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Where are women in BC's tech industry?

The context

This week, Vancouver City Councillor Michael Wiebe will introduce a motion directing the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) to provide a high level overview to Council of the local innovation ecosystem and to host a roundtable with key leaders in the field to gather industry input. This motion presents a key opportunity for the City to take meaningful action towards its Equity goals.

Our Take

We know that more often than not, companies within the innovation ecosystem are dominated by men. To address this inequality, this motion provides a great opportunity for the VEC to apply an intersectional gendered lens to their projects.

Within the innovation economy, the City of Vancouver must examine the issue of gender parity in the workplace critically and figure out how it can benefit and support women–especially through employment and retention. Further, in their consultation with key leaders, the VEC must consult with Indigenous women and other racialized women who play a key role in this sector, and whose knowledge is essential.

In BC, the tech industry consists of more than 10,000 companies that employ 100,000 people. The industry generates more than $23B in revenue. In 2021, CBRE ranked Vancouver #3 in its top 30 tech markets.

The innovation sector is largely led by men–specifically white men. In their 2019 report, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Women in Innovation noted that “for the average tech company, only 13% of the executive team are women, and 53% of tech companies have no female executives at all.” This data is not race-based and does not reflect racialized women and immigrant women from the Global South.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had enormous impacts on the Canadian labour market. These impacts have been felt most acutely by women, especially women from the Global South.In March 2020, employment losses in Canada for women accounted for 62.5% of overall employment losses (Stats Canada).

Almost 350,000 Canadian women who lost their jobs during the pandemic have not been able to return to work as of February 2021; consequently, women’s employment has fallen to a level not seen in the last two decades (Shrma L and Smith J 2021).

Women continue to face systemic barriers if they want to enter STEM fields. There are implicit and explicit gender biases and stereotypes that stop women from entering the innovation space. According to a 2019 Randstad report, women comprise only 22% of Canada’s STEM workforce.

Women experience a gender pay gap (women make 89 cents for every dollar men make), have more part-time jobs, and are more likely to experience unemployment compared to men. As a result of these factors, we are also more likely to not return to the workforce.

However, the BC tech industry is facing a talent crunch with businesses creating more job openings than they can fill (BC Tech Association). So what’s stopping it from hiring more women?

These are our recommendations for the Vancouver Economic Commission:

  • Start collecting disaggregated data from startups and companies they work with and address the systemic issues that may emerge.

  • Create an affirmative action plan to support companies that are either owned by women, or have more women in the workforce, or those whose products will benefit mostly women.

  • Help with funding, supporting, or leading a pilot program to provide training to women, especially racialized women, wanting to enter STEM fields seeking to help combat the climate crisis.

The City would do well by creating a gendered intersectional framework by which it should look at how the VEC and everything that it supports benefits all women.

By Tanushree Pillai

Edited by Nathalie Funes


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