Picture a tech leader in your mind. I'll bet you see a man.
That stereotype is common and reflects some startling facts. Only about 3 per cent of tech CEOs are women and less than a quarter of the tech-related work force in Canada is made up of women.
This is a problem. When we don't have women tech leaders we risk not hearing women's great ideas, seeking out their business, asking them for advice, hiring them onto leadership teams or inviting them onto boards.
If Canada doesn't connect our absolute best in tech – and that means everyone from every background – then we will fail to compete on the global stage.
So how can we help solve this problem? We need to mobilize a movement. We need to #MoveTheDial.
#MoveTheDial is a new movement focused on creating solutions for leadership diversity in tech. We're starting in Toronto but we have bigger ambitions. Our mission is to bring great people, minds, ideas and opportunities together to build connections that promote benefits for women tech leaders, the tech sector and the economy.
On Monday evening, we kicked off our initiative by hosting Canada's largest-ever gathering of women tech founders.
More than 100 female founders and another 100 female leaders, influencers and investors, along with major Canadian tech companies, leading tech investment funds and entrepreneurs were among more than 600 people in attendance at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.
#MoveTheDial isn't just about women. Men in leadership roles joined us because they understand Canada's potential as a tech titan requires full and diverse participation.
Canada has all the parts to build the world's best tech sector. We have entrepreneurs, accelerators, incubators, investors, companies, leaders, networks, universities, and government. They are all willing to play their part.
What we are missing is diversity and collaboration. That means men and women working together as one Canadian ecosystem. It needs to be structured with specific practical tactics and purpose to build and strengthen connections.
A great example to look to is an American endeavour called theBoardlist, which connects "highly qualified women leaders with opportunities to serve on private and public [tech] company boards."
As many as 78 per cent of privately-funded tech company boards have no women, theBoardlist estimates.
#MoveTheDial is actively working to bring theBoardlist to Canada. An adviser of theBoardlist, CEO Joanne Fedeyko of Connection Silicon Valley, will soon be meeting with me and other women tech leaders to help us build that very bridge that will allow us to collaborate.
Movements can't move without support and real action.
We are planning a series of #MoveTheDial events and activities nationally, including connection platforms for high-growth tech companies with female leaders to gain executive, advisory and board positions, pitch meet-ups to give women founders opportunities to practice, and get feedback on their pitches from leaders and funders, as well as skills workshops and mentoring.
We are also supporting innovative movements like the #GoSponsorHer challenge, which has convened a high-profile roster of senior leaders who are committed to sponsoring high-potential women in their networks. The challenge goes live on Jan. 23, and is an important complement to #MoveTheDial.
We will share our best practices and keep score of the impact our collaborative movement is having with clear outcomes of success, including: making Canada's tech ecosystem stronger, more diverse and collaborative; engaging 100 per cent of the tech talent pool; seeing more women leading startups and funded with significant capital; matching senior supporters with companies for board/advisory positions, and ensuring female tech leaders gain more experience making industry connections.
While #MoveTheDial is just starting, the time is ripe for change. We are seeing more women pursuing entrepreneurship in Canada, providing an untapped marketplace to invest in.
Several members of the tech community are offering their own women-focused opportunities. Examples include MaRS' Investment Accelerator Fund, which has a significant focus on women, Communitech's Tech Mentorship program and BDC's women-led startup tech fund.
While these few endeavours are great, they are not co-ordinated and operate on their own, in silos. #MoveTheDial's vision is to unify us.
Every female leader at Monday's event brought their distinct voices to the table, which makes for better business. They also brought with them an immense amount of talent. If we work together, we can get the best talent into the best roles, the right boards and top advisory positions.
No more waiting and no more excuses. Let's move the dial because it's not 2016 any more.
Jodi Kovitz is CEO of AceTech Ontario