Women are not staying in technology long enough to move up the career ladder, adding to existing labour shortages and inclusivity barriers for the growing industry in Alberta.
Half of women who take a job in tech drop it by the age of 35, compared to approximately 20 per cent in other types of jobs, according to a 2020 study done by Accenture and Girls Who Code. The study also found women leave tech roles at a 45 per cent higher rate than men.
Calgary-based non-profit Chic Geek is looking to change that through programs to support, engage and keep women in the tech sector.
Program specialist Hanan Chebib said the issue isn’t a lack of interest in the field, but the absence of women in leadership roles.
Imagine that you are a senior developer who has been in this industry for 10 years and you don’t see anyone that is female within the leadership or executive level,” Chebib said. “Sometimes the message those companies are giving you is that there may not be any space for you.”
In Alberta, women in tech account for only 25 per cent of workers while making up 45 per cent of the overall workforce.
That number drops even further for leadership or executive level positions. Fewer than one in five top company executives in the largest 1,000 tech companies are women, according to the Accenture study.
“When we ask the women within our programs what their biggest challenge is being in the tech sector, they always come back and say career visibility. I can’t see what is the next step for me to progress in my career.”
In response, Chic Geek’s Career Pathing program gives women the opportunity to talk to 12 different women in tech over 12 months to help build a support network. Connections made through the program can help women figure out a path forward, and have led to job opportunities for some, she said.
“What women desire are actual role models and mentors that they can talk to within their workplace. And if they can’t find it in their workplace, we hope that they can come to Chic Geek.”
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Much of Alberta’s growth in the tech sector has happened within the past three years, increasing from 1,200 companies to 3,000 companies this year, according to the Alberta Enterprise Corp. Despite this, tech companies are struggling to fill positions.
Tech companies that have practices in place to support the well-being of their employees, not just the ability to start a family, tend to attract more women in the field, Chebib said.
“When they talk about work-life balance, they’re not talking about having a family and this career. What they’re talking about is, ‘Can my life be more flexible so that it meets my needs as a human being?’ ” she said.
“They will choose a company based on the fact that they care about their people.”
Scholarship awarded to more women in STEM
The province announced an increase to the Women in STEM Scholarship to support more post-secondary students at Mount Royal University on Thursday.
Associate Minister of Status of Women Whitney Issik said $732,500 will be distributed to 293 students this year, with each recipient receiving $2,500 to put toward their education.
“Every student receiving the scholarship has the potential to make great new discoveries in the field, to be leaders in technological and scientific progress and to build the path for Alberta’s future,” Issik said.
“Supporting students is the key to building Alberta’s thriving future and growing a strong and resilient economy.”
Theresa Tayler, head of content and public relations for Chic Geek, said the scholarships will go directly to support women eager to work in STEM, helping to “level the playing field in this province for women.”
“That’s why support and mentorship is integral. And it has to begin earlier in the process for women at the post-secondary level, not just when we’re in the field,” Tayler said.
“We cannot sit idly by as a community and say, ‘Oh, gosh, looks like the stats say we need more women in STEM’ without putting action to work and investing in women privately and publicly.”
— With files from Josh Aldrich
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