This is an exciting time to be working in Canada’s vibrant technology sector. As a woman who works at a fast-growing Canadian tech firm — in this case, online veterinary telehealth — I can attest the environment for women in tech is both gratifying and meaningful.
Something is no longer working, though. Despite massive amounts of effort, dialogue, funding, and programming, the proportionate advancement of women in tech has not materialized in the way we have hoped. While we know that with women in leadership positions, a company’s diversity and gender balance improves along with its financial performance, only 13 percent of tech companies have women in leadership positions.
Compounding the issue, funding for women-led companies has declined according to Crunchbase data, and reports show the burden of COVID-19 has been particularly devastating for women in the workforce.
The sector has changed
Two decades ago, engineering and other corporate functions such as marketing, human resources, customer relations and finance were more or less separate silos — engineering was dominated by men. Roles outside of product were, generally, nontechnical. This divide is what shaped the disparity we see today, the one we’ve been trying to change. Much of our efforts have been to encourage more women to enter into science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) fields to balance the divide. Traditionally, these realms of formal education have proven to be ableist, ageist, and elitist in terms of accessibility.
Since then, digital start-ups have altered the workplace — every role requires technical aptitude. Product and marketing, for example, are now so closely integrated that it can be hard to tell where one stops, and the other begins. Growth hacking brings design, marketing, customer experience, data, finance and engineering together. The advent of artificial intelligence, blockchain and big data are changing nearly every department’s tooling and processes. Technical work is being done at every level and every part of a company, and often by people who do not hold a STEM degree.
Opportunities are here now
I propose we update the definition of the challenge ahead of us. That women who work at tech companies are now actually women in technology. This inclusive vantage point offers us a new way to approach diversity and inclusion for not just women in STEM but by improving access for women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ within the tech sector as a whole.
The good news? There is already an early movement. Organizations such as Standup Ventures and Business Development Canada’s (BDC’s) Women in Tech Fund recognize the widening opportunities for women in tech. Brainstation makes technical training accessible for those upskilling or switching careers. Companies like Sampler.io and Tealbook, and Disco are examples of places where women are building game-changing solutions for their industries — without being engineers.
It’s time to recognize the goalposts have moved. There’s room at the top for more women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ leaders. Companies should be looking across their entire organization, not just engineering, to foster technical potential and recognize technical work happening at every level.
Continued success looks like:
- Audit and upskilling teams — Look outside engineering to examine teams and employees who are incorporating technical work and/or who can benefit from technical knowledge. Provide exposure to projects and programs as well as professional development opportunities to continue advancing women in tech at all levels of your company.
- Leverage the lockdowns — The current work landscape is seeing more people change careers — notably women who are taking care of children and family members. Now is the time for the tech sector to recognize the importance of marketers, HR leaders, writers, designers, accountants. A lot of this work can be done at home or in hybrid settings, making it easier for people taking care of families to balance their work and personal lives.
- Promote purposefully — Actively promote and advance women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people with an aptitude for technical programs. Foster a pipeline of candidates in non-STEM fields to encourage cross-functional collaboration between departments, improve ideation, and democratize technical work at all levels of your organization.
Not only is diversity important because it impacts the bottom line (according to the “Diversity Wins” Report by McKinsey, companies with more diverse executives were 36% more likely to see above-average profits), but when women see other women in C-suite positions, they are more likely to pursue leadership roles.
- Support representation — Encourage and share stories of women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA +in STEM, but also in tech as a whole. Showcase technical projects across the organization to open up ideation and foster a pipeline of candidates in non-STEM fields to highlight career opportunities in the tech sector.
- Invest — Companies and the entire sector can Increase funding and resources specifically for non-technical founders. Funding yes, but also access to training and resources they need to get more ideas off the ground and better representation.
It all boils down to how we frame the problem we’ve been trying to address these last few decades. But the world has changed, the start-up community has changed, and so too have the roles within those companies. Changing with time will create more inclusive outcomes for women in tech.
Cerys Goodall is the Chief Operating Officer at Vetster, an international veterinary telehealth and pet care platform.