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To mark International Women’s Day, Desjardins Lab, MTL NewTech, and Coopérathon hosted Innovation for women: the engine for Québec Inc’s tomorrow. It featured conversations with founders about the issues that women face in the predominantly male-dominated tech world.
“The disparity in interest in technology dates back a long time.” – Cassie L. Rheaume
Three women were invited to the discussion: Anna Chif, co-founder of Dialogue, a virtual healthcare platform which recently raised $4 million; Pamela Alfred, co-founder of Ask-PAM, an application that centralizes the day-to-day operations of hotel concierges; and Cassie L. Rheaume, the head of Montreal’s chapter of Ladies Learning Code.
“The disparity in interest in technology dates back a long time,” said Rheaume. “It’s estimated to date back to the early ‘80s, when computers entered the home, and were marketed as toys for boys. Quickly, culturally and sociologically — in America at least — the idea of computers for girls was rejected.”
This gap has only widened, and to narrow it, it’s important to showcase models of success. These three women were great examples. Chif, whose company has equal representation among its founders — two women and two men — expresses it in these terms: “On our team, we have more female designers and more male developers, so we try to keep the balance at the entire team level.”
In terms of the various initiatives, the panelists’ companies have proposed to promote women in technology, and there’s general agreement that an accommodating work environment is absolutely necessary.
“We have a space where women can breastfeed, we are very flexible on schedules [for new mothers]. These are the kinds of things we’re trying to do to encourage more women to come and work with us,” Chif said.
But an inclusive environment goes both ways. “Unfortunately, when we organize events, about 70 percent of the attendees are men,” said Ilias Benjelloun, innovation lead for Desjardins Lab, and creative director at MTL NewTech, who moderated the discussion. “And when we organize events for women, there are hardly any men. It bothers me because it is not just a question of promoting women, but also of educating men.”
One solution put forward was to invite men to speak in these exchanges and to stop presenting women entrepreneurs as such, but simply as entrepreneurs. “In events for women, we must stop talking about women and we must talk about what they do, what they learn,” he added.
Thus, employers might change their perceptions and see a good opportunity to recruit. “I know male employers who are desperately looking for female developers,” Pamela Alfred said.
Meetings like this may encourage women to become involved with the community, but it should also be driven at the organizational level. “Just becoming a member [of the organizing committee] brings back more of our group, who will then become representative of the norm,” she said.
What’s more, this would be an ideal time to move forward on this side. “Our Prime Minister calls himself a feminist, loads of people are talking about it…I think it’s important to take advantage of this momentum to develop more action,” said Rheaume.