VIEWPOINT: Financial support needed to close gender gaps

By Cassandra Plourde

Ottawa played host to a Women in Leadership conference on March 8, International Women’s Day, at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre.

The all-female panel said there has never been a better time for women to get into the tech sector, but it’s up to them to grab the opportunities.

And the timing is right: the newly released federal budget highlighted a push for gender pay equality, including measures to boost the number of women in the trades and the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as female entrepreneurs.

This investment signals an important change for the future of Canada’s research and development: more dollars for women in tech.

Both the conference and the recent federal budget address an important need for the tech industry to do more to welcome women to its ranks, and other sectors of society must support this effort.

The panel featured Trisha Cooke from Ottawa’s You.i TV, an app that helps media and entertainment companies create their own video apps for any chosen platform.

Other panellists included Jenna Sudds, executive director of the digital consulting firm CIO Strategy Council, and Sheila James, vice-president of operations at Veem, a San Francisco-based financial services start-up with offices in Ottawa.

Panellists spoke about their experiences of being women in Canada’s tech sector and explained that there is nothing stopping women from being successful in this industry.

They also said women must learn to overcome the uncomfortable feelings that come from working in male-dominated environments, and that the biggest limitations women face are the ones they place on themselves.

As a female journalist in a field that’s also dominated by men, I understand where these women are coming from.

Unfortunately, in 2015, only 21 per cent of all information and communication technology graduates across Canada were women. To improve these numbers, we need collective action to push for real change and attain complete gender parity in our workforces.

I believe that if I’m passionate about becoming successful in the news business, then I will absolutely have a fair chance at doing so.

Yet, regardless of my hard work and dedication, I admit it would be nice to have financial support specifically aimed at closing the gender gap in the journalism industry.

Women in the tech industry have been given this opportunity — and they must take advantage of any help they can get. How women can utilize this funding to increase their ranks in Canada’s tech sector would be a great focus for the next Women in Leadership conference.

Yes, women are as capable as men in every respect, and the current gender and pay inequality women face in many Canadian industries is indicative that something is clearly off balance.

It is true that if women have the passion and the drive to succeed in tech, then they probably will. But do men in the industry need the same levels of passion and drive to achieve their success?

Maybe. But men do not face the same barriers as their female counterparts.

While the 2018 budget is a good foundation for future work for women in the technology industry, there is still much more to be done.

Discussions like the Women in Leadership conference are a good start, but united action across all levels of government, academia and the private sector are required to achieve gender parity.