Women hold the key to unlocking tech’s full potential

Women hold the key to unlocking tech’s full potential 

By Jill Tipping, President and CEO, BC Tech

October 7 2019

While B.C.’s technology industry is a national leader in many ways that matter — as a startup hub, “unicorn” breeding ground and sub-sector hotspot — it falls short in one key area: the participation of women. Recent data released by CBRE reveals that women make up only 18 percent of Vancouver’s tech workforce. We can and will do much better.

Not long ago I was lucky enough to host at BC Tech a group of very impressive grade nine students who presented their ideas on how to grow the BC innovation economy by increasing the number of youth interested in tech. The young women in the class quite clearly had a strong ability and interest in STEM, delivering some of the best presentations. They were excelling in computing, math and science classes and could see the big picture. Yet they said in conversation that they felt they were on the fence about building a career in tech (Reader, I changed their minds!). But our sector will not reach its true potential until everyone knows they have a place in our industry and is enthusiastic and aware of what a career in tech looks like. We simply can’t afford to miss bringing in these talented, creative young people. 

Making space for more women and other under-represented groups in tech will help address the industry’s number one challenge: the shortage of available tech talent in the province. Our sector creates more than 6,000 jobs a year in B.C., yet thousands of these positions go unfilled, holding companies back from growth and scale. We routinely hear from companies that hiring the right people in the right numbers is their number one challenge.

There’s a compelling business case at the company level, too. A number of studies show that having women in leadership roles produces better, more profitable businesses that outperform the market with faster revenue growth, less turnover, and stronger returns for investors. In BC’s case, think companies like Allocadia, Clevest, Clio, Stemcell, and SAP—scale and anchor companies our ecosystem needs more of. 

As one BC tech CEO recently told me, “Diversity and inclusion aren’t just the right thing to do—it’s good for the bottom line because it gives you access to more top talent. You’re missing out big time if you don’t focus on this.”

BC Tech research suggests that the most successful companies are ahead of the curve. Our recent survey of CEOs at fast-growing, scaled-up companies drives the point home: Eight out of 12 reported that women make up 20 to 50 percent of their teams, with two CEOs reporting that women comprised at least 50 percent of their teams. No doubt, this above-average diversity is a big factor in their success.

We recognize the excellent work done by a number of groups are driving progress on diversity and inclusion in BC by promoting STEM education and careers to young women, building leadership skills among women in business, investing in women-led companies and entrepreneurs, surveying inclusion in business, empowering indigenous women, and in many other ways. We at BC Tech are grateful for this vital work. 

To complement this work, BC Tech is launching a Fall 2019 #WhatWorks Series on Women in Tech. Through collaboration, sharing proven strategies, and harnessing B.C.’s pioneering spirit, we aim to boost the participation of women in tech by driving industry-wide change.

Starting on October 16, the two-month series will host a number of events, including #WhatWorks workshops on negotiation, public speaking and speaking up, and building mental toughness; and a Women Leaders Panel. The series will illuminate how tech industry-leaders have developed and implemented proven practices that enable women to thrive as well as equipping attendees with real skills they can use to build their careers. 

At the end of the series, BC Tech will publish our #WhatWorks strategies for the industry, a concrete and actionable list of actions grounded in real tech sector success stories. With it, we will connect industry leaders to learn from each other and improve the sector one company at a time.  

It’s time to make B.C. not just a national leader, but a global one. With our #WhatWorks Series, BC Tech aims to help women build rewarding tech careers, and in the process, take our sector to the next level.