As a historically heavily male-dominated sector, the world of technology and innovation seems most fitting for this year’s International Women’s Day theme #BreaktheBias.
Bias in tech and innovation
Although 82 per cent of women aged 25 to 54 now participate in Canada’s workforce, only 30 per cent of people working in tech and innovation identify as female according to the latest Humi Canadian HR Benchmark report.
The underrepresentation can be seen at all levels, but it becomes more pronounced with senior positions. A report from AnitaB.org, a global non-profit focused on intersectional gender and pay parity in tech, found that women hold 33 per cent of entry level positions, 26 per cent of mid-level positions, 21.5 per cent of senior positions and 22 per cent of executive positions. Only 11 per cent of tech and innovation CEOs are female.
So what is it that is keeping women from breaking the bias?
Seeing is believing
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, part of the problem is that younger women don’t see themselves represented in tech and are not inspired to enter the field. Some studies, including one by SAP Canada, report that 50 per cent of Canadian women feel tech companies don’t really want to hire them, and 55 per cent believe that Canadian tech companies have a bad reputation when it comes to gender equality.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation says there is a need for more female representation at all career levels, but stresses that it is especially important for young women to see females in power. When more women ascend to leadership roles, they become role models to girls and to other women. “More women leaders will also influence the high-level decision-making that will pave the way toward gender equality.”
That sentiment is backed by a KPMG study on women’s leadership, which found that 86 per cent of women report that when they see more women in leadership, they are encouraged they can get there themselves.
Funding the future
What is clear is that if more women are to hold positions in the innovation industry, including those at the executive level, a real effort must be made to build opportunities. A big part of that effort includes funding. Yet the venture capital space is another area that lacks female representation, with only 19 per cent of VC partners in Canada identifying as female, according to a report by intelligence platform Diversio. Historically, this has meant men in positions of power dismissed women and women-led businesses as uninvestable, because of both conscious and unconscious bias.
Canadian Women in VC is a grassroots organization that gives self-identified female venture capitalists across Canada the opportunity to share best practices, network, and support each others' career development. Founding member, Nabeela Merchant, believes that women must not only be supported by other leaders within an organization, but also must be given the capital and trust to bring their own innovations to fruition. “Women have incredible ideas and ambitions. We have long talked about empowering them, but that talk needs to go hand-in-hand with tools, resources, and funding.”
Merchant is also a Senior Associate with the TELUS Pollinator Fund, responsible for analyzing and executing on investment opportunities in sustainability, healthcare, agriculture, and inclusive communities. Sixty per cent of the Pollinator Fund team itself identify as female, and in 2021, as part of its inaugural year, the Pollinator Fund invested in ten companies, 40 per cent of which are led by women. She says that having female investors is an important factor in reducing bias around women-owned startups and increasing female entrepreneurship. “As women, we have different lived experiences and can see opportunities that may have been historically dismissed. By reassessing these opportunities, we can not only help break the bias in investing but also fund solutions that impact a broader population.”
“The Pollinator Fund along with other organizations making a conscious effort to support and fund women are important catalysts for change” says Blair Miller, Managing Partner, TELUS Pollinator Fund. “Within our portfolio today, there are a number of companies that are strong examples of the female-led businesses out there with compelling and exciting growth potential that deserve an opportunity to recognize their full potential. We are incredibly proud and honoured to invest in female leaders who are trailblazers in driving innovation in their industries, creating great business, and, in turn, inspiring the next generation.”
Ones to watch
Here are some of the TELUS Pollinator Fund’s female innovation leaders making a difference:
Are you a female innovator? Check out these resources and funding opportunities to help you #BreaktheBias