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Jodi Kovitz is the founder and CEO of #movethedial, a Toronto-based organization dedicated to the advancement of women in tech. Dr. Sarah Saska is the co-founder and CEO of Feminuity, a global diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy firm.

Women account for 25 per cent of Canada’s technology sector, a number that has remained stagnant for the past 10 years despite the rapid growth in the market. To address this, many thoughtful Canadian technology companies devote considerable time, energy and resources to recruiting more women.

But what happens once they’re in?

Research abounds indicating women are underrepresented, marginalized and underpaid in the technology sector. Various forms of discrimination and unfairness are the most commonly cited reasons people leave their jobs at tech companies and this turnover costs the U.S. technology sector US$16-billion annually. Women, particularly those with other marginalized identities – such as those who are also Indigenous, racialized, transgender or living with a disability – are disproportionately affected by experiences of discrimination and unfairness. While we do not have a comparable study of the Canadian technology sector as of now, we know that people leave their jobs in tech at higher rates in Canada (16.9 per cent) than in the United States (13.2 per cent).

Why is this happening?

While many technology companies invest in recruitment efforts specifically designed to get women in the door, few consider the lived, day-to-day experiences of these employees once they are in. With a sophisticated recruitment strategy, a company may get a diversity of women in the door – those with a range of perspectives, skill sets and lived experiences – but if these same women, once in, are not supported by the internal systems and processes of the company, or don’t feel meaningfully included in the culture, we’re no further ahead.

This is because a company can be diverse – in terms of its teams, departments and overall composition – without being equitable or inclusive. Let that sink in. Unless a company invests equal amounts of time, energy and resources internally – designing policies, processes and physical spaces that are equitable and inclusive so women feel a sense of belonging – women are likely to leave. For example, companies may want to consider offering flex-hours; providing support for caregiving duties through a safe, clean and private space for feeding; offering clear pathways for advancement; and establishing clearly communicated harassment policies.

While women may not share their true reasons for leaving, whether due to a fear of recrimination or something else, they’ll leave and they’re likely to tell women around them about their experiences. The whisper network is a powerful force and in time, it’ll make it more difficult for these companies to recruit women, rendering their initial investment in recruitment futile.

If a company has yet to invest equal amounts of time, energy and resources to design policies, processes and physical spaces that are equitable and inclusive, it should slow down or pause its recruitment efforts.

Move forward equitably and inclusively

A critical first step is for companies to understand that an “off-the-shelf” approach will not suffice. While women may share some common experiences related to being underrepresented, marginalized and underpaid in tech, women are not all the same. For example, women who are new parents or have recently miscarried or who’ve lost a child or have chosen to never have children will all require different support.

Gender identity is just one aspect of a woman’s identity; women are also affected by their socioeconomic status, socialized race and skin colour, sexual orientation, age, body shape, body size and proficiency in English to name a few.

Companies must be thoughtful about how organizational practices affect a diversity of women – those of all experiences and identities – not just women who are most visible in their companies. When companies seek to understand the needs of those on the margins and design solutions accordingly, they begin to build cultures that are more equitable and more inclusive.

Companies that focus on these efforts internally will be able to spend far less time, energy and resources on their recruitment efforts. And their retention rates will follow.