Vitamin Y: moving the dial on gender in tech

Noting “Diversity is the only way we’re going to get ahead competitively,” Greg Framke, EVP and CIO, Manulife, presents $10,000 cheque to Ladies Learning Code’s Carolyn Van.

Context: The midst of the “#Me Too” campaign seems an auspicious time to call attention to a “Move the Dial” initiative aimed at addressing workplace challenges in the technology industry. Hosted by Manulife’s LOFT: Lab of Forward Thinking innovation hub and Women@Manulife, the (renamed) “Gender diversity in Tech” session at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto last month did not focus specifically on building awareness of sexual abuse; rather it tackled multiple issues that contribute to the systemic underrepresentation of women in IT – in fact, to the decline in women’s participation in the tech workforce since a high point achieved in the mid 1980s. Gender gaps in tech are well known, but their persistence, as documented in a 2017 global survey conducted by the IT professional association ISACA, a source of ongoing puzzlement. In this sense “#Me Too” and “Move the Dial” share a common purpose – to speak out, to socialize the issues, to offer education on what must be done, and, ultimately, to move the needle to ensure equal opportunity for all genders in the IT workplace.

The ManuLife session began with screening of CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, a film devoted to exposing the stereotypes and discrimination that women have experienced in hostile tech workspaces. Next on the agenda was a panel discussion with  Cindy Forbes, EVP & chief analytics officer at Manulife, Lee Ann Murray, CIO/SVP Investment Technology Division at Manulife, Johnathan Nightingale, founding partner at Raw Signal Group, Sandeep Tatla, AVP, global head of Diversity & Inclusion at Manulife and Carolyn Van, director of Youth Programs at Ladies Learning Code, moderated by BetaKit news editor Jessica Galang. The panel highlighted a range of issues that are presented in the video below; InsightaaS has assembled the following

Four keY takeaways:

It’s time to “smash the educator’s myth”: Very young girls can comprehend and be inspired by technology as can young boys, but it’s up to educators to find creative and interesting ways to teach computational thinking. Technology can and should be better integrated into formal school curriculums to prepare students for the opportunity that a career in tech can provide.

Diversity challenges must be addressed on multiple fronts:  Management can assume a leadership role by advocating and advancing diversity, but leaders also need to mindful of the impact that a hostile workplace can have on this agenda. Day to day microaggressions like sexist jokes, lack of diversity on hiring panels, and “male defaults” can produce toxic environments that are unwelcoming to women. Changing these kinds of behaviours is a first step towards helping women feel valued and safe, which in turn will enable them to realize their full potential – a win-win for employees and the employer organization.

Policy will provide perspective: There are legal structures that organizations can put in place to address harassment and discrimination. But zero tolerance must be supported with policies that provide redress. For example, an employee that is experiencing an issue must be aware of where to go to make a complaint, this report must trigger an investigation and the organization must take action in response to a problem. Clear process can be effective in addressing the tendency to say “don’t make a big deal about it.”

Women can “build their own board of directors”: Women can become their own advocates, and by creating personal networks that include strong mentors, take hold of their own careers. They can also ‘pay it forward’, providing guidance to younger generations of women on managing career challenges and opportunities.

The bottom line:

Developing gender diversity in a field that has been especially resistant to change is a complex social proposition. Change is possible, though, through concerted effort from multiple actors – including enterprise management, colleagues, mentors, family, educators and government – but especially from males. As the frustration expressed by one lone voice in the event’s Q&A session conveyed “We’re tired. Why not get white males to fix this problem?”



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