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Only five per cent of Canadian tech companies have female chief executives: report

Acetech Ontario CEO Jodi Kovitz is shown in this undated handout image. A new report says just five per cent of Canadian technology companies have a female founder and a similar fraction have a woman as CEO, figures which suggest the industry's gender diversity is lagging other sectors. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
Acetech Ontario CEO Jodi Kovitz is shown in this undated handout image. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)

TORONTO - A new report says just five per cent of Canadian technology companies have a female founder and a similar fraction have a woman as CEO, figures which suggest the industry's gender diversity is lagging other sectors.

The study, co-authored by PwC, the MaRS Discovery district and non-profit MoveTheDial, also showed that women comprise 13 per cent of the average Canadian tech company's executive team while 53 per cent of firms do not have any female executives.

The new figures released on Wednesday, based on research and analysis of more than 900 companies, suggest that there is less representation of women at the helm in the country's tech sector than in the broader Canadian corporate world.

Jodi Kovitz, the founder of MoveTheDial, says that as technology becomes intertwined into every aspect of modern life, it is “critical” that both men and women, and other diverse views, have a voice in shaping its decisions.

“Otherwise, we will not have solutions that are reflective of our actual population,” she said in an interview. “We have a long way to go in tech, in terms of advancing women to the leadership table.”

 

“That whole (technology) ecosystem seems very unfriendly to women and somehow seems to be lagging the thinking of even some of our oldest industries, like natural resources and banking, which is really surprising.”
-Tanya van Biesen

 

The study comes less than a month after the Canadian Securities Administrators released its latest review of female representation, which showed that at least 62 per cent of companies had at least one woman in an executive officer position.

The CSA's review of more than 600 issuers also found that 14 per cent of total board seats were held by women.

That's compared to eight per cent of board seats at Canadian technology companies, according to the report released Wednesday, which Kovitz says is the first, comprehensive study of its kind.

It also comes after some Silicon Valley tech giants faced accusations of sexism and discrimination, some of which have led to legal action.

Last week, three female software engineers sued ride-sharing company Uber for allegedly discriminating against women and people of colour. In August, a male engineer at Google wrote a memo which attributed biological differences between men and women as the reason why “we don't have 50 per cent representation of women in tech and leadership.” The memo, which was denounced by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, went viral.

Tanya van Biesen, the executive director of women's advocacy group Catalyst Canada, says there seems to be a “bro” culture in some technology companies that is “at best ambivalent, and at worst, aggressive towards gender inclusion.”

“That whole (technology) ecosystem seems very unfriendly to women and somehow seems to be lagging the thinking of even some of our oldest industries, like natural resources and banking, which is really surprising,” van Biesen said.

Women comprised 23 per cent of directors in the utilities and pipelines industry, and 16 per cent in financial services, compared to nine per cent in technology, according to the most recent gender diversity report by law firm Osler.

The chair of the Ontario Securities Commission, Maureen Jensen, said last week that it might be time to strengthen its measures to get more women on boards after little progress. The OSC does not have the authority to impose a specific target or quota for gender diversity, but she said the regulator is looking at options such as requiring companies to set a target and disclose progress meeting it.

Maithili Mavinkurve, co-founder of Canadian artificial intelligence company Sightline Innovation, is optimistic that the needle is moving as she encounters more female founders every day.

“As we see more women in those ranks, and as we see more women starting these companies, then naturally that will have an impact on that next generation of women,” she said.

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