The status of diversity in Canada’s tech industry

The status of diversity in Canada’s tech industry

The death of George Floyd sparked outrage in the US and around the world. Beyond performative measures such as pronouncing statements of support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in social media, industries as a whole must review how their actions contribute to social inequities and take corrective measures.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” — Angela Davis, American political activist

The Canadian tech sector is not immune or exempt from criticism — there is ample evidence that structural issues are found here, too.

The last bullet point above is very telling. Statements declaring the problem abound online:

  • “It’s no secret that Canada’s growing tech ecosystem suffers from a lack of diversity.” — DMZ
  • “Because of a toxic culture, engineering and computer science is an unwelcoming space for Black Canadians.” — The Peak
  • “Of the thousands of Canadian venture deals produced from 2014 to 2019, so few Black women founders raised money that these figures are very close to nothing.” — betakit

None of the articles linked above cited statistical evidence, though these do align with the numbers cited in this article asserting that systemic racism also exists in Canada.

Addressing the problem: Tech sector launches efforts to lift underrepresented groups

Canada’s tech and innovation leaders form an anti-racism coalition
In Canada, leaders in the tech and innovation sectors have launched the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), an initiative that aims to dismantle systemic racism and create pathways of opportunities for Blacks, Indigenous peoples, and persons of colour. The coalition has five priorities, namely:

  1. Youth skills development
  2. Job opportunities
  3. Venture and founder support
  4. Investment and funding
  5. Community leadership

To start, CILAR will focus on racism toward Black people and work toward getting more Black people hired, granting more support to Black founders, and helping them become the future leaders of Canada’s economy. Efforts in this initial stage will form the basis for how CILAR would help other groups that are underrepresented in tech going forward.

DMZ fosters opportunities for Black startup founders in Canada
Last year, the DMZ, a business startup incubator, carved out a space exclusively for Black founders by initiating its Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF). BIF is an accelerator program that provides future Black tech leaders with programming workshops, mentorship, networking opportunities, workspaces with state-of-the-art resources, and affordable housing in Toronto.

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”
— excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Acceptance Speech

Out of a belief that underrepresented minorities continue to face barriers to the entrepreneurial opportunities brought about by Canada’s growing tech industry, DMZ has increased BIF’s funding goal to $1 million. With this, BIF hopes to serve five times the number of participants it has now.

Did you know?

There are similar programs that serve First Nations’ entrepreneurs as well, such as the Indigenous Digital Accelerator of Capilano University and the Indigenous Business Accelerator Program of the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI).

Expanding the vision: Canadian universities and the government work together to attract and keep international students

Canada's science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students — of which a considerable part is made up of international students — contribute to the tech industry's workforce. Their diverse experiences bring a wealth of knowledge and insights not available to those who implement isolationist or exclusionary policies.

According to Dan Weber, senior director of innovation and strategy of ApplyBoard — a platform that connects students to universities in the United Kingdom, the US, and Canada — students don’t enroll in Western universities just for the education. They’re looking to find work in their host countries and perhaps gain citizenship as well. This means that not only do foreign students contribute billions of dollars to Canada’s GDP and help support hundreds of thousands of jobs, but they ultimately bolster Canada’s workforce with specialized skills and talents.

“International education represents a significant economic benefit to Canada, with international students contributing $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP and supporting nearly 170,000 jobs in 2018.” — “COVID Update from IRCC – May 14, 2020,” Canadian Bureau for International Education

With this information in mind, Canada is widening its doors to international students as the US closes theirs. Canadian universities permit distance learning for their students — and Canada’s immigration office even allows them to finish up to 50% of their studies while they’re outside the country. Furthermore, the Canadian government relaxed its rules so that time won’t be taken out of the length of graduates’ work permits if they decide to continue their studies beyond the country’s borders.

Shopify invites workers who won’t get their US work visas

In a bid to give Americans first priority for American jobs, President Trump signed an executive order that suspended new applications for foreign worker visas, including those for the H-1B program. No more than a day passed when Shopify, Canada’s highest valued company, registered the domain and had it redirect to the careers page on Shopify’s website.

Shopify Vice President Kaz Nejatian and CEO Tobi Lutke urged the engineers among the US visa applicants to work in Canada instead.

On May 21, Lutke announced that Shopify was “digital by default,” letting its entire workforce work remotely during the pandemic and minimizing working in the company's offices after the health crisis has passed. According to Nejatian, this approach allows Shopify to hire globally as well as support those who wish to relocate to Canada.

Less than a month later, Lutke announced that Shopify will donate a total of $1 million to causes that support the BLM movement:

These donations further cement Shopify’s reputation as an ally of racial justice.

As a Canadian company, XBASE joins the rest of the nation in embracing multiculturalism and racial justice. We provide our clients in Toronto and beyond with Exponentially Better™ IT services, thanks to our diverse and exceptional staff. To leverage our expertise for your business, contact us today.

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