Canadian tech leaders sign #weneedboth pledge asking women to advocate for men on diversity panels

diversity in tech

In January 2018, NRStor CEO Annette Verschuren, GoSponsorHer co-founder Laura McGee, Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz, and General Electric Canada Elyse Allen CEO launched #weneedboth, a movement aimed at “tackling gender diversity through collective action.”

Open to women and men, the pledge asks women invited to speak at panels to advocate for at least one man on the panel, while men are invited to commit to “raise their hand” and show they’re willing to participate in discussions on gender equality. “When men are not included, we miss out on diversity of thought from important stakeholders and changemakers,” the website reads.

#weneedboth pledges

The separate asks presented to potential male and female #weneedboth signees.

The pledge has 90 signatories so far, including notable Canadian tech and business leaders such as former RBC CEO, Gord Nixon, Business Council of Canada CEO and former deputy prime minister, John Manley, and League founder, Mike Serbinis. The latter took to Twitter to share support, where he presented the pledge as a commitment to not join panels lacking in women. (Update: We’ve added commentary from Serbinis at the end of this story).

#weneedboth pledge signees also include Canadian tech leaders known for supporting women in tech through their work, including Move The Dial founder, Jodi Kovitz, and StandUp Ventures managing director, Michelle McBane. BetaKit has reached out to both women, several other signees, and #weneedboth’s co-founders for comment on the initiative and their support of it (Update: We’ve added commentary from co-founder Laura McGee and Move the Dial founder Jodi Kovitz below).

BetaKit is committed to supporting diversity in tech and similar impact initiatives across Canada, but to date has been unaware that a lack of men’s representation on diversity panels was a source of concern. It seems that many in the Canadian tech community feel the same, with public outcry on social media, including the #weneedboth Twitter hashtag.

Some of the criticisms include the general inequity of the ask. In an industry where men already dominate many panels, the pledge calls on women to advocate for men, while men are not asked to do the same; those speaking out against the pledge said that men should be more focused on being in the audience listening. The initiative also seems trans-exclusionary, by not recognizing people who don’t identify as male or female.

“The premise, if managed well, is okay. Women can’t just talk about gender with one another when all the power and authority lies with men. However, the operative word is if managed well,” Saadia Muzaffar, founder of TechGirls Canada, told BetaKit. “I think it needs to be steered with clarity on what the power balance is. What are these men who are being invited in being asked to do? Also, from what I can tell, it’s headed by a team of white women, so I am hoping that they will do the necessary work to ensure that the intersections of race, ability, gender, and class are considered.”

The #weneedboth initiative is reportedly inspired by a similar movement in Australia which asked men business leaders to pledge that they would not join panels that did not include women. It does not appear that the Australian movement also required women to advocate for men.

“The diversity conversation does need more men. In the audience. Listening and learning and quietly using their power for change. Not re-centering the conversation on their perspectives,” said Johnathan and Melissa Nightingale, founders of Raw Signal Group, when asked by BetaKit for comment.

UPDATE: 02/09/17 at 15:33 PM EST

The #weneedboth website has been updated, and the organization has removed the separate calls to action for men and women. The website instead calls for all genders to commit to ensuring panels on gender advancement are as inclusive as possible, and invites supporters to send tactical ideas on building a more inclusive society.

The co-founders have also removed their names from the About section, though a similar call to action — for women to ask organizers to include “diverse perspectives,” on panels about gender diversity, while men can “raise their hand” to show that they want to participate — remains at the bottom of the page.

UPDATE: 02/09/17 at 10:09 AM EST

Michelle McBane, managing director of StandUp Ventures, provided the following comment to BetaKit:

“The wording of the pledge was unfortunate; however, I fundamentally believe that we need all stakeholders in the community actively involved in this discussion – I believe that was the spirit of the pledge and that’s why I signed.”

UPDATE: 02/09/17 at 10:09 AM EST

Michelle McBane, managing director of StandUp Ventures, provided the following comment to BetaKit:

“The wording of the pledge was unfortunate; however, I fundamentally believe that we need all stakeholders in the community actively involved in this discussion – I believe that was the spirit of the pledge and that’s why I signed.”

UPDATE: 02/08/17 at 17:42 PM EST

Jodi Kovitz, founder of Move The Dial, sent the following statement to BetaKit:

“I believe there are nuances in the messaging that need to be improved, including being inclusive of all genders (not only people who identify as men or women) which I communicated today to Laura [McGee]. However, I support the idea that we need everyone to work together to advance women, and that while in some ways the pledge missed the mark, the more we collectively focus on positivity and good the further we go: and I know that the intentions of the creators of this initiative were good. They are open to feedback, and will take it to improve.”

UPDATE: 02/08/17 at 16:42 PM EST

BetaKit spoke with #weneedboth founder Laura McGee, who said that the intention of #weneedboth is to ensure that discussions on gender are as inclusive as possible, which means ensuring representation from all groups.

“I definitely wouldn’t say that we’re asking women to advocate for men. At the end of the day what we’re worried about is having a panel of women speaking to a room full of women and preaching to the choir. The objective here is to encourage women who are asked to speak on panels about gender advancement to ask organizers to ensure that it’s inclusive and that we get a diversity of perspectives,” she said.

McGee also said that it was “not acceptable” for men to isolate themselves and retreat during these conversations. “We’re asking men to put themselves out there and say, ‘I’d love to be part of the solution, and I’d love to join these conversations and be part of these panels or at least listen in, so I can learn what I can do personally to be an ally of the movement.”

McGee said that #weneedboth is reaching out to people who have voiced concerns and working to improve their messaging and come up with tactical solutions for all genders. On feedback that the language used was trans-exclusionary, she said that the organization will update its messaging with the understanding that gender is not binary.

League CEO Mike Serbinis also added this commentary:

“It is up to both men and women to ensure gender diversity and advancement takes place in the workforce. At League, we encourage rich and inclusive discussions about gender diversity. Our internal HR team is dedicated to creating company-wide programs to help achieve an even stronger and more diverse workforce and culture.”

Feature photo courtesy Unsplash.

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Freelance tech writer. Former BetaKit News Editor.