Moving the dial for women in tech: Q&A with Kirstine Stewart

Canada's tech and innovation community has a diversity gap.

Women make up only 13 per cent of the average tech company's executive team and only five per cent of companies have a solo female CEO, according to a 2017 report from #movethedial, an organization working to increase the advancement and participation of all women in tech.

On November 7, #movethedial is holding its first Global Summit in Toronto, featuring engaging panel conversations and keynotes from inspiring women from across the technology industry who are working to close the gap.

Kirstine Stewart, President and Chief Revenue Officer at TribalScale, is one of the speakers at the #movethedial Global Summit and is a trailblazer in the Canadian tech and media industries, previously serving as the head of Twitter Canada and as the only woman to lead CBC's English division.

A strong advocate for more female leaders in the technology world, Stewart spoke to the TD Newsroom ahead of her talk at the Summit about why she loves working in tech, who inspires her, and why diversity and inclusion are critical to the future of the industry.

Responses have been edited for length.

Q: What do you love about working in tech?

A: Tech is an exciting place to be. It has a hand in every industry, it’s at the top of everyone’s mind and every company is ready to take the next step. When you work in tech, you’re involved with the creation of apps and other digital products that will touch millions of people around the world.

Q: Who is your female tech hero and why?

A: Amber Mac. Amber recognized how the media market was changing: business models were being disrupted and organizations were increasingly relying on tech for the creation and distribution of content. She stepped out of her comfort zone and set an example. Her success and message was an inspiration to many female entrepreneurs who look up to her. She proved it can be done; if you see it, you can be it.

Q: There is a lot of talk about how tech can be harmful. What role can women play in creating ethical and empathetic technology?

A: We all have a role to play in creating ethical and empathetic technology. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to safeguard our users and their data, and to ensure technology is used for good. More generally, it’s important that the teams building the technologies and digital products of today and tomorrow are diverse and representative themselves. It’s essential that varied lived experiences, perspectives, and assumptions are brought into the ideation, design, and development processes. This way, we are most likely to ensure the given piece of technology doesn’t isolate or alienate a specific group or demographic.

Q: For young women who want to get into the tech industry, what should they look for in potential employers to determine whether the company is committed to diversity?

A: It is essential that all people look for alignment in terms of company values, but to also make sure it isn’t just a talking piece and that the company internalizes, lives, and breathes diversity (and any other stated value). As far as diversity goes, look for programs and policies that are intended to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Consider how they retain diverse employees because simply hiring a diverse workforce does not necessarily mean those individuals are valued and included.

Q: We hear a lot about women in STEM fields, but is there a place in the industry for people who don't have a traditional tech background?

A: Increasingly, organizations are beginning to understand and appreciate the value brought by varied backgrounds (professional and educational) and lived experiences. Simply put, more voices and different perspectives mean better results. This is good news for women who want to enter STEM fields but don’t have a traditional tech background. As more and more women enter STEM fields, we will slowly build to a critical mass, which will create a sense of belonging, in turn attracting even more women to STEM. Each individual brings something to the table and will add value, but the onus is also on us (women) to bring attention to ourselves and show our worth.

The #movethedial Global Summit, sponsored by TD, brings together current and future members of the tech industry to connect and learn how to support one another, while gaining insights from the stories of inspiring women in tech.