Today is International Women’s Day. The STEM industry has not always been the most inclusive to women, but things are moving in the right direction, thanks to industry titans who continue to champion inclusion and prove that women are not only important to have in a business, but incredibly vital.
It’s hard to list every single organization and group that is championing equality within Canada’s tech ecosystem, and that’s an amazing problem to have. So here’s a roundup of some amazing women-first Techvibes headlines since the last International Women’s Day.
Firstly, every good list begins with a list. November saw the release of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women, which had several women from the tech world on the list, such as #movethedial founder Jodi Kovitz, Feminuity co-founder Sarah Saska, ACL CEO Laurie Schultz, eBay Canada’s Andrea Stairs, and Futurpreneur Canada CEO Julia Deans.
Clearbanc co-founder Michele Romanow and BBTV CEO and founder Shahrzad Rafati were also on the Top 100 list. Last month, these two were also respective recipients of the Angel Investor of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year awards at the 7th Annual Canadian Innovation Awards.
Putting Women Entrepreneurs First
Toronto’s SheEO fund built on their domestic success and expanded into the U.S. last August to further support female entrepreneurs. The reality is that women receive just two per cent of the venture financing of their male counterparts, so SheEO founder Vicki Saunders wanted to create a different model of support and funding. This venture loans out from a pool of $500,000 at extremely low-interest rates, then takes the money once it’s paid back and loans it out again.
The Big Push is a female-led accelerator that deals in sweat equity, investing time into high-potential startups through hands-on services, support and resources in exchange for three to five per cent equity.
“Other accelerators focus on bringing female entrepreneurs and investors together to build up female-led companies. Our focus is on rolling up our sleeves and doing the actual work,” says Sharon Zohar, founder of The Big Push.
The past year really did see a lot of growth from women-led and women-oriented accelerators, such as Fierce Founders based in Toronto. Three separate companies took home prize money from two different cohorts:
SomeDetect and Furnishr took home $50,000 each.
Fierce Founders will continue running boot camps and their accelerator as they strive to identify and help the best early-stage female-fronted startups in Canada.
The Women Founders Accelerator Program from the DMZ also kicked off very recently. Six to eight companies will participate in a four-month program for a shot at three cash prizes.
“Advocating for gender parity in Canada’s startup ecosystem is a social and economic necessity,” said Michelle Caers, founder and CEO of DesignedUX and the program’s lead DMZ Entrepreneur-in-residence.
Adding to that, check out the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE) and their Pitch for the Purse event. Flytographer took home the latest win, nabbing a $25,000 grand prize.
There were some welcome systemic investments in the women’s entrepreneur network as well, though it can always be built on. BDC has several women in tech investment programs.
And the recently released 2018 Federal Budget is increasing the financing for majority female-owned businesses through the BDC to $1.4 billion over three years, double the level of financing that was previously promised. It would be nice to see that as equity and not a loan, but it is certainly a start.
There’s Still Work to Do
And finally, some amazing organizations compiled data on how the ecosystem needs to grow and improve when it comes to diversity. #movethedial found a resounding low prevalence of women executives and leaders of businesses—only five per cent of Canadian tech companies have solo female founders.
Other reports found that gender bias plays a role in STEM outside of traditional engineering and IT paths as well. As women climb the corporate ladder, they encounter more and more gender bias, and that there is a distinct lack of leadership programs. Only 20 per cent of respondents said that their company has a mentorship program in place to inspire leadership, but 34 per cent of women would take advantage of it if their company had one.
We at Techvibes looks forward to another year featuring the spectacular achievements of Canada’s Female tech-elite.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely highlights of a few select stories.