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How the B.C. tech sector plans to fix its problem with gender representation

The tech sectors in Vancouver and Victoria rank as two of the worst performers in Canada in terms of gender representation, according to a report from CBRE. The industry group representing technology in B.C. has a plan to change this.
B.C. Tech Association CEO Jill Tipping | submitted

When real estate services firm CBRE Group Inc. released its latest annual rankings of North American tech hubs last summer, Jill Tipping recalls her team at the B.C. Tech Association was taken aback by what it revealed.

Out of 50 cities measured, Vancouver had the worst representation of women in the tech sector at just 18.3% of the workforce.

“We were sort of struck by the statistics,” said Tipping, CEO of the industry association representing the province’s technology sector.

And in fact a CBRE report that followed in November revealed that Vancouver was tied with Saskatoon as the second-worst performer in Canada’s tech sector in terms of gender representation.

The only city to perform worse was also in B.C., with women making up just 15% of the technology workforce in Victoria.

The B.C. Tech Association, determined to do something to change those numbers, embarked on a series of workshops, panels and roundtables in the months that followed the July CBRE report as part of its #WhatWorks initiative.

In December the industry group unveiled 15 recommendations for the tech sector in a bid to create an ecosystem much better at recruiting and retaining women.

Among the recommendations curated from the workshops:

·      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 (compa ratios). Establish and enforce minimum salaries for each role.

“Our objective is to make this easy for people by giving concrete, actionable suggestions,” Tipping said.

“We’re not trying to be one size fits all. We’re trying to give you a menu of options and challenge you to find at least one that would work for your business.”

B.C. Tech is also taking steps to improve representation on its own board of directors, which is presently composed of two women and 10 men.

“We’re 17% women today and it’s unacceptable,” Tipping said.

With the release of the 15 recommendations, the industry association has now pledged to double the number of women on its board within a year.

Some tech companies in Vancouver have been making progress.

Unbounce Marketing Solutions Inc., known for developing platforms that allow marketers to create landing pages without investing in their own web developers, pledged in 2016 to reach gender parity within its workforce.

The company revealed in November that it had reached that goal, part of the Minerva B.C. Pledge, within three years.

Meanwhile, Tipping said she believes the significant gap in gender representation is persistent in B.C. not due to lack of motivation but because of available information and supply of talent.

“We, as an industry, have a big job to do to be much more transparent and clear and open and tell people what careers in our industry actually are. Both the wide range of skills — not everyone’s a coder — and also what the environment is actually like,” she said.

“You’re solving really interesting, complex problems that matter to people and you’re doing it in a collaborative, creative team.”

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