This post means something very important to me - and I'm not going to hold back. The feelings conveyed below are real, raw, and reflective of what I've seen in my short tenure in the startup world. It also comes at a time where diversity in tech - in terms of gender, ethnicity, and work background, has never been a hotter topic or more critical to the construction of today's top startups and high-performing organizations.
Today is Women's Entrepreneurship Day, and I'm so thrilled that as a country we're celebrating that. Some of my best friends and the most inspirational founders I know (looking at you @erindunham22, @AlexaRoeper, @DanielaRoeper, @RPautler, @Re2thomp, @mathurahravi, @JeanetteStock, @sahebasegu, @unbrelievable, @melsariffodeen, @helenxlin, @XMichelleLinX) have launched ventures and movements that are making an impact on people's lives for the better, and have the potential to scale that globally. These women are tremendous leaders with high IQ, EQ, and a thicker skin than I will ever have. I'm writing this post for you - because you're awesome people, and awesome people help create an environment in which more girls can feel like they can achieve whatever they put their mind to.
Disclaimer: Very rarely have I ever felt uncomfortable speaking in front of an audience. I've pitched numerous CEOs & VCs, given a TED talk, and led multiple startup workshops. That was, until I got up to speak to a hundred of Toronto's most influencial business women about the lack of women in tech and what we could do about it. As much as I cared about it and tried to be as articulate as possible, it felt uncomfortable for me to be talking about as a straight white male - but it shouldn't be. This is a conversation we all have to have, even if it makes us feel vulnerable.
#MoveTheDial Report, 2017
According to a recent 680 News article, Toronto was ranked as North America's fastest growing tech market, adding more than 22,000 jobs in the last year. Despite this explosive growth, only 25% of the workforce is female. Furthermore, according to a MacLean's article published only two years earlier in 2015, women only make up 22% of all Canadians employed in STEM roles, along with 39% of all STEM graduates. Moreover, according to the 2017 #MoveTheDial Report, only 5% of Canadian tech companies have a solo female founder. When companies with male and female co-founders are factored in, the percentage of tech companies with female founders increases only to 13%. This is a massive problem.
"I would like to live in a world where we don’t talk about the gender of any founder, venture capitalist, CEO or board member. Where the best people get the best leadership, opportunities and funding, and we move along. Where everyone has the same opportunities to lead, no matter their gender."
-Jodi Kovitz, CEO, AceTech Ontario & Founder, #MoveTheDial
Yes, starting a dialogue is important, but even moreso is taking action. I think that's what I struggled with the most as a white male in tech - I wanted to help solve this problem; I just didn't know how. The issues that young women face breaking into technology, entrepreneurship and business are unique, and in many ways can only be truly understood by people who have experienced those same challenges.
That's why we've partnered with Girls' e-Mentorship Program to help digitize and scale their education & mentorship program for at-risk high school girls in Toronto, in a private, fully-digital online community. Through the joint programming, girls can not only attend GEMinars to build the technical and soft skills they need to succeed in the long-run, but also meet a new best friend, or find a mentor that suits their unique personality, career goals, or industry of interest. It's really a match made in heaven. The most rewarding part is actually seeing the difference we're making together - Over 80% of all GEMgirls and mentors registered to participate in our online community, unlocking opportunities for shared learning, employment, skills development, and developing entrepreneurial potential.
When approaching the topic of diversity and inclusion in the technology industry, it's everyone's responsibility to educate themselves and understand how their actions not only affect women at work, but the perception of their overall workplace in the eyes of potential female and male applicants that really care about diversity and gender equality as a core value. This is where guys can also make a significant impact.
It starts with making a commitment to diversity, and understanding why it's important. Your first 10 hires are your most vital, and will not only set the standard of excellence for your organization - they'll also pre-program your culture. By starting off with 10 white guys in a room, you're not only missing out top talent right off the bat, but you're probably not going to get the mix of ideas & execution from various backgrounds that'll set up your company for a higher probability of success. Read it up in any management book you want - the bottom line is that ☝️ diversity = ☝️ outcomes.
Guys in Tech
Your MBA doesn't give you a hall pass to make a lude comment to a female coworker or about a female coworker to your fellow man. We don't want to hear it. Put yourself in his or her shoes. Practicing mindfulness at work in both what you say and how you act will not only increase your influence and deepen relationships at work; it'll also help you develop as a manager and leader. While I'm a firm believer that EQ can be developed, the necessary condition is that it's first acknowledged. So if you're a guy that hears something questionable in the office - make them aware, privately.
Practice blind screening tests. Snip off the name from the applicants' resumes. It's so easy, and practicing it will be an absolute game-changer for your organization. You'd be surprised at how much bias you can have just by considering the person's name, gender, or where they're from. I've had friends that have listed others' addresses on resumes just to get jobs in Boston, New York, or San Francisco. It shouldn't have to be like that. The Co-Pour has many other innovative recruitment strategies you can adopt. Highly recommend you check it out.
This is the hardest part for me to write, because I feel so unqualified to give you advice. No matter how hard I empathize with you, I'll never really know what it's like to be you. So take this with a grain of salt.
Know that regardless of the challenges and roadblocks you run into, you are just as qualified as your male counterparts in business, entrepreneurship and STEM disciplines. You have statistically higher GPAs and university enrollment rates than them, too. And you have every right to pursue your passion in business, technology, and entrepreneurship.
- In your shoes - you'll learn a lot through a shared exchange
- 6 to 12 months ahead of you - you'll learn about what you'll go through and how to overcome common obstacles
- A firmly established leader - stretch mentors aren't always super available, but are imperative for unlocking opportunities for you or helping you in other ways your peers & immediate mentors can't. They have the network and the influence to move boulders for you, regardless of how big or small they are. Show them progress and they'll reward you for your hard work. It's an incredible feedback loop.
The last nugget I'll leave you with is to get involved as much as you can in building STEM skills, and immersing yourself in communities that care about your success -communities like Canada Learning Code, SHAD, Communitech Fierce Founders, SheEO, #MoveTheDial Junior Achievement, DECA and of course, Girls' e-Mentorship Program.
To all the female entrepreneurs working hard out there, please know you are making a genuine difference in your communities, nations and the world. Thank you all for leading the way. #grateful— Arlene Dickinson (@ArleneDickinson) November 18, 2017
We're investing in girls' mentorship because we believe it's everyone's business. Through the investment we make today in our behaviour, workplace diversity, and incubator/accelerator/mentorship programs, it's my hope that in 5-10 years, we will see these initiatives create an environment that fosters greater interest, participation, and advancement in entrepreneurship as a whole.
Girls deserve a level playing field in business, entrepreneurship, and technology. Whether it's critically evaluating your recruitment strategies, making the decision that diversity matters to you as a founder, or simply being mindful about how you act in the workplace, we all have a responsibility to help achieve that reality.
From all of us at the Rockstar team,
Happy Women's Entrepreneurship Day. 😊
Want to help mentor the next generation of female founders? Join the Rockstar community today! https://experience.rockstar-cafe.ca
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