It’s no secret that Alberta’s tech scene is facing gender disparity even as it explodes across the province, but a Calgary company is hoping to bridge the gap.
Chic Geek is a non-profit that looks to bridge the industry’s gender gap by attracting more women to tech.
Kylie Woods, founder and executive director of Chic Geek, says the idea first blossomed in 2012. By 2013 they hosted their first event and by 2014 they were officially incorporated.
“In the first couple of months, we pulled our first event together and started building our community from there,” she says.
Pivoting during the pandemic
Chic Geek used to run Geeky Summit, which Woods says was the largest conference for women in tech in Alberta, but once COVID hit, they had to pivot their strategy.
“We only run virtual events, which means that we’re a community accessible to anyone across Canada,” Woods says. “Most of our events are about profiling companies and amazing places to work.”
Chic Geek also runs a program called Career Pathing, which offers participants an opportunity to meet other women in tech.
“This helps them build their network in a meaningful and strategic way, and also access more career visibility because that’s one of the things that women are lacking in this space,” Woods adds.
A diverse hub
In addition to the Career Pathing program, Chic Geek also offers the Diversity Motherboard: an informational hub that makes resources and actions available to tech companies at earlier stages to address their diversity goals.
“What we were finding was that companies weren’t building diversity strategies and initiatives until much later down the line when they had bigger teams, more resources, more funding,” says Woods.
In some of their earlier events, Woods says that Chic Geek was hearing from companies that they didn’t have diversity, equality, and inclusion policies.
With their input, those companies were looking to make changes within a few months.
A personal journey
Along with helping other women enter tech, Woods had her reasons for wanting to start Chic Geek.
Excited about the potential of technology, Woods started to teach herself to code after she finished a degree in communications, but upon finishing, she realized she wished she took computer science instead.
“I found it overwhelming and intimidating. I would look around at these spaces, and very rarely see other people like me,” she says, adding Geek Chic started as a community hub.
As she began to build her support group and community, Woods says the initiative expanded and snowballed because other women were looking for the same community feeling as well.
Gender representation in tech
With women making up 25 per cent of tech roles in the workplace, the gap in gender representation in tech is a complex issue, Woods notes, explaining that part of it is attraction and the other part is retention.
“It’s about how technology is marketed,” she says. “In many ways, it’s still not appealing to women, or they can’t see the potential for themselves in these types of roles.”
In the early days, such as with Apple, computer technology was always marketed towards boys and men, Woods says.
“A lot of the conversation and research and customer and community validation that Chic Geek has done, we know that women are a lot less interested in the technology itself and more interested in the impact of tech.”
Retention and representation
Woods says the fact there aren’t enough female role models in leadership or senior positions is a challenge as well.
“When they don’t see other women in those higher-level positions, they might think that I’m never going to get there, that’s not for me, I can’t achieve that. Then it also kind of reinforces that dropout rate,” Woods explains, adding that retention is also a major issue.
“The women that we do have are leaving tech, they’re leaving tech twice as fast as their male counterparts. Half of the women who are leaving are not coming back at all. That talent is just completely gone.”
One of the reasons for addressing attraction and retention issues is how integral technology is to everyone’s life — and that women make up 50 per cent of the population.
“Otherwise, as this kind of trend continues, we risk losing our voice altogether, and the things that we are using that inform our lives, our culture, our communities,” Woods adds.
That’s why the work Chic Geek is doing aims to promote more women to enter and stay in tech, invest in their future and have a hand in shaping that future.
“It is really important for their voices to be part of building that tech.”
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