British Columbia

Fewer than 1 per cent of employees working in B.C.'s tech sector self-identify as Indigenous: survey

The CEO of a B.C. tech company says there's a "lot of work to do" in the tech sector when it comes to the number of Indigenous people employed.

CEO says studios need to create safe space for Indigenous people to feel comfortable, be themselves

Josh Nilson, CEO of East Side Games in Vancouver, says it's 'extremely important' for the tech industry to recruit more Indigenous people to 'make our business strong.' (VISHALA MARAPON)

The CEO of a B.C. tech company says there's a "lot of work to do" in the tech sector when it comes to the number of Indigenous people employed.

Josh Nilson, CEO of East Side Games in Vancouver, is Métis and grew up in northern B.C., just outside of Prince George. When he was growing up, he said he "never thought tech was even an option" until he took a website-making course at Capilano College and "stumbled into technology."

"This is something that we need to talk about more in our studios ... to try to change that," Nilson said. "We have got to start on those small steps to change the narrative and start talking about this."

HR Tech Group, a not-for-profit organization that provides data, labour market information and resources for B.C.'s tech sector, surveyed 134 tech companies in B.C. and found only 0.5 per cent of employees self identified as Indigenous.

In 2019, the organization partnered with the provincial government to create the Diversity and Inclusion Tech Project, which focuses on bringing more diverse people and perspectives to the industry.

A research report by HR Tech Group found that Indigenous peoples account for less than one per cent of the tech industry’s workforce. (CBC )

"We have to be able to talk with media and industry and government to reach out to kids and say tech is an option," Nilson said. "I think, outside of Vancouver and Victoria, it's very limited, especially northern B.C., for people to even know that they could work in games or technology."

He said as a way to raise awareness, he's made an effort to try and talk about his path to his current career and running a game studio.

"It is possible and I'm just trying to tell my story so hopefully somebody sees me and says, 'hey, maybe I could be that guy.'"

'A unicorn in the industry'

When Harley Knife, a senior animator at Yeti Farm Creative in Kelowna, saw the data on the number of Indigenous people employed in the province's tech industry, he said he felt "optimistic."

"That number is ridiculously low," Knife said. "It feels weird seeing that number but it also makes me optimistic to know that we can make that number far greater than 0.5 per cent."

Knife, who is Cree, said after seeing the lack of Indigenous people in the industry, he realized he needed to be more vocal about who he is and what he does for a living.

Harley Knife identifies as Indigenous (Cree) and has been employed as a senior animator at Yeti Farm in Kelowna for the past seven years. (Harley Knife)

"As I started seeing this number, it lit a fire in my heart to really push the fact that I am Indigenous, working in such a weird career, making cartoons for a living," Knife explained.

"It feels kind of like you're a unicorn in the industry because there's not a lot of us out there."

Nilson believes the "industry can work together to fix it" and studios can start to create a safe space for Indigenous people to feel comfortable and be themselves.

"This is something that has to be driven by leadership, it can't be a box that you tick off. It has to be something you fundamentally care about."

With files from On The Coast