Women in tech roundtable: creating an open source action plan

On Monday night, a group of 80 odd people, a majority of them women, gathered in on the top floor of Notman House to discuss the current state of the tech scene with regards to gender parity. The goal: to gather feedback from the community and develop an action plan for 2017 based on the group’s assessment and comments.

The joint effort of Notman House, Breather, Google Canada, and McGill University and co-organized by Emma Williams and Ella Sibio, the roundtable featured a panel that included: Angelique Mannela (VP Innovation at McGill University), Caterina Rizzi (Co-founder & CCO at Breather), Marie-Josee Lamothe (Managing Director: Consumer Products, Government, Entertainment at Google Canada), and Parastoo Geranmayeh (Software Developer at Google Montreal).

“Notman House launched their diversity initiative earlier this year, and one of the pillars is ‘Women in Technology’. Gender parity is a topic which is extremely important in our ecosystem and we wanted to launch something that could enact positive change,” Emma Williams of Notman House told MTLinTECH.

As the roundtable got underway, a variety of issues were raised and discussed. Why do women graduates bow out after 11-18 months in IT? How to encourage female entrepreneurs and ensure there are more female-run companies? What can companies do to make environments more conducive to women?

As the night progressed, the conversation circled back and settled on two central issues: recruiting and culture.

The common reason cited for failed gender parity in recruitment has frequently been that not as many women apply for jobs. But participants were quick to point out the fault in this logic. Companies cannot simply expect equal applications through inbound applications, as it has been proven that men apply more frequently and for jobs which they do not fit all of the criteria. It takes outbound recruiting, using platforms such as LinkedIn to go after the candidates they want and to encourage female tech workers to apply.

The other major concern discussed was related to retention and keeping female employees found through this type of outbound recruiting: corporate culture. Parastoo Geranmayeh talked about her experience as a developer at Google Chrome, and the alienating culture of her mostly male peers that tended to revolve around sports, beers, and video games.

She noted that the culture greatly improved when things like ping pong tables and other ways to unwind were introduced to the office. It helped create a way and space to socialize that was neutral and appealed to all the employees. If companies want to keep the female tech workers they hire, they need to cultivate an inclusive culture that puts male and female workers on equal ground.

“The event went really, really well. The discussion was really varied and focused on positive changes that the community can work to enact,” said Williams.

Williams and Sibio intend to take all the suggestions discussed and create an open- source database action plan using Git Hub. There will be a list of resources for companies and individuals alike, with tips to helping improve gender parity.

There will also be a public place for tech companies to disclose their gender and diversity statistics and pledge their intention to improve these statistics over the next two years. The hope is that by publicly declaring intent, companies will be held accountable for the changes they claim to pursue.

For women in the technology sector, it was truly an inspiring night. With so many people working towards setting and achieving concrete goals, it’s exciting to see what changes will be forthcoming in the next few years.


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