Toronto’s growing tech industry can be an isolating place for people of colour. The city, like other tech hubs across the country, suffers from a lack of diversity.
In fact, a 2018 report by Innovate Inclusion found that some of Toronto’s top tech incubators — institutions tasked with helping new startups thrive — lacked diversity at several levels. A growing problem, the study says, that’s contributing to a “digital divide” in the province.
“We fundamentally believe the solutions we are creating through technologies must reflect the populations they serve.” @jodilynnkovitz, founder of @Move_the_Dial.
For the industry’s Black workers and other underrepresented groups gaining a meaningful foothold in tech might be especially difficult. While Canadian statistics aren’t available — a telling problem in itself — the U.S. offers a glimpse into some of the problems workers likely face.
Black in tech
South of our border, Black tech workers make up only 9.3 per cent of the industry. Alongside Hispanics, they remain underrepresented compared to other private sectors and hold fewer leadership positions. Meanwhile, a survey by the Kapoor Center for Social Impact found two of the most common reasons minorities chose to quit the tech industry was down to discrimination and cultural bias.
Here at home, advocates say Canadian workers face similar problems on the job and more is needed to combat it. Nirvana Champion has seen first-hand how challenging the city’s tech scene can be. Especially, she says, for women of colour who experience discrimination on multiple fronts. Through Move the Dial for Everyone — a subset of the well-known Move The Dial initiative that amplifies women in tech — she’s working to help the industry’s underrepresented groups.
“We don’t have the data, because we’re not collecting it yet,” she explains. “Anecdotally we uncover more stories all the time about the experiences of people of colour. When we’re talking about diversity we have to move beyond just gender and look at intersectionality.”
“Through Move the Dial for Everyone we’re sharing stories and hoping to drive awareness,” adds Dayana Cadet, another volunteer and the group’s co-lead. “We want to show people who may not be familiar with what women of colour [and other underrepresented groups] face to know that there is an issue. [We want to] foster a community of inclusion for those who have previously always felt excluded or unheard.
Why inclusion matters
U.S. companies with higher racial diversity are more successful. A McKinsey report showed firms that place in the “top quartile for racial or ethnic diversity” are 35 per cent more likely to have higher financial returns.
What’s more, a study by Intel and Dalberg found that the tech industry “could generate an additional $300 to $370 billion each year if the racial/ethnic diversity of tech companies’ workforces reflected that of the talent pool.”
“The data made it abundantly clear that there is a significant gap in gender diversity in Canada [but] we found through our work that for visible minorities and other underrepresented groups those numbers are far worse.” @jodilynnkovitz, founder of @Move_the_Dial.
The same study also found the racial makeup of a company directly correlates to higher performance over time and improved efficiency. “For every 10 per cent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes rise 0.8 per cent.”
For years, companies spent millions on education campaigns – blaming a talent pipeline for a lack of representation. But that’s just not true anymore. New surveys are finding talent isn’t the only issue preventing diverse workers from joining some of the world’s biggest tech companies. Bias, it seems, plays a big part in preventing both women and minorities from advancing in the industry.
Even when people of colour do graduate with the necessary skills they find it difficult to thrive. Applicants with Black- or Hispanic-sounding names are less likely to receive a callback or be hired. On the other hand, people of colour, regardless of gender, are 3.5 times more likely to leave the tech industry due to harassment. That’s almost double the rate for white women.
Entrepreneurs looking for ways to improve their diversity could look to industry leaders like Pinterest. The photo-sharing platform has increased the number of women and people of colour at its offices. The company went beyond diversity pledges to improve its numbers, which included publicly listing its own poor track record. Microsoft also saw gains when the company enacted a diversity bonus program, which tied compensation to diversity gains.
Of course, improving diversity takes work and there’s not a clear-cut way to do it. Jodi Kovitz, founder of Move the Dial, and her team aren’t waiting for the problem to fix itself.
Her advice? Take action now to ensure Canada’s growing tech community is more inclusive. Also, work with other groups to start making changes within by seeking out diverse voices. “We won’t make a change unless all voices are represented and really treat advancement of all people as a fundamental strategic component. “