Making space for more women in tech

This International Women’s Day, we’re sharing what everyone — not just women — needs to do to build a better tech ecosystem.

From left to right: Yuan Shi, principal investor of the food and agtech fund at The51; Anthonia Ogundele, founder and executive director of Ethos Lab; Kathleen Reid, founder and chief communications officer of Switchboard Public Relations. Photos courtesy of LinkedIn.

We know the statistics. In B.C., women make up 18 percent of the tech workforce: a number that’s much less than the national average. For those employees, biases and expectations can make their jobs more difficult than for men. From my discussions around women's participation in the workforce, almost everyone commented about a need to work harder, smarter, or faster to be recognized at the same level as male colleagues. So this International Women’s Day, we dove into what it takes to not only make the lives of women in tech better, but how to build a more robust local tech ecosystem for everyone, taking into account the spectrums of gender, race, and sexuality.

Managing burnout

Women are statistically more likely to experience burnout than men: in some reports, by measures of over 30 percent. A number of systemic factors can contribute to this, such as the very real nature of the glass ceiling or the role of motherhood for women who pursue it (and the ensuing societal expectation to provide at home). Nonetheless, when women do find themselves in positions of burnout — what can be done?

Kathleen Reid, founder and chief communications officer at Switchboard Public Relations, distinctly recalled a panel that she participated in hosted by Vancouver Tech Journal. “We talked about how women — a lot of us are perfectionists,” she said. “You have to drop some of that — maybe just not have as many forms and outcomes and expectations around what something's going to be like.”

Reid, who also balances life as mother to a newborn and a toddler, attributes her community of support for getting through it all — a live-in nanny, family members, and her partner — for helping take care of things at home when she needs the time to focus on work. In particular, Reid shared how she and her partner have a relatively equal split when it comes to childcare, a product of strategies such as division of weekends for family and work catch-up. “We do a lot of divide-and-conquer parenting. [...] I would say if we didn't structure some of those things, it would be really difficult.”

While LinkedIn may be dotted with the career profiles of women in tech, what often isn’t captured on social media are the practices that go behind the success — namely, that it’s ok to rest and spend time on things that aren’t work. Reid is explicit about how these boundaries are vital to managing burnout. “I'm pretty good about turning my brain on and off,” she said. “So if I'm in work mode, I'm 110 percent in. If I'm in family mode, I'm 110 percent in. I’m really intentional with my time.”

Nonetheless, it takes a certain amount of confidence to get to this place of intentional boundary-setting: Reid admitted that it took time for her to grow this ability. Factors such as financial security and even greater systems of oppression can hinder how women perceive rest, and this is where the role of allyship is especially important.

Intersectionality and allyship

When considering the varying intersections of gender with identities including race, class, and sexuality, navigating the sector can look different. Success in the industry often relies on networking and strong relationships, and individuals don’t necessarily have the same common ground to play on — especially those who are most marginalized.

I’ve heard a range of stories in this space, from BIPOC women being mistaken for other women of the same ethnic minority at different companies, queer individuals who don’t feel comfortable talking about life outside of work, or young women who are perceived as junior staff when they occupy executive positions.

While some have mentioned that things are getting better, there unfortunately exists no evidence to support these claims. There is a clear gap in local data collection regarding the number of women in tech throughout the past number of years. However, for individuals who do sense improvement, they attribute the change to peers who are actively working to empower women in the sector. “I'll often say that it's a movement, not a moment, right?” said Yuan Shi, principal investor of the food and agtech fund at The51, a platform focused on diversifying capital for women and gender-diverse founders. “I have been championed and supported by many, many male colleagues [...] I don't take that for granted. Everything that I'm doing right now is to pay it forward.”

This notion of solidarity is key when it comes to building an equitable playing ground for our future generations of innovators. Women continue to create spaces that challenge mainstream narratives of what it looks like to work in tech, but it can’t just be women alone doing the work. “We cannot create an inclusive environment for girls or Black youth without addressing our dominant culture’s permissiveness of patriarchy and racism,” said Anthonia Ogundele, founder of Ethos Lab, a not-for-profit organization that conducts STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, Math) programming for all youth, with a particular focus on centering the Black experience. “There is a need for everyone to say under-representation is not ok.”

With this year’s International Women’s Day theme of embracing equity, there’s no better time for everyone to step up to the plate as allies. Take today as an opportunity to learn from women in your workplace, or from those with gender fluid or non-conforming identities.. It sets an example for others to uphold today, and as a model for future generations.

How to get involved

We’ve compiled a list of local programs and opportunities available beyond International Women’s Day for women and non-binary individuals to participate in (and which allies can support):

TiE Women, via TiE Vancouver

TiE Women is an annual program for mentoring, advising, and providing investor access to female founders. The program culminates in a global pitch competition with a representative from each chapter competing for $100,000 USD equity-free prize money. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis for the 2023 cohort. TiE Vancouver >>

The Odlum Brown Forum Pitch

The seven month program provides education, mentorship, and a community of access to capital for women entrepreneurs. The waitlist is open for women entrepreneurs interested in the 2023/2024 program, and tickets are still available for the 2022/2023 pitch competition finale, a fundraising event to take place on April 27. The Forum Pitch >>

Women’s Equity Lab

WEL was first founded in Victoria in 2017 to increase the role of women in early-stage investment. The Vancouver chapter was founded in 2020, and applications to join as an investor or for entrepreneurs looking for funding are accepted on a rolling basis. Women’s Equity Lab >>

WeBC (Women Entrepreneurs BC)

WeBC is a not-for-profit that provides skills development, financing, and mentorship for women entrepreneurs in B.C. The organization hosts a number of free, educational webinars online, and also offers loans on an ongoing basis. WeBC >>

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