While Canada has a general reputation of embracing innovators and tech leaders from diverse backgrounds with unique perspectives, the country’s tech and startup sector continues to express concerns around diversity, inclusion, and equal representation.
To start a meaningful conversation about prioritizing diversity, Toronto-based StackAdapt, a native advertising platform, launched #HackDiversity, an 18-minute documentary that aims to raise awareness about barriers to diversity in the tech sector, and calls for immediate action against unconscious biases within the industry.
To create the documentary, the company spoke with six different leaders from Toronto’s tech startup ecosystem including Jeanette Stock, chair of Venture Out; Heather Payne, CEO of HackerYou; Jaime Woo, engineering communications at Shopify; Elena Armstrong, founder of Exact Media; Ali Asaria, CEO of Tulip Retail, and Salim Teja, EVP of ventures at MaRSDD.
Vitaly Pecherskiy, COO and co-founder of StackAdapt, said the company gained inspiration to create #HackDivesity after having an internal discussion about how StackAdapt could show support for the LGBTQ+ community in tech during Pride month.
“The absence of the LGBT community, women, and visible minorities in technology is a systematic disappointment.”
“As we researched the issue of diversity in tech, we realized that it goes way beyond HR initiatives,” said Pecherskiy. “The absence of the LGBT community, women, and visible minorities in technology and computer science is a systematic disappointment. There are many studies and articles addressing this subject but very few calls to action. That’s why we asked leaders in our forward-thinking industry to aid us in a call to arms.”
Throughout the documentary, Toronto’s tech leaders make several calls to action, including increasing diversity in the talent pipeline by fostering an accessible and welcoming environment for visible minorities. StackAdapt says that adequate representation would encourage young people from diverse communities to seek out and acquire the skills they need to enter the tech sector.
In #HackDiversity, the tech leaders also touch on personal experiences facing underrepresentation and exclusion at tech events and within the startup community. Among them is Asaria, who speaks about the limitations he experiences as a CEO when trying to make connections with investors.
“A lot of leaders are so far removed from what’s happening in their companies that they don’t see the little things that creates these biases.”
“It’s subtle in the sense of not feeling like you’re from the same group as the people that you’re trying to do business with and how do you interface and feel the connection with them,” said Asaria. “For me, it’s been tough. I’ll see peers of mine, other entrepreneurs who can form a deep bond with VCs because they can go drinking with them and hang out with them and act like they’re family, and I feel like it’s a little harder for me. There’s a bit of a culture barrier.”
#HackDiversity also calls for prioritizing and tracking diversity in company culture, talent acquisition, retention, and advancement by reporting on diversity numbers as a way to measure success. The film also stressed the need for Canada’s startup ecosystem to overcome unconscious workplace bias through transparent and open communication.
“A lot of leaders are so far removed from everyday [of] what’s happening in their companies, that they don’t see the little things that happen that creates these biases, that create these groups and separations within their teams,” says Armstrong.
Payne says these biases can be removed when companies and institutions prioritize diversity within their respective environments. “If every company took the same stance when they were building their team, if every university and college took the same stance and said ‘it is critical for us to make sure that there’s diversity in our classroom, in our workplace, on our teams,’ we could make change happen very quickly,” she says.
#HackDiversity is not the first initiative to address issues around diversity in tech. Earlier this year, Jodi Kovitz, CEO at AceTech Ontario, launched #MoveTheDial as a way to address the lack of women’s representation at tech events. Initiatives like theBoardlist and Women and Color are also examples of grassroots initiatives tackling the issue of equal representation in the tech sector.
Watch the full documentary here.