The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and highlighted an array of underlying weaknesses in Canada’s economy. Many business leaders say that technology holds the key to an innovative recovery. But, while technology may play a critical role in our post-pandemic world, there remains a significant problem threatening the potential of its workforce – the persistent and widening gender gap.
According to Accenture, the proportion of women to men in tech roles has declined over the past 35 years and half of the young women who go into tech drop out by the age of 35.
Unfortunately, this gender gap has been exacerbated by the pandemic. School closures and stretched healthcare systems have forced many women – who still bear the brunt of domestic responsibilities – to choose between family and career.
To build back a more diverse, cohesive and sustainable economy, we need to ensure our workforce is more inclusive than ever before. There has been significant research indicating that inclusive and diverse teams are more decisive, empathetic and innovative – resulting in increased performance. Public and private organizations, especially those within Canada’s leading tech industry, need to ask how they can create a more diverse workforce equipped to address the global challenges of the future.
Given this year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge, here are a few ways we can create a diverse workforce by challenging gender inequalities.
Engage girls and young women early and often.
Youth, especially those facing societal barriers such as girls and young women, need to be supported in and outside of school to build the necessary skills to lead and thrive in the future workforce. We need more programs, specifically designed for girls and young women that provide safe spaces to design, build, experiment and explore, and apply the technical skills learned in the classroom to real-world solutions.
Create more gender-balanced leadership teams.
Equity has to be a priority at all levels of the organization, but it starts at the top. We need more gender-balanced leadership teams held responsible by their governing bodies for creating inclusive environments. Organizations need to look around the table and ask themselves who is missing and then commit to finding ways to bring those missing voices to the table.
Create mentorship opportunities.
We all know the mantra, “in order to be it, you must see it.” Studies have shown that exposure to role models in science and technology can lead to greater interest in these professions. We need to seek out and create mentorship opportunities for students or employees to see themselves reflected in tech. These opportunities will motivate and inspire the next generation of female leaders by showing them what’s possible.
Challenge the system, not the individual.
More often than not, the onus is placed on women to break down barriers preventing their success. We need to shift our focus to challenging the systemic policies and practices that created these barriers in the first place. For example, it seems as though more and more women are attributing their lack of confidence in the workplace to the Imposter Syndrome – a term psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance coined in the 1970s. But, the attention given to this phenomenon fails to question the historical and cultural context that preserves the space for this syndrome to existence. We need to remove the barriers, so women don’t have to continually fight to break them down.
Focus on solutions and not the failures.
It is easier to talk about gender inequalities rather than talk about the actions needed to address them. We need to stop focusing solely on the issues or blaming generations before us, and concentrate on taking bold action now and in the future.
This International Women’s Day, I invite you to be proactive in identifying ways you can challenge inequalities. Write them down, share them with others and hold yourself accountable.
Our economy and workforce can only reach its full potential when we can learn to diversify, which means more tech women.
Jennifer Flanagan is the CEO of Actua, Canada’s largest STEM youth outreach non-profit organization.
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