For that reason, Professor Elicia Maine, that SFU researcher who was my mentor, started a program here at SFU called Invention to Innovation, which is also supported by the new institute.

That’s where our grad students, postdocs, and even some professors, as well as industry researchers use their own research in the case studies developed commercialization skills, with guidance from thought leaders, professors and serial entrepreneurs.

In that program, one of the things you also see is this mindset shift from the way you think about what you’re going to do in the lab and how you go through research, and toward how you see opportunities for getting thing into the world. For example, what problems you could solve with this how you deal with relationships, users, etc.

Jumping back to the research, I thought, “Why are researchers stopping at science and tech grads? Is entrepreneurship not coming from other faculties, too?”

To put it another way, “Where is the university entrepreneurship is coming from? Is it being tracked?” University entrepreneurship is often measured through technology transfer, as if you count the spin-off companies taking forward research and you can count the patent licensed to companies.

Traditionally, that’s how you tell it whether you’re successful or not as an entrepreneurial university. Usually with some measure of either revenue is coming back to the university or company-created per research dollar or something to that effect.

That is pretty narrow. The research we’ve been doing more has been looking at where such university entrepreneurship is coming from by looking right across the university. It is coming from absolutely everyone. We found people creating companies in every faculty, including undergrads, faculty and staff. Which just makes sense, opportunities can be found everywhere. And in programs like ours where you to start teaching entrepreneurship early, especially if you teach it in a real world way, then you see students who are serial entrepreneurs before they’ve even graduated.

So, the outcome of that is that if you want an entrepreneurial culture you should be focusing as early in the education as possible, and you should be looking at everyone.

Changing those that mindsets early and make those resources and programs available as soon as students get to school or even through high school partnerships, then, by virtue, no matter what students do after that, grad school, jobs, etc, they’re looking for those real-world applications and opportunities.

These are skills to take them further. So, what that suggests is, maybe, depending on what entrepreneurial university you want to be, your focus might be different. If you want to just focus on getting research out through companies and licenses, that’s one thing.  If you want everyone to be able to think like an entrepreneur, that’s more our style. It also means your strategies are going to be different: where you put your resources, how you build your community, how you build your systems.  Hence the very inclusive programs and research at the new institute.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Concentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 8, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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