Techopia-EY Insights: Women remain under-represented at top levels of tech

Sonya Shorey, vice-president of strategy, marketing and communications at Invest Ottawa, says the "dial is moving slowly" when it comes to the representation of women in tech. File photo
Editor's Note

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While progress has been made, industry observers agree that there’s a long way to go before women are regularly taking on leadership roles in the tech sector — across Canada and here in Ottawa.

Although statistics pertaining to female leadership across the region’s tech companies are not available, cross-Canada results indicate that women fill just 10 per cent of C-suite positions, contrasted with 13 per cent in the U.S. 

Women appear to be doing somewhat better — albeit still nowhere near parity — at the board level across Canada. According to Osler’s seventh annual report on diversity, women hold 23.4 per cent of board seats among all companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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But, let’s face it, that’s still a failing grade.

The numbers don’t appear much brighter if you look beyond the executive floor. Statistics from Ottawa-based Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) show that the percentage of technology-focused women employees throughout Canada’s information and communications technology sector has increased just 2.3 per cent, to 21.3 per cent, since 2011. 

As low as those numbers appear, the stats can actually be seen as good news, considering the percentage of women in all job categories across the sector has declined by 2.5 per cent over the same period.

“The dial is moving slowly,” says Sonya Shorey, vice-president of strategy, marketing and communications at Invest Ottawa. “It needs to move faster and the only way we can do that is through more systematic and intentional collaborations with everyone across society.” 

Shorey says the numbers are particularly worrisome when you look at how many young women are positioning themselves for jobs in technology management.

“There are a lot of statistics that are concerning, particularly when you look at the pipeline and how it’s growing and where the funding or venture capital is going … A very common statistic is that only 2.3 per cent of venture capital funding over the last year was allocated to businesses with sole women founders and owners. That is a statistic that absolutely must change.”

To bolster her argument, Shorey points to a 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, “The Power of Parity: Advancing women’s equality in Canada,” which concluded that Canada could add $150 billion in incremental GDP by 2026 if the country took steps to address the gender imbalance.

A generation older than Shorey and a mainstay of Ottawa’s technology landscape for 30 years, Joanne Stanley, WCT’s executive director, agrees there’s been some progress, but says, “Our numbers really haven’t changed very much. I would say they’ve gone from negative to neutral over the past 20 to 25 years.”

Stanley says where the region has excelled has been in helping women entrepreneurs and female-led startups.

“We’re doing really well in that regard,” she says. “But if I scan the area for true role models — women CEOs who are willing to step up and speak out — I don’t see them. I don’t have one contact like that in Ottawa, but I could name you four or five in Calgary.”

Bucking that trend in Ottawa often means finding alternative routes to the C-suite, which can often mean using the federal government as a stepping stone.

Doris Qian, a 29-year-old who was named WCT’s Rising Star for 2022, is a leading example. A University of Ottawa graduate who majored in digital transformation and innovation at the institution’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Qian currently holds the position of IT team leader at Environment and Climate Change Canada. After exploring positions in software testing, project management and data security, she says she’s found her niche in a job that enables her to collaborate with a variety of business clients and IT teams.

Her journey so far has taught her that young women must be both passionate about their career path and steadfast.

“It’s really important to be very determined and remain open to opportunities,” she says. “You have to trust your abilities … and understand the differences between how men and women achieve success. It’s important to understand those differences, recognize them and accept that’s the reality you have to work with.”

As she looks at the coming three decades of her working life, she says she hopes for nothing more than fair treatment.

“The goal is to no longer be judged based on age, gender, appearance; just to get the equal opportunities. That would be the ideal situation.”

That’s a desire shared by Carrie-Anne Mercer, who says she’s experienced a diverse range of treatment during her path to vice-president of brand marketing at Minneapolis-based Entrust, a cybersecurity company with an office in Ottawa. She says she’s seen environments that ranged from challenging to outright hostile. 

Adding to that, she says women still have a long way to go to escape stereotyping and unequal expectations.

“For example,” she says, “most domestic work is still led and done by women. And so, when a woman shows up at work every day, she doesn’t just get to wake up, roll out of bed into the shower and head into the office. Oftentimes, the male leaders, my male counterparts, never had to take full responsibility both in the office and at home.”

Looking ahead, Mercer sees opportunities, but ongoing challenges, as well.

“I see my daughter’s and my sons’ generation as being much more open to diversity and change than my age group. So that gives me a lot of hope for our future leaders.”

Check out Techopia-EY Insights here.

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