#MoveTheDial, Feminuity offer strategies for companies at all stages to retain women in tech

women in tech

Women’s participation in Canada’s tech sector has remained stagnant over the last decade, and according to research conducted by #MoveTheDial and Feminuity half of women surveyed believe tech companies do not want to hire them.

“Lots of folks are talking about ‘diversity being our strength,’ but yet, we’re not seeing the rubber hit the road.”

The two diversity-focused organizations have released a new ‘playbook’ focused on actionable strategies tech companies can take to retain women workers. The playbook features insights and strategies that tech companies at various stages can adopt to increase inclusion and engagement. Insights are based on qualitative and quantitative research conducted over the last four months with 70 different members of Canada’s tech community.

“Although organizations of all sizes are investing a lot of time, energy, and resources to recruit and hire women, the same cannot be said about women’s experiences once they’re through the door,” said Jodi Kovitz, founder and CEO of #MovetheDial. “As a result, women continue to be vastly underrepresented in technology-centric workforces, especially in leadership positions. We developed this playbook to better understand and communicate how companies of all sizes can move the dial in a way that benefits all women in the tech sector.”

The research for the playbook found that a challenge faced by startups looking to attract and retain talent is that they are competing with well-resourced firms and scaleups, and often don’t have the same resources as their larger counterparts. In order to create value, the playbook said startups can offer flexibility and autonomy to their employees. It noted that when startups increase involvement in retentions, create diverse teams and products, and focus on resourcefulness, they can establish a strong foundation for inclusive growth.

The playbook highlighted the importance of startups being resourceful, even if they don’t have access to all the resources in order to retain women. Examples of resourceful actions can be simply asking people what would help them succeed, discussing career growth regularly, providing mentorship opportunities, and communicating the ‘exceptions.’ Exceptions could mean offering case-by-case support, such as parental leave top-ups, flexible or remote work arrangements, or mental health support.

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“While we know large enterprises … are well-resourced, and they can do lots within the org, at the startup stage, perhaps you can’t pay them, perhaps you can’t do things the same way,” Sarah Saska, co-founder and CEO of Feminuity, told BetaKit. “But you can still get creative. There are definitely some really interesting ways that people were able to leverage and get creative at that stage.”

The two organizations found that scaleups understand the importance of how to attract and retain women who are looking to grow their careers. These organizations, the playbook said, can focus their efforts on employee engagement, establishing a structure around best practices, and are learning about taking an intersectional approach to support their workforce.

Intersectionality was highlighted as a key approach for scale-ups to achieve equity in the workplace. Learning about intersectionality, and collecting and analyzing data using an intersectional approach were examples of how to integrate this philosophy into forming an equitable and inclusive place to work. This means understanding that women come from a variety of backgrounds, particularly racialized women, newcomers, new parents, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“What we learned is tech companies that are struggling to retain women, [are struggling] because they treat women as a single group,” Kovitz said. “There are many different types of needs that a woman who has multiple intersecting identities has. The companies that are able to understand it’s not a one size fits all solution, are the companies that are going to be able to do a better job at engaging and retaining different types of women.”

“The more that we can work together to move the dial, the more optimistic I am about all women in technology.”

For large enterprises, the biggest tech employers in the industry, the reporting found they are setting trends in, and taking a longer-term view on, women’s career paths. The playbook highlighted the role of a chief diversity officer in aiding the complex and challenging process of integrating diversity across a large company, as well as reimagining approaches to mental wellbeing, caregiving, and supporting work-life balance.

Findings from the playbook’s research speak to a long-existing challenge in Canada’s tech ecosystem, to successfully implement, diversify, and increase inclusion within its workforce. A 2018 report from MaRS Discovery District underscored the implementation problem, find that while employers generally understood the importance of diversity, inclusion, and belonging, they struggled to implement initiatives. Reports that followed have shown that women, People of Colour, and other marginalized individuals and communities continue to face barriers within the tech ecosystem.

“If you just look at the Canadian tech ecosystem in relation to, say, the US tech ecosystem, save Shopify, I struggled to think of any other Canadian tech company that has a chief diversity officer or related role that’s dedicated to these types of efforts,” Saska told BetaKit. “Lots of folks are talking about ‘diversity being our strength,’ yet, we’re not seeing the rubber hit the road.”

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“We recognize that the resources and constraints facing companies of different sizes will influence how they think about and inevitably take action on these strategies,” said Zak Hemraj, co-founder and CEO of Loopio, a tech company that participated in the playbook research. “That said, we think the findings are important to startups, scaleups, and enterprises alike, and we hope that these lessons will flow in multiple directions so that companies of all shapes and sizes can borrow from each other’s experiences.”

Saska told BetaKit she would like to see more research on the economic impact of workers leaving their jobs due to unfair treatment. Research from the Kapor Center for Social Impact found that turnover due to unfair treatment is a $16 billion problem in the US. Saska said she would want to know what that number would be in Canada.

“I think we’re at an interesting moment,” Saska said. “I think it’s really going to come down to whether people are willing to put some time, energy, and resources behind this. We’re trying to show that this doesn’t need to be wildly expensive, but it does take commitment.”

“I really celebrate the progress that the Canadian technology ecosystem is making,” Kovitz told BetaKit. “There are a number of companies and individual leaders who are doing great work. The more that we can work together to move the dial, the more optimistic I am about all women in technology, forming part of the design, leadership, and governance tables of our future economy.”

Image courtesy pxhere

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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