A Look Back at Women Who Tech

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On November 16th, over 225 attendees gathered for the Women Who Tech: A Fireside Chat with Female Leaders put on by the BC Tech Association, BCIC, The Raise Collective, and Airbnb. The event brought together a panel of exceptional women who spoke to the crowd about their career paths, what it’s like working in tech, becoming a leader, and starting a tech company.

The panel was moderated by Jill Earthy, Chief Growth Officer at FrontFundr and was comprised of Catherine Winckler, Founder & CEO of Mindful Garden Digital Health, Kirsten Sutton, VP and Managing Director, at SAP Labs Canada, and Diane Ko, Front End Software Engineer, at Airbnb. Coming from a variety of different backgrounds, each woman shared their unique experiences and perspective on working in tech.

Earthy opened the evening by speaking about the recently released Move the Dial report which found that across Canada only 5 percent of tech companies have a solo female founder, women comprise 13 percent of the average tech company’s executive team, and a staggering 53 percent of tech companies have no female executives on their teams. She also spoke about the incredible impact that women could have on the Canadian economy—citing a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, Jill told the crowd how advancing gender equality across the country could add $150 billion to the economy by 2026.

Kicking off the panel, each panelist talked about their journey into a career in tech and the very distinct paths they took to get there. “People come from everywhere into tech. There is an opportunity for everybody to get involved in tech—no matter what your entry into it is,” said Sutton. “If you have a skillset, you can be in tech. You don’t have to come from a STEM background—everyone has their own special way of getting into tech,” added Winckler.

Discussing the opportunities in tech the panel touched on how tech has become so pervasive in our lives and how it has opened the door for everyone to be involved in its creation and use. “The nice thing about tech, in general, is that it touches everything now. Anything you do has a tech aspect to it and it has varying degrees of how technical you need to be in order to be a part of it. It’s really expanding everyone’s opportunity,” said Ko. “The way we work in tech is really changing, and it embraces diversity. At SAP, I know we will not come up with a new, great idea if we have all the same people in the room. It’s never going to happen,” said Sutton.

The conversation naturally moved from opportunities in tech to the reasons why women aren’t pursuing careers in tech and are leaving the industry. Ko pointed to dated stereotypes and attitudes as leading factors. “There are people who are encouraged and not encouraged to go into technical fields, and that needs to change. The way we treat young women and girls needs to change. The way that we encourage men to treat women needs to change. Part of this stems from an old idea that technical fields are for men and that women aren’t technical. It’s decreasing with time and as more women enter the field but there are still some people who still believe this is true.”

The panel wrapped up with questions from the audience. During the Q&A the panelists were asked what advice they would give to women just starting their careers in tech. Each speaker had unique words of wisdom for the crowd. Talking about problems she has faced while being a tech entrepreneur, Winckler told the crowd “you can’t always trust those around you and to remember that there is a business around your business.” To add to her point, Earthy advised the audience to surround themselves with good people. Sutton told the attendees “your best strengths can also be your biggest weakness.” Ko wrapped the question by telling women to “not let stereotypes scare you away from tech.”

The evening ended with networking and an exclusive meet and greet and book signing with Paulina Cameron. Cameron showcased her first book Canada 150 Women: Conversations with Leaders, Champions, and Luminaries at the event.

Interested in learning more about equal opportunities in tech? Check out our Women in Tech page.