2022 recap: Diversity in tech

Tech and People Network hears from more employers eager to report what diversity looks like at their companies.

Photo: Unsplash

The tech sector is largely unrepresentative of Canada’s general population in terms of gender, ethnicity, and those with disabilities, finds the Tech and People (TAP) Network from its surveyed employers. The association of people and culture professionals in the industry published its third annual Diversity in Tech Dashboard earlier this year, noting a significant increase in company participation in its survey relative to past years.

Stephanie Hollingshead, CEO at the TAP network, told Vancouver Tech Journal that the initial years of asking diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) questions were met with hesitation. “The C-suite folks have gone from these reactions of, ‘Well, my legal team tells me we can't do that – it's not possible,’ or, ‘Oh, we're a very diverse organization,’ to these sort of platitude statements when they don't actually have any data to back that up.”

Now, the industry is starting to step up to the plate, with year-on-year increases in employer participation since the survey was first launched in 2020. “It's that act of measuring, saying, ‘You know what, I’m — as a leader — going to be vulnerable enough to actually ask these questions, and get these results of our own workforce, and see what it tells us,” said Hollingshead.

She noted that these reports translate into action in the workplace, with 28 percent of companies stating DE&I goals related to employee demographics, relative to 18 percent last year. “That's telling me companies are setting targets and they're working towards [them],” she said. “Some of them are admitting — you know what, we've been setting these targets, and we're frustrated because we haven't actually moved the needle. But what we have been able to do with this data is [that] within our own organization, we can tell what's better, what's working, and what's not working.”

Minorities in the workplace

Although the results are not wholly representative of the national tech sector — with participation of 193 employers in the survey relative to the tens of thousands of tech companies across the country — the dashboard does provide a glimpse into self-reported DE&I metrics in the workplace.

The report found that 40.6 percent of employees identified as a visible minority (non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour, excluding Indigenous peoples) relative to the population of visible minorities in Canada at 26.5 percent in the 2021 census. Canada’s labour shortage in tech has largely turned to immigration to fill in the gaps, with the expansion of programs that give priority to recruiting international tech talent, such as BC’s Provincial Nominee Program.

In terms of gender, women and non-binary individuals remain a minority at 35.8 and 0.4 percent of the tech employee workforce respectively, with the remaining 63.8 percent of the population identifying as male. Only 3.5 percent of employees identified as a person with a disability, in comparison to 22 percent across the country.

What meaningful participation of minorities in the sector can look like

Of those surveyed, 1.4 percent of employees identified as Indigenous, relative to a population of five percent across the country. Having Indigenous individuals present in the sector is a matter of aligning the technology with Indigenous priorities, said Tamara Goddard, member of the Saulteau Nation and lead strategist of the 400 Drums NFT marketplace.

These priorities vary from Nation to Nation, but from Goddard’s perspective, economic dignity and data sovereignty are big pieces of the puzzle. “We are the most researched people in Canada, and our data is incredibly valuable,” she said. As the CEO of Four our Future — an Indigenous-owned company that builds business plans and economic development models for communities — Goddard works to ensure that Indigenous youth can not only learn about high-impact technology, but also how to bring it back to their businesses and communities. “We were trying to bring a blockchain solution forward, to replace databases for Indigenous people,” Goddard says of a past project. “We, as Indigenous people, need to start owning things, not just a little percentage of the industry.”

Goddard noted that making space for Indigenous peoples in tech can enable better scale-up, particularly when brought on as partners. “When you're looking for mass adoption of new technology, Indigenous people are the best place to start,” she said. A survey conducted by Deloitte’s Future of Canada Centre found that Indigenous respondents were much more likely than the national average to use the internet to find like-minded people and for regular connection with community groups. “If you want to see something get picked up en masse, bring it to Indigenous people first, but let Indigenous people run that with you. Because you're going to prove out that model across Canada very, very quickly. We're connected with each other.”

For employers who currently hire, are looking to hire, or thinking of partnering with those who identify as Indigenous, Goddard had some thoughts to share. “When you're hiring an Indigenous person into a tech company, let the person be Indigenous and bring [their] knowledge forward. Because it's going to be very good for [your] company, whether in partnership or whether you're hiring an employee.”

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