Moving The Dial asks senior leaders to go out of their way to support #womenintech

Despite its organizational genesis only three weeks ago, last night’s Moving The Dial event attracted hundreds of people — with a lineup stretching past the event doors at the MaRS Discovery District.

Emphasizing an action-oriented focus, the night was meant to spotlight the issues women face in the tech industry, and the best ways that we can support women trying to break into leadership roles.

Jodi Kovitz, the leader of Moving The Dial’s organizing team, kicked off the night by sharing how Moving The Dial is part of her long-term vision at AceTech, where she joined as CEO only four months ago.

“Don’t think you’re not qualified; have the chutzpah and have the audacity. Your number one enemy is yourself.”

“At my first dinner with our members in September, I looked around the room of 150 in attendance that night, and two percent were women,” said Kovitz. “And in that moment, day four on the job, as I was articulating my strategy as their new CEO, I said that one of the things I was going to do at AceTech was collaborate with everyone else doing great work in the ecosystem. I want to ensure that in three years, more than 50 percent of that room of founders and tech execs would be women.”

The night included short talks from women like Councillor Michelle Holland, Toronto’s new advocate for the innovation economy; MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht and IaF investment director Michelle McBane; iAngels North America VP Lee Moser; and Candice Faktor of Faktory Ventures, who each talked about what they were doing to support women and building stronger startups ecosystems.

But there was also an opportunity to hear from on-the-ground founders and investors. In a panel moderated by Siri Agrell, Mayor John Tory’s director of strategic initiatives, the speakers touched on the day-to-day challenges they saw in trying to break into the tech ecosystem, and how to encourage women to pursue a career in an industry seen as a boys’ club.

Janet Bannister, partner at Real Ventures, said that she tries to see being one of the few women in the room as an advantage rather than feeling uncomfortable by it. “I try to look at it as an advantage, if we’re looking at this as a glass half full. When I go to events where there’s a room full of men, people are more likely to remember me the next day.”

While women have a tendency to feel like they aren’t qualified for certain jobs, Eva Wong, COO and co-founder at Borrowell, shared that she didn’t have a tech background. Borrowell is considered one of Toronto’s hot FinTechs, regularly announcing new partnerships with big banks and fellow startups.

“I’m a co-founder of a FinTech startup and I have no background in financial services, startups, or technology… I meet with a lot of people and our CEO interviews a lot of people who are interested in FinTech and a job at Borrowell, and I would say 75 percent of those people are men. Maybe even more,” said Wong. “Don’t think you’re not qualified; have the chutzpah and have the audacity. Your number one enemy is yourself.”

Jennifer Lee Koss, co-founder of BRIKA, also emphasized that anyone who wants to break into a network or learn something new should be assertive in reaching out. “I’m the number one believer in not having any shame. Which means, if you wanna talk to someone or get someone’s attention, email or call them. The worst possible case is they say no. More often than not, people will say yes and take the time, and then things happen.”

As women are believed to be less assertive, Agrell posed the question of what men do that women should do more of to advocate for their own ideas at the table.

Abigail Slater, director of Barlow Lane Holdings and board chair at SheEO, was quick to jump in and exclaim that she hated the question. “We have to stop trying to be like men. And we have to allow men to see the value that women bring that may be different. It may be a different way of advocating — we don’t advocate less, we just advocate differently.”

As attendees eagerly talked amongst themselves at the end, Kovitz suggested that one of the biggest factors in encouraging women to pursue leadership roles was building relationships — and that the onus was both on the women themselves and senior leaders to reach out.

“You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone with the courage to just say hello. You have to meet the people to even have the possibility to network; it’s not easy for all people, and women have to work even harder in the tech community to push themselves out of their comfort zone,” said Kovitz.

To senior leaders: “Go out of your way to help someone achieve their most important goals that are not necessarily obvious. You have to listen to people to understand what their objectives are. Once you understand what their objectives are personally and professionally, you go out of your way to be generous and help them achieve that.”

Kovitz said that the Moving The Dial team will announce a hackathon in the spring, which she said will connect junior people, investors, and founders to brainstorm ideas. “This is all about small action, being thoughtful, and taking the moment. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to help people, that’s my whole life philosophy.”

Feature image via SheEO

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang is BetaKit's News Editor. Follow her on Twitter @jessicagalangg or send her pitches to jessica.galang@betakit.com.