President and CEO, HP Canada Co.
Technology is much more than clouds and devices. In many ways, it exemplifies a country’s values and visions for the future. Our neighbours to the south celebrated Women’s History Month throughout March, and it reminded me of how women’s work in technology underscores the real change we are creating in the field and throughout Canada.
I look to my colleagues – women working as strategists, developers, programmers, communicators and much more – as sources of inspiration and hope. We are women in the tech world, and our roles here, by all accounts, are unlikely ones.
As a young woman raised by working class immigrants in Canada, my goal of becoming a leader in business was not always an easy one. Although my parents moved to this country with the attitude that I could do anything, I still struggled to find representation or female mentors in the technology space. Yet today, I sit among the senior leadership team at HP Canada, more than half of whom are women. In a field traditionally dominated by men, Canada’s current work force shows the hard-earned progress we’ve made through diversity and inclusion (D&I) imperatives.
We have one of the highest global shares of women in the work force today, according to research by Catalyst Inc., and the full measure of what diversity in tech can achieve in Canada is actively evolving. Coupled with the increase of immigrants and younger generations entering our work force, I am hopeful that the diverse leadership of Canada’s tech industry will continue to move the needle forward.
Despite the industry’s past and present challenges, the hardships female leaders, including myself, have faced have laid the groundwork for long-lasting change in Canada’s tech industry. Continuing to progress is not just the right thing for Canada, it is also smart business.
Developing tech industry
Canada’s evolving population has spurred massive growth in the tech industry. Between 2012 and 2017, more than 82,000 jobs were added, according to a study by CRBE Group. Meanwhile, Canada ranked 5th out of 41 countries surveyed in the 2018 Women in Tech Index.
Jessica Regan, CEO of FoodMesh, Joanna Griffiths, founder of Knix Wear, Eva Wong, co-founder and COO of Borrowell Inc. and many more like them have opened doors for women in leadership roles in and beyond the technology field. But that’s only the first of many steps. Despite ranking in the top 15 per cent, representation is still relatively low, with only about 25 per cent of the tech work force being women. I know we can and will do better.
When I think about how to advance D&I, I often look to one of the hallmarks of my upbringing – empathy. It is a value that current leaders must embody if we want to uplift our work force. By promoting understanding and authenticity at work, we open the floodgates for the creativity, energy and collaboration true innovation demands.
Creating an ecosystem that supports and benefits from D&I
At the start of my career, I was hard-pressed to find a senior-level female executive I could relate to. Today, young women can often find role models at every level. Better yet, the growing tech industry has the potential to become even more diverse, broadening the web of influence and possibility. Canada must recognize the importance of making this a reality.
Canada could see $150-billion in incremental GDP in 2026 simply by prioritizing parity, according to McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm. Adding more women in tech will be a key factor in making this happen.
As women continue to join the industry, however, we cannot rely on only other women or those from similar demographics to serve as mentors to them – often, the strongest inclusion initiatives are grounded in supporting those unlike us. As a young woman, one of my most influential mentors and advocates was a man who pushed me to go beyond expectations. His advice and support were invaluable. For D&I initiatives to have impact, they must be enacted by all employees regardless of gender, sexuality, age or lifestyle.
As of 2018, the largest portion of the population, nearly 30 per cent, is the millennial generation, according to a study by marketing research firm The Nielsen Company. Industry leaders must encourage cross-generational partnerships to promote products reflective of contemporary values and expert perspective.
Not only do newcomers add to a company’s mission, but they also represent the next generation of leaders in technology. We have the ability to provide them with the guidance and empathy many of us sought in the beginning of our careers but could not always find.
Furthering local initiatives and global impact
By taking a hard look at female representation across Canada and examining our successes thus far, we will help set the stage for future accomplishments.
Private companies are building partnerships to magnify their impact on work-force strength. The Canadian government started a $20-million fund to support female entrepreneurship and launched the Global Skills Strategy to welcome immigrants into Canadian companies. Private companies are building partnerships to magnify their impact on the workforce. Global organizations are spreading their message worldwide and positioning Canada to be a leader in gender equality.
It’s easy to see why I’m hopeful, but my optimism isn’t lacking in awareness for past and ongoing hardships. The technology industry is not perfect and likely will never be. But the many women I’ve thought of during Women’s History Month remind me that, despite pitfalls and doubts, the future of women in technology is strong.
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