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Business Commentary To lead the way on innovation, tech sector must close the gender gap

Jodi Kovitz is CEO of AceTech Ontario.

Earlier this month, Google Canada made an exciting announcement: Sabrina Geremia, the company's former managing director of integrated solutions, is taking over as the national director. She's an obvious choice, of course. She's a strong, smart, well-respected leader with an international résumé. She's always been a visionary, known for having big ideas and the business savviness to realize them. She's a great role model with a generous spirit, always going out of her way to support and mentor young talent.

She also happens to be a woman.

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That shouldn't be a big deal, but it is. We live in a country where the highest levels of business – executive teams, C-suites and boards – are extremely male-dominated. Corporate Canada still has a long way to go in closing the gender gap, and this is especially evident in the tech sector. Only 5 per cent of Canadian tech companies have a female founder. Women comprise 13 per cent of the average tech company's executive team, while 53 per cent of tech companies have no female executives. Seventy-three per cent of tech company boards have no women at all.

'We absolutely have a problem': Canada's tech sector gender gap

I spent much of my career in the legal industry, surrounded by many powerful and capable female leaders. Last year, I took on the role of CEO of AceTech Ontario, a non-profit association for CEOS, founders and heads of function at various Ontario scaling-up tech companies to connect, learn and grow. When I spoke at a dinner with 130 members in attendance, I have a vivid memory of looking around the room and realizing that only about 3 per cent of the leaders in the room were women. I am proud that AceTech Ontario has actively recruited numerous female leaders in the last year. But that moment was definitely a wake-up call for me; and now we need there to be a wake-up call for everyone, so that together we can effect meaningful change.

That's one of the reasons why I started #movethedial last January. The purpose of the movement is to increase the participation of women and girls in the tech industry, and to raise the profile of female tech leaders. Sabrina has been invaluable in this process; so were over 100 other industry leaders – women and men – who share our goal. These leaders appreciate how much we stand to gain by having a more inclusive and diverse tech sector – and how much we stand to lose if we don't.

Tech is one of the fastest-moving and fastest-growing sectors, both nationally and globally. It's the future of every business and every economy worldwide. And if Canada wants to lead the way in innovation – tomorrow and 10 years from now – we can't let a significant portion of our work force sit on the sidelines. Including women and girls is a social and economic imperative, and it's also a moral imperative. Whether we identify as male or female – or both, or neither – we should all feel welcome and free to pursue a meaningful career in a field we're passionate about.

The awareness of the gender gap in tech – and a commitment to closing it – is greater than ever. In less than a year, #movethedial has gathered exhilarating momentum, expanding in size and scope. We're already looking forward to holding our first global summit next fall, taking the conversation beyond Canadian borders. Today, we're releasing our first-ever report on gender representation and equality in the Canadian tech ecosystem.

"Where's the Dial Now?" is a benchmark report. There has been lots of great research done on women's representation in corporate Canada, and the gender gap in tech – but it's all been done by different companies, focusing on different topics, conducted at different times. Before now, there has been nothing singular and comprehensive to show us where we're at – to draw that crucial line in the sand, letting us know where we're starting from so that we can set goals and get where we need to go.

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The report draws its data from research collated by some of our partner organizations, and incorporates the insights and opinions of key leaders in the field. Altogether, it shows that the gender gap is indeed still wide – but that there are lots of reasons to be optimistic, and lots of really simple ways we can all start moving the dial for the women and girls in our lives.

I would encourage anyone and everyone to read the report, and to consider the ways they can help move the dial for someone else: to be a mentor or a sponsor, make an introduction, or give an aspiring entrepreneur some much-needed advice. You might be surprised to learn how little it takes to build connections and bridge gaps.

My hope is that one day in the near future, we can look at a leader like Sabrina Geremia and not take notice of the fact she's a woman, because it won't be rare or remarkable any more. But right now we have to take notice. We have to care. And we need to keep moving the dial.

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