Deborah Rosati never saw doors, only opportunities.
She says that thanks to her father’s support, she always knew she had options. He told her she could be whoever she wanted to be. Her father immigrated to Canada from Holland when he was just 14 years old and was put into a grade one class because of his limited English skills. Despite these obstacles, he finished his education and became a highly successful businessman, rising quickly through the ranks of the newspaper industry.
From a young age, Deborah knew she would follow in her father’s footsteps.
“I wanted to be a businessman like my father. I never thought of the door one or door two, I just thought that was how the world was. I never felt bound by any structure or doors. I felt unbound,” Deborah told me.
“I never felt bound by any structure or doors. I felt unbound.”
Deborah Rosati is the Founder & CEO of Women Get On Board Inc. (WGOB), a member based company that connects, promotes, and empowers women to corporate boards. She founded WGOB with purpose and passion over five years ago. Prior to founding her company, Deborah had been a corporate director for more than 15 years—and more often than not, she was the only woman on board. She wants to change that.
In addition to being at the helm of Women Get on Board, Deborah is a Fellow Chartered Professional Accountant (FCPA), FCA, ICD.D and is a corporate director on the boards of Khiron Life Sciences and TAAL Distributed Information Technologies.
Deborah and I sat down to chat for Third Door’s Unbound Series, where we dive into conversations with founders and entrepreneurs about what they’ve learned in their careers. Here’s what we talked about:
Rachel Collier (RC): How did you get your start?
Deborah Rosati (DR): From a young age, I knew I wanted to do a business degree. I got my degree in accounting from Brock University. There were co-op terms available through the program. So I started my professional life really young, at age 19. By 24, I was a Senior Audit Manager. I knew that life was bigger than the audit firm and accounting for me so I struck out to the technology sector. I worked my way up from analyst, to controller, to CFO. Then, in the early 2000s, I started my corporate board journey.
RC: Were there any hard lessons that you had to learn in your early days?
DR: There was a really defining moment in my career when I was 21. I was working a co-op student in a small accounting firm and one of the senior partners told me I would never become a Chartered Accountant. I could have let that discourage me, but it made me be even more determined.
RC: There’s nothing more motivating than proving someone wrong. What is the highlight of your career to date?
DR: When I was named a Fellow Chartered Professional Accountant in 2009. I have had other awards along the way, for example, being named one of “Canada’s Most Powerful Women”, but to be recognized as an FCPA by my peers is the most meaningful to me that was an accomplishment. Only 3% of CPAs in Ontario are named, so that was very prestigious.
RC: Wow, how did you set yourself apart from the other 97% of CPAs?
DR: I showed up every day and tried to deliver quality work. I always try to do my best in everything I do. I didn’t work hard to be recognized. I worked hard because I wanted to work hard and to get the satisfaction of learning and growing. It is a valuable journey.
“I didn’t work hard to be recognized. I worked hard because I wanted to work hard and to get the satisfaction of learning and growing.”
RC: I totally agree with you. I am very dedicated to learning.
DR: Learning is continuous, it’s a lifetime learning. COVID-19 has paused a lot of business, but it’s a great opportunity to increase your knowledge and learn. I’m embracing it every way I can.
RC: Speaking of learning, what advice do you have for women following in your footsteps?
DR: There is a book that was launched in March by Janice McDonald called Fearless: Girls with Dreams, Women with Vision. Janice profiled 100 different women, including myself. When I was reading this book, I realized that women who show up every day eventually fall down. But you can learn from that experience. Get mentors, get sponsors, get people in your court that you believe in you. There is never a problem that’s so insurmountable, that someone hasn’t faced. When you lean on your mentors, you find out that there is always a way out. As women, we are sometimes afraid to ask for help. And I always suggest: “What’s the worst they can say?”
“Get mentors, get sponsors, get people in your court that you believe in you. There is never a problem that’s so insurmountable, that someone hasn’t faced.”
RC: What kinds of female mentors or female influencers you had in your career?
DR: Most of my mentors and my sponsors have been men, starting with my father at an early age. I have had lots of amazing mentors and sponsors over the years. They helped me learn with direct feedback. Early on in my career I had a boss who said, “Listen, you’re going to be presenting to executives and you need to improve your public speaking ability.” At the time I was about 26 and I just didn’t have the confidence. I looked around and ended up taking Dale Carnegie’s course. That was instrumental to my career going forward.
RC: How to Win Friends and Influence People—what a classic!
DR: Yes, my dad always had that book on our shelf. It’s timeless.
RC: How did you balance your personal life and professional life?
DR: It was hard. I’m a mother of two boys. For years, I had to juggle being a business woman and also being a mother. I think the key for women is to realize you can’t do everything at once. When I was a mother of young boys and working for a start-up, there was no time for networking or community. I had to prioritize things and I have absolutely no regrets. I was always home for 6 o’clock dinner, even if I had to work later into the night. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be defined by your work but want to be defined by your life. A big component of my life are my two sons.
RC: I agree, at the end of our lives, we’re going to be thinking about the connections we made and the people we spent our time with. On a completely different note, how were marketing and communications important to you in your career?
DR: Everything I do involves marketing every day. I think it’s critical, because if you can’t articulate your value proposition properly, it is hard to increase interest and to engage community.
RC: Absolutely. And I think as women we have this extra step when we need to learn how to market ourselves. You’re very good at that!
DR: Thank you for saying that! I always want to do everything I can to help other women in my community, and I think we can all learn from each other. I do the same for Women Get On Board members. We do a member showcase with women on the boards because stories are so powerful.
RC: That leads perfectly to my last question. What is your favorite book or your favorite story?
DR: I think my favorite book right now is Becoming by Michelle Obama. I love the mantra: “They go low you go high.” I think Michelle is a fearless woman, a fearless leader. She has done such great work.
RC: Why do you think Becoming was so inspiring to you?
DR: I think reading about how she handled being the first black First Lady was so inspiring. She couldn’t just follow what previous First Ladies did. And she was juggling with the young family. But she was always so authentic no matter what. She was always true to herself. To me, she was always a symbol of listening to that higher purpose.
RC: And it mirrors your own story. You always did the things that were truest for you.
DR: It does, and that is why I think it was very inspiring. I really encourage people to watch the documentary and read Michelle’s book.
RC: Deborah, thank you for your time today.
This article is a part of the Unbound Series, where we chat with founders and entrepreneurs about what they’ve learned in their lives and careers. We know that when we learn from those who have come before us, we can accomplish more than we ever could alone. Do you know someone we should talk to? Comment below!