These should be inspiring times for women in technology. Around the globe, and across every sector, women are making their mark in traditional and non-traditional tech roles. Their success stories are mounting, their work is changing lives—and yet there are still barriers holding them back from reaching their full potential.
We’ve come a long way from the male-dominated tech firms of the past. Yet, for all the momentum women have gained in tech over the years, we continue to be underrepresented in one of Canada’s largest and most vital industries. This imbalance is reflected in research by Women in Communications and Technology (WCT), which shows women currently represent less than a third of the information, communication and technology workforce. Moreover, this share of the workforce has remained stagnant at nearly 30 per cent over the last decade, dipping slightly from participation rates just a decade ago.
The stats are no surprise and, as I discussed previously, the pandemic only exasperated the issue as women put their careers on pause or exited them altogether due to company layoffs, burnout and family responsibilities.
These recent employment challenges persist, but what deserves further attention are the organizational and social obstacles that existed long before 2020 and continue to stand between women and their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
Deconstructing workplace biases
Despite years of breaking down gender stereotypes and misconceptions, women continue to face obstacles in tech roles. Research continues to show that women feel isolated, unwelcome and outnumbered in tech, both when coming up through post-secondary education and in the workplace. For example, Shared Service Canada’s “Advancing Women in STEM in the Government of Canada” report showed that women still face biases in their pursuit of STEM careers, including:
- Gender stereotyping and microaggressions (46 per cent)
- Lack of transparency and barriers to promotion (27 per cent)
- Unsupportive work environment (19 per cent)
- Unclear or obstructed career path (19 per cent)
Organizational barriers have also persisted. A Statistics Canada report, “Persistence and representation of women in STEM programs,” found that women in tech were:
- Five times more likely than men to be in a position where they need to prove their competence
- Three times more likely to hear demeaning remarks on the job
- Twice as likely as their male counterparts to have their judgment questioned
These factors, combined with minimal formal support and pathways, continue to hinder women’s progress in technology fields, especially those seeking leadership positions.
What can we do about this?
Fortunately, support can take a range of shapes, including mentoring, building technology-driven career pathways and hosting educational events as early as possible in women's careers. Support can also include sponsorships, training partnerships and initiatives like “workforce return” programs that reach out specifically to women who are ready to re-engage with their careers after taking time off for childcare, family leave, or unemployment—or even for those looking to pivot and launch new careers in technology.
Ultimately, I think the bottom line is this: good things happen when organizations make room for diversity. Innovation flourishes, the companies grow and thrive—and they position themselves, in turn, as employers of choice.
Corporate Canada has a critical role to play in creating more inclusive and opportune workplace cultures—and not just for women but for all of us. Promisingly, organizations across sectors are increasingly stepping up and taking positive action. In my next post, I’ll talk to female leaders at three of them—TD Bank Group, IBM Consulting and Morgan Stanley—and share some of the work these organizations are undertaking to break down barriers and ensure that these times truly are inspiring for women in technology.
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