Sometimes a problem is just a business waiting to happen. And Nova Scotia has its share of problems. The irony, however, is that one of our problems is we have the lowest per-capita number of businesses compared with the rest of Canada; and in Cape Breton it’s even lower.

We need more people who, when they see a problem, switch into problem-solving mode. In other words, entrepreneurs! (As well as so-called intrapreneurs in government, higher ed, and corporations.)

The problem with solving your own problem

But which problems get solved for depends to some extent on who is doing the solving. That’s because entrepreneurs often set out to solve their own problems.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. After all, who’s more motivated to relieve a pain than someone who acutely feels it themselves? (Call it the startup equivalent of “write what you know”.) But if we’re going to address the problems facing our region, the country, and the world, we need to ensure that the people doing entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship are representative of the population.

This requires dramatically increasing the participation of women in the tech sector.

Wage ‘Gap’ or Injustice?

How do we do this when, on average, women make roughly 75 cents for every dollar that men make to do the same job? Hardly a wage ‘gap’; more like wage chasm. Regardless of the metaphor, it sends a clear message that society values women’s work less. No wonder women are so underrepresented in the sector. Younger women as a result don’t see themselves reflected in relevant role models… and there you have a vicious circle.

The reasons for the disparity are myriad and systemic. (I haven’t even mentioned child-care and family-caregiver issues!) Correcting them requires strategic collaboration between women and men at all levels of government and across all sectors of society.

In the meantime…

UIT is committed to improving access to technology and entrepreneurship education. And we’re equally committed to increasing the visibility and influence of women in technology. So what are we doing, in our small part, to address the situation?

  1. Thanks to people like Annette Verschuren and companies like Protocase and MentorCamp (in addition to other industry partners) we are able to offer assistance to students with financial need and in particular through our ‘Women In Tech Bursary’.
  2. We reserve half of our seats for women: in both our launch year (2014-2015) and second year (2015-2016) our student cohorts were made up of 50 per cent women.
  3. We sponsor the Sydney chapter of Ladies Learning Code and volunteer as instructors and mentors for their workshops.
  4. We ensure that our female and male students are seen and heard equally during public presentations (participation on panels, public demos, etc) and through media coverage.
  5. And we strive for parity in our network of visitors, mentors, and advisors. (It’s somewhat ironic that these, and other, women leaders are not difficult to find. And yet women’s participation in tech and entrepreneurship is nonetheless lower and less visible than it needs to be.)

Because of our commitment to increasing the number of women employed in Nova Scotia’s ICT sector, this past June we were awarded the first inaugural Diversity Champion Award from Digital Nova Scotia.

This award celebrates and highlights the efforts of a company or organization who goes above and beyond to recognize the need for greater gender diversity in our male-dominated sector, such as developing metrics and/or a specific target to promote and retain more women in technology or technology-related positions.

And yet…

And yet… this year our cohort is all men! Why?? Other than having far, far fewer women applicants than in previous years, we don’t know the answer.

But we’re asking the question, as publicly as possible, including at the recent panel discussion on Women in Tech hosted by Navigate Startup House and featuring Annette Verschuren, Val Fox, Kim Deveaux, and myself.

We’re accepting applications for 2016/2017. Have an idea to recruit more women into UIT? Or the tech sector in general? Leave a comment below!


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