How #movethedial is boosting the number of women in the global science and technology industry

Despite the continuing growth of Canada's technology industry, women are underrepresented in this critical area of the country's economy.

According to a recent report by TD Economics, while more women are entering fields related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), there's still a long way to go; less than a quarter of the well-paying jobs in these high-growth industries are held by women. Organizations like #movethedial are working to change this.

A movement dedicated to advancing the participation and leadership of women in technology, #movethedial is hosting its first annual Global Summit in Toronto on November 7, 2018. The event aims to inspire action to advance women to leadership roles in the global technology community, and encourage young girls to pursue careers in STEM.

We spoke with Jodi Kovitz, founder and CEO of #movethedial, to get her thoughts on Canada's tech industry, advancing women in STEM, and her vision for the Global Summit.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for #movethedial?

A: After graduating from university, my first job was at a technology company. It was a great opportunity to work under successful and inspiring leaders, but I decided to leave because there weren't any female role models on their leadership team that I could look up to.

Then, after working for 15 years as a lawyer, I had the opportunity to become the CEO of a non-profit in the tech space called AceTech Ontario (who have since rebranded to Peerscale). At the first gathering of the organization, I looked around the room and saw very few women. Only about 3% of the 130 people present were women, and this was rather eye-opening for me since gender representation in the law industry was almost equal.

My second moment of inspiration occurred when a friend invited me to attend an event in Israel with the Mayor of Toronto, along with a number of leaders in the technology space. On the trip I met a number of amazing female entrepreneurs and realized there was an appetite for an organization like #movethedial to promote the advancement of women in technology.

Q: Why is it so important to #movethedial to get more women and girls involved in STEM?

A: A lack of female representation in the fields of STEM is a problem, and it is a moral imperative for all of us to create opportunities for the entire talent pool. We also know there is a strong business case to have complete diversity at the table.

In Canada, for example, we are becoming one of the epicentres of Artificial Intelligence research, teaching computers how to learn, think, and do things. However, if the design teams and leaders who are creating the AI algorithms are not diverse, we will only be building solutions that reflect a small piece of the population. It is a burning concern to increase diversity now more than ever as machines are learning from the minds that are designing them.

Q: How does Canada compare to other countries when it comes to women in STEM?

A: I strongly believe that our nation's diversity and the fact that our government and leaders deeply care about diversity as a core value is a major strength. In Canada we have incredible humans from all over the world, of all genders and backgrounds that we can engage and bring into the talent pool.

We also have many talented and hungry women who are founding tech companies or changing the game for how we create artificial intelligence and better our world. If you look at Raquel Urtasun – who is the co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI, as well as the head of Uber Toronto's driverless car program – she is proving that females can dominate the space.

Q: How can companies, particularly financial institutions, encourage more women to enter the industry?

A: We need to start right at the beginning by providing more youth with access to STEM programming across the country. Many Canadian financial institutions are already supporting programs like Canada Learning Code and Actua, both of which encourage young children of all genders to develop a passion for STEM.

Secondly, you need to have opportunities to enable female talent currently working in STEM or technology areas of businesses to build networks and create meaningful relationships with career champions. You must connect them with people who will advocate for their success and create opportunities for them to be inspired by other female role models to advance learning and development.

Finally, you must encourage females to lead. Encouraging women to put their hand up, push themselves and step into a leadership role will not only attract more female talent, but will retain and engage, advance and enable women to participate in a meaningful leadership capacity.

Q: Throughout your career, what experiences have stood out for you, being a female in a male-dominated space?

A: The experiences that have stood out the most for me are what I like to call #movethedial moments. They are the moments where career champions or sponsors have put their faith in me or given me stretch opportunities solely because they believed in my abilities and supported my vision.

One that stands out the most was when I was first conceptualizing #movethedial. It was an incredible feeling to have an investor that was fully aligned with the concept, support me in getting going and hiring a team before I was in a position to bring on sponsors and partners. Having someone look at you and say things like "You've got to do this. I'm with you. I believe in you, your capacity, and your vision, and I'm investing in you" is extremely empowering and motivating.

The way TD has embraced our vision and our goals by supporting and co-designing the first #movethedial Global Summit is another one of the greatest moments that will always stand out in my mind. These are the moments that can change the entire trajectory of a person's career. Providing opportunities, support, and going out of your way to open the door for someone you believe in is one of the most important things that any person can do to spark change.

Q: What was the best career advice you ever received?

A: Believe you can and you will. Fundamentally, everything you need to succeed is inside of you; there is no system outside of you that is going to stop you from being successful. Of course we need people to support us along the way and create opportunities for us to grow, but it all starts with the belief that you can and that you deserve it.

Q: What can attendees expect at the first #movethedial Global Summit this November?

A: It is a first of its kind conference focused on the strategic business issue of advancing women to leadership roles in the global technology community and encouraging young girls to pursue careers in STEM.

The morning will be focused on how we can #movethedial. During this session we will gather senior executives and emerging leaders focused on technology and driving innovation to determine the best in class tactics to really drive change.

The afternoon sessions will feature #movethedial stories from female leaders achieving big things in the space, with the goal of inspiring and encouraging all in attendance to learn, connect and grow together.

One very exciting aspect of the summit will be the incorporation of more than 300 talented youth across all genders, aged 14-24. In the morning we will be hosting an offsite programming session where they will learn about exponential thinking, digital literacy, quantum computing and AI. They will then join the afternoon session so they can be inspired by industry role models and get a sense of what the future of the industry looks like. 

For me, the summit is about educating all genders, celebrating and inspiring, with the ultimate goal being to galvanize action. My hope and objective for the summit is that anyone who walks out of there will do something active to move the dial that day, the next day, and the day after that.