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B.C. consortium making headway in effort to train 500 women in AI, data science

Athena Pathways launched last year, offering scholarships, workshops to women in tech
Credit: gorodenkoff/Getty Images

A B.C. industry initiative aimed at bolstering the presence of women in the West Coast tech sector hit a milestone Monday.

Athena Pathways revealed on International Women’s Day it’s reached the halfway mark of advancing at least 500 women in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science since launching in 2020.

The consortium has been able to deliver more than 100 scholarships of $500 each to women taking select courses and workshops at a range of B.C. post-secondary institutions.

It’s also matched more than 50 mentees with mentors in the tech sector.

In all, 250 women have received help either through education, employment or mentorship.

“It’s the almost hidden costs of not doing this that are particularly pernicious,” AInBC executive director Steve Lowry told BIV when Athena Pathways launched last year.

His industry association is spearheading the initiative backed by a mix of private sector and post-secondary players.

“When you look at organizations that aren’t gender-balanced or diverse enough, they underperform,” Lowry said.

A May 2020 McKinsey & Company report bolstered findings from 2015 regarding the financial success of businesses that are ethnically and gender diverse.

Companies with more than 30% female executives were 25% more likely to be more profitable than the national industry median, and ethnically diverse companies were 36% more likely to be profitable than the national industry median. (McKinsey’s survey was based on a broad range of nations.)

Athena Pathways sees the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University, the B.C. Institute of Technology and Northeastern University’s Vancouver campus developing courses and workshops for women at high school and post-secondary levels as well as those already in the workforce.

The consortium is also receiving support from the Vancouver-based Digital Technology Supercluster, D-Wave Systems Inc., Metaoptima Technology Inc. and Teck Resources Inc. (TSX:TECK.B), among others.

But B.C.’s tech industry still remains heavily dominated by men.

A November 2020 report from CBRE Group Inc. reveals Vancouver's sector is composed of 22% women vs. 78% men, while Victoria is composed of 24% women vs. 76% men.

The B.C. Tech Association unveiled 15 recommendations for the tech sector in December 2019 in a bid to create an ecosystem much better at recruiting and retaining women.

Among the recommendations curated from a series of workshops, panels and roundtables:

·Set targets and publish the results. Ask if your employee diversity mirrors that of your customers.

·Leverage your team’s network: ask women in your organizations to identify people they’ve worked with in the past and would like to work with again.

·Ask yourself if talent is promotable before someone takes parental leave – consider promoting before they take leave.

·Put in place salary bands for each role, track and communicate pay vs. industry averages. Establish and enforce minimum salaries for each role.

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