November 5, 2019 2 weeks 3 days ago

ISP Summit: More women in tech means stronger, more innovative companies

TORONTO – According to an upcoming report, Outlook 2023, from the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), by that year Canada will need 305,000 more digitally skilled workers, bringing the workforce in the digital economy up to 2.1 million. However, said Maryna Ivus, senior research analyst at the ICTC, that demand can't be met by focusing on what she called the "usual suspects" – men with computer science degrees and three-to-six years of experience.

She told the 400 attendees at the ninth annual Canadian ISP Summit that while emerging technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain will undoubtedly revolutionize our economy, boosting the representation of women in the digital economy and the telecom sector is key to our success.

"Innovation equals survival," she said. "Companies must innovate continuously, create new markets, new products, new processes. Part of the ability to innovate, drive commercialization, support competition, rests with talent. As the demand for digitally skilled talent continues to accelerate, our economy faces competitive skills and labour shortages. It is critical to consider and engage various talent supply chains."

That means looking at women, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, anyone who has the competencies and skills needed to drive the digital economy.

What are those competencies? According to Outlook 2023, the top ten technical jobs in demand today, and expected to remain so for the next five years are:

  • Software developer
  • Data scientist
  • Data analyst
  • UX/UI designer
  • Full stack developer
  • Cybersecurity analysts
  • DevOps engineers
  • Machine learning engineers
  • Database administrators
  • IT support specialists

Women are underrepresented in all of these areas, as they are in all of the hottest tech jobs, with the highest penetration among graphic designers and illustrators, of whom 35% are female, database analysts and data administrators (32%), and web designers and developers (31%) – all occupations requiring creativity. Only 7% of computer network technicians, 14% of computer programmers and interactive media developers, and 15% of software engineers and designers are women. Overall, Ivus said, 19% of Canada's most in-demand tech jobs are held by women.

In telecom, women currently occupy only one quarter of positions in the industry according to the Statistics Canada labour force survey, down from 31% a decade ago. In 1999, the number was 35%, but many of the women occupied clerical and administrative jobs.

"Women leave tech jobs twice as often as men do." – Maryna Ivus, ICTC

Of tech workers in telecom, women occupy 32% of telecom carriers manager positions, hold 31% of database analyst and data administrator jobs, and are 31% of information systems testing technicians. More technical positions such as computer network technicians (5% female), computer engineers (3%), electronic service technicians (11%), and software engineers and designers (15%) were predominantly occupied by men.

Things are looking up, however. According to Teamlease Services, in 2015-2016, global telecom companies increased their hiring of women by 5-10%, and in 2016-2017, from 10-15%. Thirty percent of organizations said they plan to hire substantially more women than before. And hiring was at all levels: a 20% increase in entry-level, a 30% increase in mid-level managers, and a 15% increase in experienced professionals.

But why does it matter? Ivus noted that, according to the Harvard Business Review, gender diversity improves business results, with diverse companies 45% more likely to grown market share, 70% more likely to successfully capture new markets, 53% enjoying higher return on equity, and 15% more likely to outperform their peers.

Furthermore, she pointed out, research from Catalyst revealed more diverse companies are 75% more likely to get innovative ideas to market, earn 38% more revenue from innovative products and services if they have higher diversity in management, and, most tellingly, teams are 158% more likely to understand their target consumers if they contain individuals representing the consumer's gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or culture.

Given these advantages, Ivus said the secret sauce for recruiting women has seven components: offer telework or flex working opportunities, provide fair and clear promotion criteria, offer career path support, provide visible leadership and accountability, include women mentors and role models, offer employee incentives, and provide equitable pay.

"Focus on attraction, retention, and promotion," she said. "Women leave tech jobs twice as often as men do."

Finally, she said, "No matter who or where they are, if people feel a sense of belonging and they're valued for their unique contributions, they're empowered to innovate more."