Jodi Kovitz, founder and chief executive of #movethedial, addressing the audience at 2019 #movethedial global summit. Photos by Pragya Sehgal

Published: November 19th, 2019

Women account for only about 25 per cent of Canada’s tech industry, and it’s a number that’s remained stagnant over the past 10 years. While attendees at this year’s #movethedial Global Summit remained optimistic that change is on the horizon, the overall message was clear: There’s still a lot of work left to close the gap, and organizations of all sizes can take specific steps to move the needle, or in this case, the dial.

More than 100 speakers and over 2,500 people gathered at the Roy Thomson Hall last week in Toronto and provided actionable insights to motivate attendees to push beyond the diversity conversation and take meaningful actions to amplify diversity efforts. 

Together, they debriefed last year’s #movethedial benchmark report, linked them to their personal experiences, and discussed ways in which startups, scale-ups, and enterprises can make the tech space a more accommodating one. A recent study suggests 50 per cent women in Canada still don’t think that the Canadian tech scene is serious about hiring them, a disturbing figure that keynotes throughout the day addressed directly.

Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, the chief diversity officer at Microsoft was among one of the first speakers of the day.

Lindsay-Rae McIntyre addressing the audience. All photos by Pragya Sehgal.

“We don’t want to admit it. We all exclude somebody at some point. It’s how humans and societies have behaved for centuries. In 2019, we are experiencing profound shifts and sociological and technical workplace and workforce trends all over the world,” she said. “People today have expectations of their employers…they expect their employers to stand up for the things that matter to them. And you can imagine for a company like Microsoft, that has 144,000 people in 190 countries, those ideas vary widely. In this world, we can’t talk about being inclusive, as if it were something easy. We avoid acknowledging the hard work it entails in the workplace.”

“If we do not intentionally include, we unintentionally exclude. We don’t have any other choice but to go all in.” 

Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Canada, and Armughan Ahmad, president and managing partner of digital solutions, KPMG in Canada, included their daughters on a panel about discrimination in the workplace and instilling confidence in young women.

Rola Dagher, president, Cisco Canada, and Armughan Ahmad, president and managing partner of Digital Solutions, KPMG in Canada, with their daughters.

“I’ve been called bossy too passionate about being called aggressive, but when they tell me you’re bossy, I always respond ‘I am not bossy, I am the boss. So, learn it, earn in, return it.’ And always be you.” Dagher said.

Jodi Kovitz, the founder and chief executive officer of #movethedial, said there’s been a dramatic shift over the last two years around the topic of diversity and inclusion. The Canadian tech community, she indicated, is ready to address the more systemic issues that prevent gender parity and equality in the workplace. 

At the event, Inclusion, Intention, and Investment: A Playbook for Retaining Women Working in Tech was released to offer key insights and tactics that technology companies at different stages of development can adopt to accelerate inclusion and help retain more women.

It draws on research conducted over the course of four months with 70 leaders from across Canada’s tech sector. Leaders from startups, scaleups, and large enterprises were a part of a qualitative online survey and interviews. 

“The challenge for many companies is to design comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies that are in line with their growth stage and available resources. Canada’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) employ 99.8 per cent of Canadians and they (SMEs) are not equipped with the strategies and tools to ensure compliance with existing human rights, transparency, and pay equity legislation,” the research report read.

While much of this event was focused on women or was gender-centric, the report noted these experiences are often particularly acute for women with multiple and intersecting identities, such as women who are also indigenous, racialized, or transgender.

“For me, it’s really about being intentional in whichever tactics they choose, being intentional in their policy, being intentional in the execution of the policy, investing and in measuring their success. They should also be intentional in constantly being willing to listen, grow ,and iterate as they continue to implement those strategies to see what they can do better,” Kovitz explained in an interview.

Some of the report’s key findings and calls to action were categorized by company size, and include the following:

Startups

  • Build meaningful partnerships. It’s not enough to just open up new pipeline sources; companies need to be intentional about new partnerships. At the startup level this is crucial.
  • Eliminate exclusive or exclusionary hiring criteria. Focus on minimum qualifications; the ones that can be ascertained from the resume screening process (not preferred qualifications).
  • Discuss career growth early and regularly
  • Read through the language in your job descriptions and use tools to help you to cut out language that is biased or may be discouraging for
    underrepresented or marginalized applicants.
  • Try an AI decoder like Textio or the Gender Decoder for Job Ad to identify gender-biased language.

Scaleups

  • Don’t make assumptions and ask people what they need to work at their best
  • To help employees define their needs, create an input form in your human resources management system with a list of possible preferences, support structures, and additional open-ended space.
  • When companies scale, managers often forget how much uncertainty people have to manage in their personal lives, so creating a sense of
    stability can be critical to engagement.
  • Design equitable policies. To scale equity, policy must unpack assumptions and make clear the ‘rules of the game’ so that all people understand what is required to be successful.
  • Communicate! Explain the rationale behind policy decisions so that people understand how and why a policy (e.g., pay bands, anti-harassment, remote work, vacation entitlement and more) is necessary.

Large enterprises

  • Start by reviewing your organization’s gender gap within the tech function and identify the technical skills that women are missing or
    lagging behind on.
  • Invest in upskilling – Develop a training curriculum or collaborate with an external training partner to develop and deliver a customized upskilling program to women.
  • It might seem like a small thing but shifting the responsibility for necessary, but often unrecognized, tasks so they become everyone’s responsibility in the workplace sets a new expectation of equity.
  • Prioritize mental well-being. People in tech experience stress, anxiety, and depression at higher rates than the average worker.


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