There are a lot of misconceptions about the tech industry, the most egregious being the notion that women are not suited for the tech world. That bromide bubbled up in the media waters when the infamous memo penned by programmer James Damore was leaked to the press. His musings launched a thousand op-eds. From our vantage point, the answer lies in the data.
Research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the MaRS Data Catalyst team for the #movethedial report released last week offers concrete proof that women can be active participants in the tech sector if they have access to the economic system.
Women who lead startups pave the way for other women to move up the ladder: In the companies where a woman serves as the chief executive, 48 per cent of the executive team is female, compared with only 11 per cent when the CEO is male. Another shocking stat: Fifty-three per cent of tech companies have no women executives at all.
While stories about toxic workplace culture and harassment tend to dominate the discussion about the dearth of women in tech, especially at the highest levels, the lack of investment in female-led startups is arguably the bigger issue that keeps women out of the C-Suite.
In a world where millions are thrown at Potemkin startups that make $700 (U.S.) juicers, women entrepreneurs struggle to get funding for great ideas. An analysis by Fortune showed that female entrepreneurs in the United States receive just 2 per cent of venture-capital funding – despite the fact that they outperform men in returning capital to investors.
Toronto has a better track record than most, according to the #movethedial report. In Canada, 13 per cent of tech companies had at least one woman founder. The country's leading city for tech startups is a hot spot for female entrepreneurship. Among the new ventures, almost 30 per cent have at least one woman on the founding team. That number is up from 22 per cent in 2012.
While that's cause for optimism, we can't let it obscure the fact that if a person were to meet the executive team of most Canadian startups, they would see not a single woman, let alone a female founder. We have to improve women's access to capital to change this.
Take for example Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake, co-founders of Bridgit, a startup that creates apps to manage and track work on busy construction projects. As female entrepreneurs with backgrounds in construction and civil engineering, Ms. Brodie and Ms. Lake both know their way around job sites and had no problem persuading customers of their product's value.
They easily secured clients in the construction business, but faced an uphill struggle when pitching to some potential investors. Several venture capitalists just couldn't square the circle of a female-led tech startup selling to the male-dominated construction industry.
"A lot of investors work on pattern recognition," Ms. Brodie says. If you don't look or sound like a company they've made money on in the past, you're probably toast.
The #movethedial report outlines the problem, but the solution is staring us in the face: Economic access will level the playing field.
StandUp Ventures is a new VC fund focused on investing in female-led ventures. StandUp, with Business Development Bank of Canada as its lead partner and managed by seed-stage investor MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, just led a significant funding round for Bridgit that will enable the startup to expand its product line and expand into the United States.
Call it trickle-down demographics: We want to support female tech-company founders because we believe they will create jobs for women coders and the more likely they will be to inspire other women to become entrepreneurs and executives.
Action is needed across the board if we are to attract more women into tech – from encouraging girls to stick with science and math at school to developing corporate cultures that advance women.
StandUp isn't alone in trying to bring better gender balance into the startup funding landscape. The Canadian Venture Capital Association actively encourages its members to recruit more women, while a new Ryerson University-backed initiative called Innovate Inclusion is currently conducting an audit of gender and ethnic diversity in Ontario's tech startup incubators.
Female investment managers in the United States who are frustrated at the slow progress within traditional venture-capital firms are also striking out independently and setting up their own funds. And a handful of investment firms are experimenting with ways to remove gender biases when assessing startups, such as using a peer-review system.
We need much more of this kind of experimentation and innovation to give female entrepreneurs a fair chance at funding.
Building a company is difficult and many startups don't make it. But those that do create dividends for all women. Numbers don't lie: Women in technology will achieve parity when they gain economic access to funding.
Michelle McBane is director of the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund and StandUp Ventures. Joe Greenwood is MaRS executive lead, data, and program director of MaRS Data Catalyst.