Diversity in tech in Montreal : a panel presented by Le Wagon
Photo: Le Wagon
Diversity is very important for Askida. We hire experts from all around the world and we believe that a diverse team allows us to deliver better, more complete software solutions to our clients. Moreover, contrary to many tech companies, women are a key part of our team and occupy many different important positions. To put it simply: our objective is to hire the best talents.
If you’d like to meet our team, you can check out our Achieving Trust video, which stars our experts.
That being said, even if our intentions are good, it’s always possible to do better. To learn more about diversity in tech in Montreal, I went to a roundtable organized by Le Wagon in collaboration with the coworking space La Gare. The event was hosted Chloé Freslon, a journalist who curates the blog URelles. Her guests were Cassie L. Rhéaume, a developer involved in digital literacy and the organisation Ladies Learning Code, Emma Williams, campus director for Notman House, and Ilias Benjelloun, creative director for MTLNewTech.
To start the discussion, the host, Chloé Freslon, mentionned the “importance of models” for her, a preoccupation that seems to be at the heart of the blog she curates for the Metro Newspaper, URelles, which focuses on women in tech. Cassie L. Rhéaume, a developer who, amongst other activities, provides technical training for teen girls, seemed to agree and talked about the value of addressing women directly to show them that tech is for everyone. She then mentioned a popular theory that states that in the 80s, when computers arrived in people’s homes, they were marketed as “toys” for men. As a result, girls weren’t allowed to thinker with computers as much as boys were, and even if they had a natural talent for programming, they would often have to compare themselves to boys their own age who were hundreds of hours ahead of them in terms of experience, which encouraged them to quit. The effects of this can still be felt today, which helps explain the disproportionate presence of men in tech.
Following these comments, MTLNewTech’s Ilias Benjelloun gave some excellent advice to all the entrepreneurs in the room: diversity should be built from the very start into a company’s DNA by being reflected into the group of founders. According to a study, a company whose board of directors is diverse performs on average 10% better. “How many dating apps were started by two straight white men who thought they knew what they were doing, without consulting any women?” added Mr. Benjelloun, which made the audience laugh. Mr. Benjelloun also mentioned problems with the way artificial intelligence systems are designed: teams that lack diversity are more likely to unconsciously reproduce and implement social biases within their systems. “What kind of future are we building without diversity, one filled with biases?” added Mr. Benjelloun.
Photo: Le Wagon
According to Mrs. Rhéaume, the Montreal tech community is very healthy, thanks, in part, to communal spaces like Notman House or entry-level bootcamps like Le Wagon or Les Pitonneux, which facilitate exchanges and new meetings. This is just the tip of the iceberg as well, as there are many other initiatives, including a Slack channel for women in tech in Montreal. That being said, even if the community is generally friendly, it’s very important to speak up when problems occurs. Notman House’s Emma Williams shared a horror story about an article written shortly after she was hired. The journalist had written that Notman had been looking for a woman, as if being a woman was Mrs. Williams’ only qualification for this important position. “In general, you’re not supposed to respond to journalists, but I had decided to make an exception and write him an email to tell him I was profoundly insulted and would prefer that this sentence was changed. The journalist told me that it’s not what he meant and I got an official change.”
A little while later, Mr. Benjelloun added that for a company, diversity needs to come from leaders. People in power must be allies, which can create positive momentum: a key hire can lead to another down the road and so on. Moreover, what we need to encourage in regard to diversity is not just hiring, but also retention. According to a study, women, for example, are 200% more likely than men to leave a startup during their first year working there. “We have to create an environment that facilitates sponsorship of different ideas and projects so that everyone, regardless of their background, can share their ideas, start projects and move forward,” specified Mr. Benjelloun. Sometimes, problems are harder to identify. For example, MTLNewTech now offers alternative daycare services for its events to encourage parents to show up. This makes it easier for entrepreneurs who have kids to participate and share their knowledge. Diversity can also mean making an effort to better understand other people’s struggles so that we can implement practical solutions that eliminate these barriers.
Lastly, I’d like to conclude this event report by mentioning another awesome MTLNewTech initiative: Startup Mosaic, which spotlights new companies and startups that are led by minorities to show that entrepreneurship has no limit. Unfortunately, media outlets often feature the same faces and the same companies, reinforcing the stereotype that entrepreneurship is for men only. Startup Mosaic goes in a different direction by featuring new faces and positive stories.
Thank you to Le Wagon and La Gare for this awesome event!