There was a reoccuring discussion amidst all the talk about world economies and the future impact of tech on society at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos: Inequality between men and women.

Global leaders frequently spoke out about the issue that was once again highlighted in the WEF’s latest Global Gender Gap Report, which says the average progress on closing the global gender gap is 68 per cent, a tiny improvement over last year.

“It’s amazing how poorly we are doing as a governing society in excluding and victimizing more than 50 per cent of our population,” said Ursula Burns, chairman of the supervisory board at Veon during a panel called Big Tech, Big Impact. “I think that men, and women, have to actually take a measured approach and break this problem.”

This begins with improved access to education, especially for young girls, said Burns. The president of Baidu Inc., who participated in the same panel as Burns, agreed. School curriculums should be adjusted to incorporate digital skills and coding at a very early age, he added. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested CEOs look at their company’s parental leave policies, child benefits and gender-balanced hiring practices during a speech on the forum’s opening day. A recent McKinsey report estimates Canada could add $150 billion to the economy by 2026 by narrowing the gender gap.

“I’m talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women,” said Trudeau. “Not because it’s the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.”

Progress in Canada

Canada, currently ranked 16th, jumped 19 ranks in 2017 and broke into the global top 20 on the overall Global Gender Gap Index, well ahead of its partner south of the border, which is currently ranked 49th. But at the start-up level, the barriers for women are still high. Only four per cent of all venture capital goes to female-led companies.

The Big Push, a Toronto-based business accelerator for female founders, wants to address that.

“Some of these people are just expecting female entrepreneurs to walk through the door when prior to that, those rooms weren’t the friendliest places to go to,” says the company’s founder and CEO Sharon Zohar.

Sharon Zohar, founder and CEO of The Big Push.

But that climate is slowly shifting, she says, and pointed to success stories such as Artery, a peer to peer platform that allows people to host unique experiences in private spaces. It was founded by Salimah Ebrahim.

“Artery is the next frontier in the sharing economy focused on culture,” says Zohar.

Recruiting women still takes time

If a recruitment team spends four weeks searching for someone at a leadership position, there’s an 80 per cent chance that pipeline will be all male. Search for six to eight weeks, and that number drops to 60 per cent, according to Jamie Hoobanoff, founder and CEO of The Leadership Agency.

“You have to spend more time connecting and convincing, and moving that dial. Companies are realizing if they want a diverse pipeline, they have to be a bit more patient to get the right people at the table,” says Hoobanoff.

While the numbers don’t look good for startups in the U.S. – First Round’s State of Startups 2017 survey says more than 15 per cent of respondents don’t have formal policies about ways to promote diversity and inclusion, and don’t plan on developing one either – Hoobanoff indicates approximately 40 per cent of the clients she’s worked with have a high level of diversity and inclusion.

“These companies are executing strategy and awareness,” she says.

But there’s still a massive gap in the tech industry when it comes to female founders. Only three companies in the tech community out of the 300 Hoobanoff has worked with are female-founded. And while dismal statistics, such as the WEF’s latest Gender Gap report, suggest it will take 217 years for the pay gap to close, Hoobanoff says people need to talk more about the progress that’s been made.

“Women need to feel and want to know that it can be done. And when we start celebrating and talking about success stories more, i think it spurs a lot of action.”



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