Resources for Women in Tech
Women have made considerable steps in closing the gender gap in the last half-century. Records show that as early as the 1980s women began to out-pace men for the number of under-graduate diplomas earned. In 2018, there were 35% more women graduates than men. However, that statistic is misleading; those degrees do not necessarily translate into successful employment, and even less into senior roles.
The tech sector, along with energy, infrastructure and mobility, are members of a group of industries that reduce the national average for gender wage gap and women’s participation numbers. The percentage of computer science degrees awarded to women since the early ‘90s has actually fallen by half, bucking the prior positive trend, from 30% to a measly 15%. As bad as this is, it’s even worse when you consider that, according to C.O.P.S., the market for jobseekers in IT will increase by 20% over the coming decade. This is the current situation: women are less and less interested in participating in the tech sector, yet it’s one of the fastest growing industries in Canada.
From another angle, one study showed that those women who do stick it out long enough are happy. The survey compared women in senior roles to women who chose to leave the industry. In the report, “the vast majority of women who stayed in tech careers said having a sense of purpose at work is an essential part of their success and satisfaction,” and that “they rate a sense of purpose as an important, or very important trait for successful individuals.” This seems like a broad statement that applies to anyone in a job, but it’s key to understanding the tech/IT industry’s failure to attract women.
The results of this study uncovered four primary qualities for career development in tech that gave women a sense of purpose: opportunities for advancement, appropriate training, fair pay and work-life balance, and a healthy peer group including mentorship. The current tech work culture often shuts women out from each of these. In this article, Alison Wynn, a research associate at Stanford‘s VMware Women‘s Leadership Innovation Lab, shared a common situation experienced by women at Silicon Valley recruiting events: “The men on stage joke about all the beer pong in the office and their ‘work hard, play harder’ culture—long hours in a frat-like environment aren’t really selling it for you. Their female colleague is busy fixing snacks for everyone and doesn’t get up on stage to talk. It’s hard to imagine yourself fitting in at the company.” One, their female colleague doesn’t look like she’s being provided opportunities for advancement. Two, there’s no expectation of appropriate training (except for beer-pong). Three, “work hard, play harder” is not the image of a healthy work-life balance. Four, the social environment is very male-centric, with no hint of strong female leaders who could mentor a new employee towards a successful career. No wonder less and less women are excited about the tech industry.
The good news is that there are more and more resources being offered to inspire women with a sense of purpose in their careers and develop the female tech industry peer community.
In BC, VIATEC has announced a collaboration with four partners to pilot a women’s entrepreneurship program called W Venture. According to CEO Dan Gunn, “most accelerator programs were developed by men and we’ve learned that those programs aren’t always the right fit for women entrepreneurs. We’re proud that we have been able to bring together this group of experienced partners with the funding needed to empower some of the trailblazing women in our communities to build a program that will better serve and support current and future women founders in tech.” The program is a three-month personalized program to help women entrepreneurs move to the next step with their idea, product, or business. Program Manager Shelley Voyer said: “Women from across the province told us they wanted a program that is actionable and accountable while focusing on their unique journey.” W Venture is designed to address at least two of the key elements for women’s success in the tech industry: providing a supportive peer environment and mentorship, and appropriate training to stay challenged and driven.
Ottawa-based L-SPARK has launched a similar initiative with Queen’s University, with the goal of propelling women entrepreneurs in tech towards the next phase of their enterprise. Compass North is a cohort-based program designed as with strong mentorship as well as community-building and skills workshops. Program eligibility is based on location (Belleville-Kingston-Brockville region), being a science-based tech business, and on women occupying C-level positions. Workshop topics range from pitching and funding, to team building, peer support, work-life balance, managing intellectual property and government funding. Government support is, in fact, how Compass North is funded, as part of a $3.2M grant to Queen’s University for the development of women-owned enterprises in Canada.
The Liberal government allocated $85 million in the 2018 national budget to the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) Ecosystem Fund. The fund allocated support for regional and national projects ($70M and $15M respectively) focused on educating and supporting women entrepreneurs. A total of fifty-two proposals were approved. Some of the larger beneficiaries, such as the Women’s Enterprise Centre with offices in Kelowna, Vancouver and Victoria, received as much as $2.7M to help them improve the skills training, investor workshops and mentoring services they offer. Over $2M will help establish a national headquarters for the Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada to deliver “focused, business-growth services to Canadian women entrepreneurs, including business training opportunities, export and trade support, pathfinding services and advocacy.” Also, many existing not-for-profit organizations designed pilot projects to support women from sectors underrepresented in the Canadian economy, such as women from rural, immigrant and First Nations communities.
As noted, these initiatives help address two essential elements for women to feel fulfilled in their business – access to appropriate training and a healthy community, including mentorship. That said, with much of the focus on women starting their own businesses, how does that help those already hired as employees? If the only way to change industry culture is by waiting for more women to have successful tech startups, this may take some time. According to this article, “working for an entrepreneur potentially implies great uncertainty, low wages and benefits, and a high probability that the firm will not survive.” If you are fully committed to the business and are willing to sacrifice for it, working in a startup is ok. It can certainly provide the opportunity for mentorship and a healthy community. But if you are looking for all four of the aspects previously mentioned you’re still missing the work-pay balance and opportunities for advancement.
Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code takes another approach. This program reminds us that there is much more work to be done than nourishing women-run startups. The focus here is on developing strong communities, partnerships, skills and motivation before even entering the workforce, so that women can start their careers with confidence. Success will take change at all stages of the recruitment and employment processes: from developing the right educational curriculum for early-stage through to university-level programs, and encouraging the underrepresented to participate, to providing support for those already active within the industry.
The stats have not been great historically, but so much is now being done to shift the trend. And more and more, fearless women are proving willing to take on and work to overcome the current dynamics of the tech industry culture and thereby pave the way for the next generation.
To explore more of our content, visit the Alacrity Canada Blog page where you’ll see Alacrity’s podcast on early-stage tech investment Between 2 Term Sheets, and our cleantech podcast series, Cleantech Talks. Follow us: @alacritycanada on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest in tech news, and information about upcoming events.
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