Breaking the glass ceiling in new technologies
“We’ve had tons of campaigns and created various models, but what we haven’t done is ask whether the industry has what it takes to retain women,” says Chloé Freslon, President and Founder of URelles, an inclusion and diversity consulting firm that knows all the workings of the tech industry. At this time, the heart of the problem seems to be retention: the majority of women leave the industry after about 10 years, and 50% of women working in IT change professions before the age of 35. According to Freslon, who helps established businesses and start-ups in Montreal overcome the sensitive issue of workplace diversity, the problem lies in a lack of an inclusivity plan within organizations. “There needs to be a major overhaul, which,” she concedes, “is no easy feat.”
Vanessa Chérenfant, Director of Strategy and Operations at Cogia, echoes this sentiment. Very involved with those starting in the industry, particularly through mentoring programs, Chérenfant works hard to turn things around. “In terms of corporate culture, far too often, unfortunately, it remains a boys’ club,”she says. “A lot of work is done to eliminate barriers to get into the industry. Once they’re in, however, how can we make sure women keep on progressing?” she asks. Possibilities for growth is one factor, but the presence of diversity in key management positions is one of various solutions to consider. Similarly, internal and external communications (how job opportunities are drafted, for example) requires a lot of work, some of which does not necessarily apply to the predominantly male gender. “It’s a clarity issue. Men need to be aware that their words and behaviours may negatively affect women or any other minority,” says Amira Boutouchent, Co-Founder and CEO of Bridgr, a downtown start-up that uses AI to revitalize local and international companies. Yet another obstacle standing in the way of hiring and retention? Think strength in numbers. Women and visible minorities rarely want to be the only ones of their category to work for an organization, and face the pressures associated with this alone.
The outlook may seem meek, but businesswomen are staying optimistic. They all agree that the retention issue should not slow down the efforts put forth to attract women to the tech field. And what is the pandemic’s impact on this? There’s been lots of talk about setbacks for women on the job market, but for Amira Boutouchent, 2020 will have been a springboard: “We shouldn’t be afraid to talk, challenge, and ask questions. Innovation means rebuilding, and this pandemic is an opportunity to make positive changes,” she says. Vanessa Chérenfant agrees, adding that the Black Lives Matter movement has had a domino effect: “I think we’ve reached a turning point. There are now more serious, deeper conversations taking place. I want my daughter to live in a world where she won’t have to face the same challenges I do, wherever I end up,” she concludes.