It’s time for tech companies and startups to turn awareness into action.

People

With another International Women’s Day celebration behind us, it is easy to let the focus on women in tech fizzle out. We can’t let that happen. 

Women in tech continue to be underrepresented and face discimintation. There is no shortage of material about how this hurts tech companies and startups

Most of us want to change this narrative, but the path to real change can feel unclear. 

Where do we begin? What does solidarity and allyship actually look like?

We spoke with four women changemakers in the DMZ community and heavily leaned into the tech ecosystem to find out.

1. Take a stance, neutrality is not enough.

  • Technology is one of the strongest social and political forces of our time. 
  • The expectations of tech users and producers have changed, the days of “we just make the tech” are long over. 
  • If tensions or allegations arise, listen to women and acknowledge the structural bias that works against them. 

“There is this feeling that because code is based in logic and math that tech is neutral. It never was. Code is a language produced by humans, and humans have bias. If we hope to fix our issues around diversity, we (tech industry) need to acknowledge that, outright.”

Dr. Chris McKillop, CEO of Turalt-the technology of empathy.

“To say you are neutral is like saying you do not see colour, it is just not possible. Women’s experiences are different than men’s, it is just a fact. Take a stance.”

Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Program Lead, Accelerator & Women’s Founders at the DMZ.

“You need to have an opinion, even if I don’t like it, I would rather that. Right now, we need leaders who are willing to push the envelope.” 

Lisa Soodeen, COO of StonePaper, fuels visibility and control of your value and content chains. 

“I always tell my staff if you can do something, do something… Women don’t get to start at the same line as men. If you can do something to rectify that, you should do it.” 

Vanessa Shiu, Manager, Administration, Diversity & Inclusion. 

2. Closing the tech gender gap requires a shift in culture, not seperate programming.

  • Women of colour, trans women, women with different socio-economnic status  and so many more all have unique experiences and interests.
  • But, that does not mean your tech company or startup needs separate programming or initiatives for each identity. 

“Programs like BIF (DMZ’s Black Innovation Fellowship) are not about having separate programs. It’s about creating additional resources and space within the programs we have.” 

Vanessa Shiu, Manager, Administration, Diversity & Inclusion. 

“If you are saying ‘oh we need to do a D&I thing’ as if it’s a separate thing then you have a problem…When I introduce myself as a CEO men still have a reaction and no one says anything…

We need to develop a culture based on mutual respect and empathy.” 

Dr. Chris McKillop, CEO of Turalt-the technology of empathy.

“Ask women where they want to be and figure out how you can help get them there. It’s not about sympathy, but how you can help get them their next seed round. ”

Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Program Lead, Accelerator & Women’s Founders at the DMZ.

“No two people are the same, mentorship is so important… I used to be the only woman in the room, and I’m black and didn’t have a tech background. The men around me had jargon and similar interests, you feel like an outsider… We just need to feel valued, we need resources.” 

Lisa Soodeen, COO of StonePaper, fuels visibility and control of your value and content chains. 

3. It’s not just about getting women in the door, but creating an inclusive space for them to thrive long-term. 

  • More than half of women in tech leave the industry for other fields. 
  • Hiring lots of women at once won’t close the tech gender gap; prioritizing and understanding their role in the industry’s growth will. 

“When you don’t have anyone around you that looks like you, you feel like an imposter, especially when you add being a racial minority. 

Imposter syndrome can happen unconsciously, things build up and then women leave… If women are not on your calendar invites you need to ask yourself why.” 

Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, Program Lead, Accelerator & Women’s Founders at the DMZ.

“I used to record meetings, go home and listen to them every night and try to make sense of it all…It’s important to speak in a way anyone can understand,

 if someone else does not understand you, you have failed, not them. ”

Lisa Soodeen, COO of StonePaper, fuels visibility and control of your value and content chains. 

“If you’re in any sort of leadership capacity, make sure to invite and encourage input on the work environment you’re creating. Is your space consistently looking at the potential of everyone on your team? From management to new employees and interns? Listen to what your teammates are saying. And when you do get negative feedback, accept it and take steps to make necessary changes. Make it clear that you’re working on inclusivity and offer your team some sort of way to provide feedback anonymously.”

Vanessa Shiu, Manager, Administration, Diversity & Inclusion. 

“We know women don’t get as much funding, but ask yourself why? There is a root issue here… We all have subtle biases, you have to look in the mirror first.” 

Dr. Chris McKillop, CEO of Turalt-the technology of empathy.

Startup and tech entrepreneurs are known to disrupt the norm and be a catalyst for societal change. First principles thinking shows us the value of questioning our daily practices, how making decisions based solely on standard practice can hold us back. Taking a stance and committing to action on women’s issues is an avenue for Canadian tech entrepreneurs to set themselves apart. Consumers reward industry leaders who take a stand

Women are the founders of modern technology programming. It is time to honour that by stepping outside of our comfort zones to stand in solidarity with women in tech.

Are you up for the challenge?

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