Faced with the race to innovate, companies around the world are increasingly required to consider new methods of growing or scaling their operations in ways that are not only sustainable, but that allow them to remain competitive on the world stage. Canadian companies are no different. All enterprises – from the small startup employing five people, to the multinational employing thousands – are increasingly looking for diverse and reliable ways to stay competitive in a global economy where innovation is quickly becoming the new currency.
On March 14-16, beautiful Vancouver played host to the 2018 Globe Forum, an annual event gathering leaders from industry, government and other stakeholder groups to discuss pathways towards a low-carbon, clean economy for Canada. Tackling topics including the growth of green energy, and the need to work towards reducing our carbon footprint, this year’s theme was, very fittingly: Disrupting Business As Usual.
On the last day of the Forum, the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), hosted a panel entitled: Skills Innovation: Navigating the Shifting Economy. Seeking to understand the changing nature of work, the role of diversity and inclusion in the development of a sustainable economy, and how best to leverage our innovative capacity as a country, the panel was introduced by the Honourable Bruce Ralston, B.C. Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, and moderated by ICTC’s President and CEO, Namir Anani.
Spanning several industry areas including ecommerce, digital industries, and web services, the panel was comprised entirely of senior female leaders; all advocating for an inclusive, representative and diverse workforce. These were highlighted as key features to advancing our ability as a country to scale and innovate. Representing Sony Pictures Imageworks was Michelle Grady, Senior VP of Production; followed by Andrea Stairs, Ebay’s General Manager of Canada and Latin America; Alexandra Clark, Chief of Staff to the CEO at Shopify; and Kristen Sutton, VP and Managing Director of SAP Labs.
The discussions began with a challenge – that is, challenging the notion of what it means to be the right “fit” for tech. “I have a degree in medieval history […]” said Andrea Stairs, as an attestation to the notion that tech can truly be for anyone, regardless of background. This was further emphasized by the other panelists – all of whom possessed Bachelor’s degrees in the arts. Fielding a question from the audience of how to get a foot in the door of the tech world without a technical background, Alexandra Clark from Shopify was quick to emphasize that her company seeks out several qualities in a potential candidate. These include fit with the organizational culture, business acumen, and the ability to be creative and open-minded – none of which are specifically relegated to only those with STEM backgrounds.
There is no doubt that we are making progress in our ability as a country to foster an inclusive economy. However, we still have a long way to go. With only 25% of the country’s ICT workforce being women, the importance of diversity and inclusion as an enabler of sustainable business must take center stage.
As was highlighted by the panelists, this may be the single most critical factor to growing and scaling successful businesses in Canada. Whether in ecommerce, the digital industries, or web services, one thing that many Canadian companies have in common is the high demand for talent. And to be clear, this challenge is not unique to Canada – rather, it is one that is felt the world around, and quickly becoming a common theme for investment strategies across the globe.
Ensuring that more women become engaged in the tech space is one piece of the equation. Other components include supporting the development of needs-driven and forward-looking immigration policies, and spearheading initiatives that strive to gain higher rates of engagement from other traditionally underrepresented groups. These include Indigenous peoples or persons with disabilities, to name a few. On top of that, developing timely and enhanced monitoring metrics, like ICTC’s Canadian Digital Innovation Measure (CDIM) that properly assess the impact of factors like diversity on the Canadian economy is key. This will help us celebrate what we do well, highlight and understand what we need to improve on, and develop pathways based on evidence-based research to get there.
We are a small country, yet we have significant potential to not only drive innovation within our borders, but to be a leader in it on the global scale. Creating a space where everyone has the opportunity to participate and thrive as a result of digital disruption is key. Working towards ensuring that the proverbial pie is big enough to include everyone is a top priority.
Alexandra Cutean is the Director of Research & Policy at the Information & Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Alexandra’s work focuses on providing in-depth research, analysis and policy considerations on labour market trends, technology disruptions and cross-sectoral movements that impact Canada’s growth and presence in the digital economy.