They say it takes a village to raise a child and the same is true when trying to build a foundation to support women in technology today and in the future. There has been a groundswell of support for women in tech and an overall rising of women as leaders. That said, we often focus too narrowly on supporting founders rather than supporting teams. And, it is teams, with a diverse and inclusive culture, that ultimately contribute to a company’s long-term success.
As we approach International Women’s Day, my message is clear: we all need to empower more women to pursue leadership roles in the technology industry—not just as founders and co-founders, but also as product managers, CEOs, developers and board directors. Capital alone will not suffice in making the kind of systemic changes that are required for the long-term success of women in tech and a truly diverse and inclusive tech industry.
Funding is an undisputed barrier for female-founded teams, but ask most women in tech and they will tell you their greater challenge is a lack of mentors and role models to help them navigate through their journey as a tech entrepreneur. The saying “you can’t be what you can’t see” is prevalent because it’s true.
In February, we took 12 female-founded companies to Silicon Valley for an intensive three-day program where they learned from peers, experts and from each other about what it takes to successfully scale outside of Canada and to build important connections in Silicon Valley. Helen Kontozopoulos, the co-founder of Toronto-based ODAIA, said the trip brought her priceless value because she is now a part of the Canadian-Silicon Valley ecosystem. Now, she has a network to tap into to help grow her board, advisors, product and fundraising potential.
There are many talented women breaking new ground in the tech industry. These women will disrupt markets, transform the world and inspire change. We must support and encourage girls and women to become founders and to pursue STEM careers without limiting those who choose other roles. Not all women in tech want to be founders and not all of them will come from STEM fields. We need a diversity of people and thought to grow the Canadian tech ecosystem.
Take two examples from our portfolio: Lisa Shields the CEO of FI.SPAN. An engineer by training, she sold her first company to PayPal for $400 million and in under three years, her second company is already working with many top US banks leading a shift in how banks service their business customers.
Or consider Cerys Goodall. Cerys is a tech-marketing expert. She helped Kobo expand to 22 countries in 2.5 years and single-handedly launched LEAGUE’s brand, a company that today manages health benefits for global companies. She is not a founder or a STEM student, but numerous tech start-ups wouldn’t be where they are today without her, including Innerspace, where she is the chief marketing officer.
These women, and many others like them, are tech champions in Canada – leading their companies, and supporting the tech community at large to create more opportunity for diversity. When we limit the definition of what a woman in tech is or should be, we are limiting women’s potential today and in the future.
We are moving in the right direction, but there is still much more to be done. We need to work together to remove barriers and provide role models of all types for women in tech.
I am honoured to manage BDC’s Women in Technology Venture Fund, the world’s largest venture fund investing solely in women in tech. To-date, we have invested in 30 amazing companies here in Canada and will invest in more.
We provide resources, networking opportunities, collaboration, mentorship, and more, to help ensure women in tech have success within their company, community, and in their next venture too. Our support extends beyond investment because we realize it takes more than money to impact meaningful change. We also work with many partners to give tomorrow’s women in tech access to initiatives to get involved, and role models to look up to, building a virtuous cycle. But, we can’t do it alone!
All of us have a role to play. So today, let’s celebrate every woman and man helping to embrace a diverse and inclusive future, because that’s what it will take to make a lasting difference for women in tech and the tech industry overall.
Michelle Scarborough is Managing Partner, Strategic Investments and Women in Technology Venture Fund of BDC Capital.