B.C. government invests $2.2 million to make tech industry more inclusive

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      After a December 2018 report showed that B.C. employs fewer women in the tech industry than the Canadian average, the provincial government is aiming to close the gap.

      Alongside aiding women, the government has now pledged $2.2 million over two years to help individuals from under-represented groups, including Indigenous peoples, immigrants, and people with disabilities secure well-paid technology jobs.

      The province will fund a number of government-supported initiatives, which will be managed by Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC) and HR Tech Group. The projects will be geared towards attracting, retaining, and supporting career advancements of groups seeking equity in B.C.’s technology workforce.  

      “There is a strong willingness in our sector to improve diversity and inclusion practices, but the majority of tech organizations in our province are small and mid-sized, and they simply do not have the resources to do the work required,” says Stephanie Hollingshead, CEO of the HR Tech Group. “This funding enables the collective multi-year effort needed to implement practices that will improve the participation of women, Indigenous peoples, newcomers, and individuals with diverse abilities into B.C.’s tech industry workplaces. We anticipate this project will have a tangible and immediate impact on the industry and on B.C.’s economy.”

      The funding comes at an important time. The province’s tech industry grew by 33 percent to 10,236 from 2015 to 2016 (the last year data was available), and workers’ salaries in tech organizations clocked in at 85 percent more than the average B.C. wage. As those numbers increase further, it’s vital that all individuals have the chance to participate in one B.C.’s most profitable and fastest growing sectors.

      Many renowned studies—most notably that by McKinsey in 2015—have pointed out the importance of a diverse workforce. As well as being an important social imperative, companies that are inclusive of a range of ethnicities, genders, and abilities are more likely to be profitable—particularly when minorities assume positions of responsibility. In addition, women-led companies have been shown to perform three times better than those with a male CEO.

      As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous in every area of life, it is vital that it is planned by individuals from a range of different backgrounds. Previously, a lack of diversity in the design stage of a product has led to issues such as everything from cellphones to artificial hearts not created to fit women’s smaller bodies, facial recognition technology that only accurately identifies white men—potentially leading to more stop-and-searches for others—and resume-filtering AI that had a strong bias for picking men for technical roles, even when previous roles on a résumé were identical across both genders.

      “Women are making strides to increase their representation in STEM fields,” says Theresa McCurry, CEO of ASTTBC. They continue to make up a lower proportion of engineers and applied scientists – about 15%. We need a cultural shift to reach our goal to increase the number of women in the engineering and applied science workforce to 30% within the next decade. Collaboration with industry organizations, employers, school districts, post-secondary institutions, and high schools is essential, as we aim to increase the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in these sectors.”

      Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays