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BC Tech board under fire over dearth of diversity

Responding to criticism, CEO says the industry association needs to do better
The BC Tech Association's newly elected board of directors

As Natasha Jung pored over a late-October LinkedIn post revealing the BC Tech Association’s board of directors was now split evenly between genders, she couldn’t help but spot a gaping hole in the new board’s composition.

“To see not one Black, Indigenous or person of colour – at least not visibly – on this list was really disappointing, especially given the events, and turning tide and evolution of the demand for that across all industries and across all walks of life since June, with the murder of George Floyd,” said the co-founder of Cold Tea Collective Media Inc., a storytelling platform for North American young people of East Asian descent.

Before co-founding Cold Tea Collective, Jung was Deloitte LLP’s primary tech industry marketer for B.C., and she later worked in marketing at Vancouver-founded Vision Critical (now Alida Inc.).

The new board of directors at BC Tech, which advocates on behalf of the province’s technology sector, did not appear to reflect the industry she spent years working in.

Jung’s direct response to the BC Tech’s LinkedIn post garnered more than 120 likes on the social media platform:

“I’m wondering where on the strategic roadmap are plans for a not 100% white board? 40%+ of the business community is represented of ethnic minorities, and I’m sure even more are represented in the tech industry in terms of talent. As an industry driving much of the growth and innovation in the province, will you also be committing to being leaders in diversity, equity and inclusion?”

In the days that followed, Jung could see staff at BC Tech had been viewing her profile on LinkedIn.

“No one responded, no one followed up, and I think they might have written me off,” she said.

By mid-November B.C. Tech announced it was signing on to the federal government’s 50-30 Challenge: an initiative aimed at reaching gender parity and greater representation (at least 30%) of under-represented groups on boards and senior management positions.

Ottawa has provided no timeline to reach 50-30 goals.

But BC Tech CEO Jill Tipping said her organization plans to meet the 50-30 challenge in 2021. 

“I really welcome the challenge, and the criticism and the passion of the community on this issue,” she told BIV

“I think it’s quite correct, and we need to do better.” 

Directors, whose companies must be members of BC Tech to serve on the board, are selected via a vote held each year at the organization’s annual general meeting.

Tipping said in some years directors approach BC Tech as board candidates and in other years the industry association conducts the outreach. 

“What we need to work on really diligently is making sure that outreach and that solicitation process is really diverse itself, that we’re doing it with a wide lens rather than a narrow lens. That’s where the primary lessons are for me, because there’s some fantastic candidates out there that I’d love to have on my board,” she said. 

Ottawa is urging companies and non-profits to “voluntarily take action towards achieving meaningful and substantive improvements in supporting diversity and inclusion within their organization.”

Jung said BC Tech’s lack of direct followup was disheartening but not surprising.

“It made me feel that there is a lot more work to be done to hold industry associations and corporations accountable to true representation on their board and on their leadership teams.”

The new board was selected after organizations have been making the business case for diversity within their ranks for years.

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.)

Meanwhile, the B.C. government committed $2.2 million over two years in the spring of 2019 towards pilot projects aimed at improving inclusivity within the tech sector, such as through mentorship programs.

Among those facilitating the pilots is the HR Tech Group, which had released a report in 2018 that found the West Coast tech sector was interested in doing more to bolster diversity and inclusion within its ranks.

“But considering the resource constraints of a typical B.C. tech company, diversity levels and inclusion practices are unlikely to change significantly without a collective effort and an investment in a comprehensive, multi-year plan,” the Diversity & Inclusion in the B.C. Tech Sector report concluded after examining survey results from 161 tech leaders and employees.

Of those respondents, 66% felt their companies should be doing more to raise awareness about diversity and inclusion.

“I’m hopeful,” Jung said, referring to others who criticized the board’s lack of diversity.

“But I’m also worried that organizations will only take action if they are being called out actively.”

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