How we can include more women in Canadian tech – March Community Slideshow Part 3

Welcome to ITWC’s March 2018 community slideshow! Every month we ask leaders in the Canadian technology industry about a general life topic as a fun way to know the community a little better. In honour of International Women’s Day, we decided to ask female executives across the industry:

“How can we increase the number of women working in Canadian tech?”

Read on for answers from Facebook, Microsoft, ITWC, and more!

[Editor’s note: Some answers have been edited for length.]

We received so many responses, this became our first three-part community slideshow! You can view part one here and part two here.

(Our sincerest thanks to the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC)’s membership and business development director, Mariana Kutin Morais, who collected the answers from Geotab, End to End Networks, Facebook, Tickithealth, VMWare Canada, and SecureKey for us.)

Maria Sotra, vice president of marketing with Geotab

“As the tech industry continues to expand in Canada, organizations can help increase the number of women in the field by providing early exposure to students through education such as co-op student opportunities within STEM and business courses. Additionally, organizations can develop referral programs and leverage the women who are already working in the field by highlighting their success stories around their career path which can easily be promoted through the company’s social media channels and blog.” (Answer courtesy ITAC.)

Jennifer Gagan, director of product management with End to End Networks

“Whether you’re a woman or a man in technology, mentorship and sponsorship are key to professional development. Mentors help us define career goals and plans, develop skills and confidence, and, ultimately, provide real opportunities for career advancement. As a Gen X-er, wedged between Baby Boomers and Gen Ys, I’ve witnessed an evolution of how women in technology are mentored. My predecessors, the women who first entered the technology industry, were virtually all mentored by men while I’ve had the privilege of being mentored by both men and women. All of my mentors have been extremely gracious and I respect them highly to this day, but I do find there is one fundamental difference between having a female mentor versus a male mentor. Female mentors have usually been trailblazers within the tech industry and within their companies, and are able to impart a distinctive perspective and specific knowledge on how to navigate within what is still a male-dominated industry. They are able to help pave the way through shared experiences and challenges that are unique to women not only professionally, but also personally.” (Answer courtesy ITAC.)

Dr. Joelle Pineau, director of Facebook AI Research (FAIR) Montreal

“One of the ways we have significantly increased enrollment of women in our undergraduate computer science (CS) programs at McGill University is by having several multidisciplinary programs (e.g. CS + Math, CS + Bio, CS + Arts, CS + Cognitive Science), which attract a much more diverse population. The other way we have increased enrollment is by making it very easy for students to switch into a CS program at any point in their undergraduate career. A few years ago, we ran a survey that revealed that many of the male students in our graduating class knew from day one that they wanted to be CS majors. In contrast, most of our female graduates decided to major in CS later, often in second or third year of undergrad: they started by taking one course, which they liked, then took a second and a third, before really deciding that they wanted to follow this career path. By having a program that allows several entry points, we effectively open the doors to a more diverse student population, and this goes not just for having more women in tech, but also having overall more diversity in the community.” (Answer courtesy ITAC.)

Sandy Whitehouse, CEO of Tickit Health

“The question should not be ‘how do we increase the number of women in Canadian tech?’ but what will happen if we don’t. Many technology driven solutions often don’t make it because technology needs to work for people, not the other way around. Successful technology solutions make our lives simpler, better and more fun. They are simply more empathetic and human. Both characteristics that women foster.” (Answer courtesy ITAC.)

Tara Fine, channel chief of VMware Canada

“Personally, and most of the women I know and admire in technology, did not plan on this path… and looking back, I wasn’t aware that my interests and skills would be aligned with the tech companies I have had the privilege of working with over the past 20 years. I believe starting the dialogue with girls at an early age is absolutely key, and consistently engaging in these conversations throughout school, home, and social media is an important component. As young women grow up, the media and tech companies play a big role in how these girls envision their future and careers. For tech companies looking to reach female talent, being able to connect people’s passions to what they do every day is key to stimulating their desire for a particular field and long term career satisfaction.” (Answer courtesy ITAC.)

Susan Fisher, senior vice president of finance and HR with SecureKey Technologies Inc.

“In 2016, only 27.1 per cent of Canadian ICT sector professionals and 19 per cent of ICT management positions were held by women. Even though women are still underrepresented in the tech sector, celebrations such as International Women’s Day position women in the industry well to inspire the younger generations of women and girls who are looking to pursue a career in tech. International Women’s Day is a powerful movement to celebrate our successful female ancestors and encourage women to be confident in their skin and pursue the career they have dreamt about.” (Answer courtesy ITAC.)

Fawn Annan, CMO of ITWC

“A big issue is the way we currently set tight educational parameters around the jobs in tech. You don’t need an engineering or computer science degree to do many of the jobs required unless it involves heavy coding. As an example, Shopify has a dedicated AI division which is driving all of their technology. One would assume you must be a data scientist or a computer scientist. They have a couple of specialists. But they also have a lawyer, an astronomer, and English major, a linguist, an economist, a physicist and four young people who only graduated from high school but have the adeptness and intellect accompanied by curiosity to solve problems that ensured them a job in AI for Shopify. The moral of the story is, don’t restrict educational qualifications.”

Suzanne Gagliese, executive lead of Microsoft Canada’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee

“As the executive lead of Microsoft’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, I lead a team dedicated to ensuring our work environment values diversity of thought, fosters a flexible work environment, and provides development opportunities that propel women into leadership roles. While I am proud of the work we are doing with universities, government and partners, and that 75% of the executive team here are women, there is much more we need to do as a company and as an industry. That is why this International Women’s Day, our President, Kevin Peesker, is issuing a challenge to fellow leaders – what tangible thing will you do this year to close the gender gap? The time is now – let’s all #pressforprogress.”

Sylvie Hay, inclusion and diversity manager with HPE Canada

“I agree with what I read encouraging STEM education early so we have more young girls interested in being in IT. The part where I have greater influence is with my management team. I want to encourage the team to look for attitude and aptitude more than specific experience and to seize every possible opportunity to emphasize that women can have successful careers in IT, be it in sales or technical roles. If we only hire people who have done something before, we won’t expand beyond the current workforce dynamics. We are looking for new ways to help our customers and I believe a diverse team will help us do that.”

Kasey Holman, senior vice president of communications and brand with OpenText

“The OpenText executive leader team stands behind four beliefs for improving diversity in the technology sector: we need to encourage our kids to learn technology early and promote continuous education; we must take advantage of digitalization and analytics tools to dismantle traditional barriers to women’s representation such as raising children or family care; we must increase the pace and priority for achieving gender equality as part of the corporate agenda (and CEOs and other leaders must set this pace and priority); and finally, we must establish visible gender equality programs to create dialogue, remove biases and facilitate practical changes.”

Sonya Meloff, co-founder of Sales Talent Agency and the Great Canadian Sales Competition

“I think that we can get more women into tech with early exposure and education about all of the opportunities that exist within tech – not just in the technical capacities, but in the other capacities specifically around sales, marketing, et cetera. I think fundamentally it comes down to earlier education and exposure to all of the career paths because I think specifically in tech there’s this assumption that you have to be a technical person, but ultimately, that’s just not the case. We know that women are pursuing sort of a tech educational stream at a smaller rate than men, but that doesn’t mean there are fewer opportunities.”

Mandy Kovacs, ITWC senior writer and editor of IT World Canada sister site Computer Dealer News

“To get more women into Canadian tech, I think we need to start young. Millennials, Gen Z, and all of the generations that come after are and will be full of kids who have grown up with technology. To paraphrase a line from Batman villain Bane, these kids are being born into a technological world and being molded by it – the rest of us have merely adopted it. We need to make sure they know that there are cool jobs that let them work with the tech they love to use every day. Inspire young women to innovate by showing them what they can create with skills like math or coding, and invest in programs encouraging them to go into STEM fields.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former IT World Canada associate editor turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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