Gender parity in the technology sector still has a way to go, according to a new report from Women in Communications and Technology’s (WCT) Up The Numbers campaign.
The study, “Where are the women in the Canadian ICT industry,” highlights the fact that women are still incredibly under-represented in the technology sector in Canada, despite making significant headway in many industries, such as accounting, law, and medicine.
Since the end of the first two world wars, most Western democracies have experienced a feminist revolution, which has encouraged the rising rates of women seeking post-secondary education and changed how society views women and their place both at home and in the workplace.
The report points to the accounting, auditor, and investment fields, where women make up more than half of all professionals, and medicine, with women making up just under 50 per cent of physicians practicing in Canada (and more than half, again, among those aged 44 and younger). Even the legal sector has seen growing gender parity, with 39 per cent of Canadian lawyers female and the younger cohort equal in several provinces.
However, just a quick glance at the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions and it’s a completely different story. Only 13 per cent of engineers in Canada are women, and the most significant under-representation of women is actually in computer science. The WCT report quotes data from the American Association of University Women, saying that the number of female students majoring in computer science has fallen from 37 per cent in 1984, to a mere 18 per cent today. And while based on US numbers, Canada is experiencing the same dramatic drop.
“Women are still seriously under-represented in technology in Canada,” says the report. “They have been for some time and there is no reason to expect this situation will improve. Put another way, the post-war surge in women’s employment in Canada appears to have swept right past the ICT industry.”
And in the information and communications technology (ICT), women represent just slightly over 27 per cent, according to the Canadian Labour Force Survey in 2016 – but that number, too, has dropped from almost 30 per cent in 2011.
WCT’s report also mentions that women in ICT roles are actually more successful and see more upward movement into management roles when working in the broader economy, rather than in the ICT sector itself.
It suggests that from the data it reviewed for the study, “when it comes to attracting and retaining female technology professionals, the ICT industry is lagging the competition.”
Women occupy just over 21 per cent of ICT management positions in the ICT sector, but approximately one third of the management workforce in the broader economy.
Why does this matter?
Beyond the social benefits of inclusion and equal opportunity, more women in the workforce improves corporate performance, WCT says.
“The correlation between diversity and corporate performance is well documented,” it continues. “McKinsey’s ground-breaking Diversity Matters study stated the case clearly. ‘Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above average financial returns than the average companies in the data set.’”
And in a time where the Canadian ICT industry is facing a severe and chronic shortage of highly skilled talent – not to mention the ageing Canadian workforce in general – the tech industry cannot afford to be picky.
“The growth in digital jobs has outpaced the overall economy in the past two years by over 4 to 1, leading to a strong demand of 182,000 skilled ICT workers by 2019,” the study adds. “Unfortunately, the domestic supply of ICT graduates and workers will be insufficient to meet this demand. Engaging all available talent, including women, youth, immigrants and indigenous persons and persons with disabilities will be critical to mitigating the talent shortage.”