Vancouver's Women in Tech Regatta creates connections for female professionals

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      It’s not always easy to be a woman in the tech industry. Even in 2018, there are significant barriers to advancement, including a lack of female role models, fewer mentors, and a well-documented wage gap—despite the fact that women-led companies perform three times better than those operated by men.

      The tide, however, is beginning to turn. As more resources are dedicated to offering entry level positions and more senior jobs for women, colleagues are helping to push each other up the ladder.

      That’s the mandate of the Women in Tech Regatta.

      Last week (January 29 to February 2) marked the inaugural event in Vancouver. Designed as a collection of workshops and conversations to connect women to mentors, peers, and resources, the five-day summit brought together individuals from across local tech companies.

      Kicking off with an opening party at Science World, the event showcased 101 speakers—female and male—who shared their experiences and details of their roles. Workshops included everything from ethics and data to storytelling in business and balancing a career with parenthood.

      In Melody Biringer’s opinion, the founder of the Women in Tech Regatta, helping others understand the challenges women face in the tech industry will increase their representation.

      “If you look at everything that’s going on in the current climate, it’s time for women to take control,” the Seattle native tells the Straight on the phone from downtown Vancouver. “There’s huge support and allyship right now. My wheelhouse is bringing people together and getting them to meet each other. Relationships advance careers, and they aren’t formed overnight—you don’t just go to a networking event, hand out your card, and that’s the end. You need to really know somebody for them to become a mentor or mentee, and that’s how people get ahead.”

      Local organizations in Vancouver have been taking that idea to heart. Over the past five years, various non-profits and resource collectives have sprung up in the city, including networking groups like Tech Ladies, advocacy organization The Raise Collective, and educational business Ladies Learning Code—all of which aim to empower women in STEM professions. The Women in Tech Regatta partnered with more than 20 similar companies seeking to improve female representation in the industry. Biringer believes that connecting individuals to resources like these encourages attendees to build their professional confidence.

      “The Vancouver Women in Tech Regatta was never designed to be one of those keynote events,” she says. “It’s a boutique summit. We’ve had 22 workshops throughout the city this week, and they were deliberately small group discussions with maybe 50 to 80 attendees, and we broke people into groups of 4 and 5. My goal was to let anyone who came out to the event to be seen and heard, and offer them a safe environment to do that—even for people who are more naturally introverted.

      “This one woman stood up after the Art of Storytelling workshop,” she continues. “She did a little recap of what her group had been talking about. She told her colleagues that she was so nervous, and had never done anything like that before. They pushed her up there so she could use her voice. I almost cried. I was thinking, ‘You are the reason that I just spent give months on this project. Because if you stood up and did that, just think about what you’re going to do for the next 10 years in a boardroom, or the next thing you’ll successfully negotiate, because you know you can do it now’.”

      Closing the event was a party at Yaletown gallery-and-event space Leisure Center, featuring free professional LinkedIn headshots, game demonstrations from female-run VR company Virtro, and a showcase of various inventions by staff at SAP. There, Biringer hoped, attendees were able to cement those meaningful connections—and let loose.

      “I’ve heard so much this week that the generation who are 40- to 60-years-old, who are supposedly the wise ones—they tell me they learn far more from the 25 year olds,” she says with a laugh. “Our goal is to encourage cross-generational mentorship, and to get people out of their silo. We hope that we’ve allowed people to meet others who don’t look like them, and give fresh perspectives to each other. There’s been so much community support.”

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays