Driving digital literacy with women in tech

Culture · Mar 8, 2019

Diversity in tech is increasingly in the spotlight as companies work to enhance their team culture, productivity and profit. HervolutionMove the Dial and Black Women in Tech are just some of the initiatives supporting the movement towards balanced gender representation, by creating spaces for women of all ages to learn, network and mentor. However beyond tech centers, what does representation actually look like? Until recently, we had little information on the number of women working in tech, their career trajectories or pain-points. 

Lucky for us, Women in Tech World (WiTWorld) made it their mission to find out. I sat down with the CEO and Founder of WiTWorld, Ali Close, to find out more about their work. 

How did WiTWorld come about? 

WiTWorld was born out of the massive gap in community-first initiatives that support access to tech for women in rural Canadian communities. About 50% of women leave the tech industry in the first four years. Speaking to women, it's not the work but the environment that makes them leave. There is programming for women leaders, but without entry-level support, we’ll never see enough women reach these positions.” 

In 2018, with four volunteers and a camper van, Ali set out on a three-month road trip across  Canada to hear from tech’s unheard voices. Thrilled to support this initiative, TELUS Digital supplied wifi to the group, enabling them to synthesize data on the road. From BC to Yukon to Newfoundland, WiTWorld met with over 1600 women and men in 30+ communities. After 10 months of research,  they launched a community-driven action plan to support and advance women in tech: Canada’s first Gender Equity Roadmap.

“Unless we were sleeping, we didn’t stay in one place longer than six hours, so a big piece of this project was ensuring we could work while on the road. With the amount of data we were collecting (over 200 hours in total), it was integral that we could send our files to the Toronto team, who were synthesizing data while we pushed on. Without TELUS Digital’s support, we could not have processed this material or found our results as quickly as we did.”

Report findings

Women in tech are:

  • From a variety of educational backgrounds, most having learned their technical skills through a university or college programs, though 24% are self-taught.

  • Mostly technical (41%), in marketing communications or (13%), business development/sales (10%) roles. 

  • At all organizational levels, with the majority being either entry-level (26%) management (26%) or owners/founders (12%).  

  • Mostly employed full time (69%), self-employed (15%) or students (7%). 

Barriers to women in tech:

  • Bias and discrimination: including condescending, racist, sexist, and "old school" attitudes towards women in the industry 

  • Organizational culture: feelings of not belonging, isolation, and an overall "bro culture"

  • Personal barriers: acknowledging a lack of confidence, intimidation, and fear, which are exacerbated by a sense of isolation in industry. 

  • Resources: highlighting unawareness and lack of support systems or resources in their community and workplaces

  • Education: speaking to the need to provide technical skills and diversity and inclusion training.

What women need to succeed:

  • Women mentors and role models in the tech industry, including strong leadership in the workplace.  

  • Networking for women (peer to peer and across tech sectors/groups). 

  • Appropriate family/parental policies in the workplace. 

  • Supportive communities providing opportunities for women at school and work.  

  • Accessible online education and self-learning programs. 

  • Tech programs, events, and workshops, including women's learning groups.  

  • Funding for women (scholarships and capital investment). 

Was there anything you learned that wasn’t featured in the report?

What we found surprising was the lack of connectivity remote communities experience every day. Living in big cities, we forget that rural communities don’t have much infrastructure to support its residents. Thanks to TELUS Digital, our RV was connected. But at a Tim Horton’s, for example, it could take 30 hours to upload one audio file. All these communities want to be part of the technological revolution that larger Canadian cities are enjoying. We can’t leave them behind. 

Our vision: to be a leader in Diversity and Inclusion 

One of our guiding principles is to strengthen communities around us, and we’re extremely proud of our collaborations in the diversity space. We know that increasing our gender diversity is not just about “hiring more women”. It requires culture shifts in how we see women in leadership roles, providing mentoring, training and advocacy tools, and engaging and investing in our communities to increase the talent base. This year, we’re equipping Canada Learning Code Code Mobiles with wifi so they can teach code in Canada’s most remote regions. This partnership aims to impact over 125,000 adult learners across Canada. 

We also know that gender diversity is not exclusively about the male: female ratio, nor is diversity in tech all about gender diversity. This March, we are proudly supporting the Venture Out conference, which brings together students and young professionals from the LGBTQA+ community (and allies) who are interested in pursuing careers in tech and entrepreneurship. We hope that through facilitating workshops, engaging with attendees, participating in the conversation, and sending our allies, we can help to empower the community and assist in developing the leaders of tomorrow.

We’re committed to celebrating and supporting diversity in our team and are always looking for more ways to highlight the stories of those untold (or not told enough). We recognize the platform TELUS and TELUS customers give us, and we want to use it to create a safer, more inclusive world.  

Authored by:
Joanna Carson
Community Manager
Joanna was previously the community manager at TELUS Digital, leading events strategy.