Originally published on MoveTheDial.ca, October 20, 2017
Addressing unconscious biases. Drawing attention to microaggressions. Disclosing diversity Mandates. Setting gender targets. #GoSponsorHer. #MoveTheDial. There is something in the air these days – and I’m proud to be a voice in the crowd. As a TD employee, I recently attended a TD Women in Leadership event, Addressing Gender Barriers & Winning with Allies, hosted by Shari Graydon. Named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women, Shari engaged the audience in a crucial and honest dialogue – in her uniquely spirited style – about issues facing women in the workplace, their barriers to leadership, and what it means to be an ally. Talk about a packed agenda.
150 men and women filled the room and openly shared personal stories, challenges, and triumphs. The space was buzzing with narratives ranging from being advised how to dress in a professional setting (women shouldn’t show their bare arms according to some!) to the challenges – and opportunities – facing today’s young girls, tomorrow’s leaders. The event concluded with a TD Executive Panel Discussion – equal parts engaging, entertaining, and enlightening. I walked out of the half-day event with concrete ideas and takeaways. One that sticks out: know your value and how to communicate it.
Fortunately, TD’s voice in this space is just one of many and this event was far from an isolated one. Just a few days earlier, I received a call from my good friend, Jodi Kovitz, a trailblazer in the Toronto tech community. Jodi is CEO of AceTech Ontario, a non-profit member-based community organization for technology leaders to network, seek guidance, and offer advice. She is also the passionate founder of the #MoveTheDial movement which burst onto the Toronto tech scene this past January with an event that hosted 1,000 supporters and presented a momentous mission to Canada and the world: increase female participation and leadership in tech.
Jodi invited me to attend the TakeOver Innovation Conference on October 2 in downtown Toronto, hosted by TribalScale, a digital product, strategy, design, and engineering firm. As Sheetal Jaitly, the candid and charismatic CEO of TribalScale proudly declared during his closing remarks, the conference’s goal was to achieve 50/50 representation between its male and female speakers. That goal was surpassed: 52% of the 83 speakers were women.
This. Is. Big. News.
As Roger Chabra, TribalScale CIO tweeted: “A tech conference with more female speakers than men? Yes that’s us.”
And as Jay Rosenzweig, CEO, Rosenzweig & Company affirmed during his powerful talk at TakeOver, this is as much about men as it is about women: “In addition to encouraging women to step forward as entrepreneurs in the tech space…I invite men to also step forward…as champions of gender equality.”
With so many important conversations happening around the topic of diversity, inclusion, and equal female representation, let’s take this opportunity to hear more from some of the most passionate voices in this space.
Why is this topic so important? Why now?
Diversity and inclusion has always been important. We have a long way to go, but this topic has been getting more attention over the past couple years. Thank goodness for that, it’s a long time coming and overdue. Diversity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s simply good for business.
According to an important study by McKinsey & Co., companies with more diverse workplaces perform better financially. Macro trends like increased global competition, more rapid pace of technology adoption, proliferation of new technology platforms and decreasing costs to launch startups have companies, both large and small, constantly scrambling to prosper. Companies are realizing that in order to outcompete in their markets and truly serve the needs of their customers they have to put together the best teams possible, and that means teams with varied backgrounds, opinions and experiences. Diversity and inclusion are powerful strategic weapons, and the best companies in the world are recognizing this and taking steps to build it into the core of their organizations.
What are the stats and what needs to change? And what progress has been made already?
If I can reference the 2017 Rosenzweig Report: of the 25 biggest publicly traded companies in Canada, there are only 6 female Named Executive Officers or 5%. It means that at the ‘biggest of the bigs’, 95% of the top executives remain men.
I think the progress being made is in the awareness that’s been generated and the conversations being had as a result of movements like #MoveTheDial, #GoSponsorHer, and others like #HeForShe. We’re having the right conversations. We’re seeing our leaders, like prime minister Justin Trudeau, set new standards and examples by creating a gender parity in his cabinet. We’re starting to make the changes that are removing the barriers to equality. It’s progress, but our work is by no means done.
What can each and every one of us do to #MoveTheDial?
I firmly believe it will take a concerted, sustained effort by a great many individuals at the grassroots level – men as well as women – to #MoveTheDial. Big, important initiatives, including legislation, can seem distant to the average person. If you feel that way, then concentrate on the things close at hand. Encourage women to speak up in meetings. Fight stereotypes with facts.
I mentioned at the conference that, contrary to popular belief, women can do very well in the tech field. First Round Capital, a respected VC company, found that start-ups involving at least one female founder perform 63% better than those with all-male founders. I would also suggest that women and girls should enlist their male partners, fathers, brothers and sons in the struggle to achieve gender equality. I say that because fostering diversity and equality are societal issues that need to be tackled by us all, every day, in every interaction we have. As Parachute Club vocalist Lorraine Segato once put it, small victories are big steps.
Jay Rosenzweig, CEO, Rosenzweig & Company
What can we look forward to on the topic of women in leadership? What’s next for the Toronto Tech community – and the global community for that matter?
There has clearly been positive change and excellent diversity champions and initiatives underway for many years. That said, the stats in the soon to be released #movethedial Where is the Dial Now? report on #womenintech in Canada, will be a wake up call and a necessary call to action that we need to do more to #movethedial to change the face of tech leaders in Canada. This report is the first of its kind – a national collaboration delivering a baseline to the community on where we are at, brought to you by 8 tech community partners.
I believe that we can watch our Toronto Tech community build on the momentum we have created in 2017 to meaningfully come together to actively and collaboratively direct our efforts towards what it will take to #movethedial for women: committing to a mindset to help advance women.
We now see as an ecosystem that is our full talent pool that will make us more competitive on the global stage and that #diversityisourstrength. We see the great opportunity for us to collaborate more deeply as a tech & innovation community towards this end, and I can’t wait to see the impact that will occur when we weave our initiatives and tactics together to make greater and faster change. We are stronger together.
Thank you Roger, Sheetal, Jay, and Jodi. Your insights, passion, and commitment to drive this conversation forward is inspiring – and needed. As a female leader myself, a mentor to young men and women, and a mother to an 11-year-old girl and her two younger brothers, I know how important it is that we see continued and accelerated progress, and that we use our voices, the data, and our collective might to #MoveTheDial.