by Koleya Karringten
When I look around at any of the many technology and business events I attend, I’m thrilled to see an incredible number of talented, successful women from a wide variety of backgrounds. Not only am I happy to see our tech ecosystem becoming more diverse because I believe it’s ethical and fair, but it gives my faith in Alberta’s economic future a huge boost. It might sound a little biased, coming from a female cleantech entrepreneur – but trust me, there are some great reasons behind why I think women’s participation in technology is the game-changer Alberta needs.
Things were a little different when I started my journey in clean technology more than a decade ago with my company, Absolute Combustion. Sure, there were a handful of powerful female leaders in the oil and gas industry, and a scattering of successful women in our innovation ecosystem. But at every conference I attended, I stood out by a mile. When I sat as panelist, I have a hard time recalling a woman ever taking one of the other chairs. And as a young entrepreneur, I felt this aloneness in a visceral way – a sense that because I didn’t really see anyone like me, that maybe I didn’t really belong.
“Right now is a great time to be a women in tech, but there’s not enough women in tech.”
Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo
In some ways, the blockchain technology industry is even further behind. Just last year at a conference I partnered in hosting, I could count the number of women on one hand. In my role as the Executive Director of the Alberta Blockchain Consortium, I might make our corner of the ecosystem seem diverse, but according to one major study by Longhash.com, female participation in the industry is around just 15%. The few other women and I always joke at events that we’ll know we’ve finally made it when there’s a lineup for the lady’s restroom.
It’s easy to see that a big gender divide still exists in tech, and there are urgent reasons why it needs to be taken seriously. I’m occasionally asked the question of why diversity so important, and it’s a complex topic with a lot of nuances. Most people tend to agree that more women in technology would be a good thing, but apart from working to correct the gender gap because it’s the fair thing to do, I think there’s a lack of understanding as to just how transformative making this leap would be for our country.
A large study in 2015 by research firm McKinsey & Company came to a stunning conclusion – that if women achieved parity with men in the workforce, it would add $150 billion to our GDP by just 2026. For a country with slow economic growth hovering around 2% a year, and lagging the other developed nations in innovation, this would be an incredible boost to our fiscal outlook. And our technology sector is one of the highest paid and quickly expanding parts of our economy, making it a prime area to reap the benefits of gender parity.
“The time is long overdue to encourage more women to dream the possible dream.”
-Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
I’m a strong believer in meritocracy, and I would never want to be given an opportunity purely based on my gender, and neither would most of the women I know. But our uneven female participation in tech isn’t caused by lack of merit or talent – it’s about engagement. Women need to see the opportunities, feel a sense of belonging, and be inspired to lean in to one of the most exciting and high-growth areas of our economy.
It’s not about moving unqualified people ahead because they tick boxes on a diversity checklist – but attracting brilliant, creative women into fast-growing fields that need their abilities and contributions. These talented women might otherwise go into relatively crowded industries like finance, academia or medicine, but it’s our technology sector that desperately needs them. Canada has a massive shortfall in skilled high-tech labour, and we’re wasting time and money on international recruitment when a much more sustainable solution is to tap into our hidden talent pool right here at home.
Knowing what the economic cost is to our high-tech gender gap, how do we recruit more women into non-traditional fields? It’s not just about recruitment from other sectors, promoting at post-secondary institutions, or increasing the visibility of job opportunities. There’s a full life cycle of engagement that needs to be fostered to get the results that Alberta needs, and it starts with girls.
“When we invest in women and girls, we’re investing in the people who invest in everybody else”
A few years ago, I met a woman so inspiring that I felt compelled to support her in anyway I could. While working on my company’s technology partnership with the Edmonton International Airport, I was introduced to Kendra Kincade, who came into the male-dominated (and short on labor) field of aviation later in her career. Seeing the need to start inspiring female participation at a young age to help close the gender gap and fill our employment shortfall, she began Elevate Aviation, which teaches girls about the amazing possibilities offered by this non-traditional field.
These are the programs that make a difference in women’s lives and will drive our economy forward. The benefits of inclusion for women and other underrepresented groups can be found across the full spectrum of our society, and will uplift our economy, build a stronger social fabric and help Canada stay competitive on the international stage. I’ve saved the good news for last. When it comes to women in tech, it’s Alberta’s time to shine.
We’re already leading the country in closing the gender gap in technology. Female participation in our companies is twice the national average, according to the Alberta Enterprise Corporation. Their landmark study, published in 2019, showed that an astounding 30% of our tech firms have a female founder or co-founder. In the blockchain technology industry, where I’m a Director of the Canadian Blockchain Association for Women, I’ve seen a massive increase in female interest and engagement over the last year.
Not only are more women working in tech, but all around me, I see inspiring women supporting their communities and promoting our emerging companies at the head of non-profits and innovation organizations. Technology often gets stereotyped as an industry that can be lacking in relationship development, and this is a key area where our high female participation is differentiating us from anywhere else in Canada.
Ecosystems are the crucial foundation for helping tech companies make the challenging leap from concept to a real-world, profitable product or service. With our inspiring women leaders helping make connections, build relationships and create a welcoming culture, our ecosystems are the best in Canada, and the growth in our tech sector is showing it. I’ve made it one of my key priorities in 2020 to keep moving the dial on women in technology forward – let’s work together to make it happen.
Learn more about Elevate Aviation: www.elevateaviation.ca
Learn more about Koleya Karringten: www.koleya.ca