Calgary

Calgary company aims to make tech jobs more accessible to women to tackle labour shortage

Alberta’s technology industry is growing faster than companies can hire, but the reason for the shortfall of skilled labour may not be as simple as a supply shortage. 

Non-profit wants to address gender inequity in the technology sector

From left, Kylie Woods, Theresa Tayler, Lauren Gross, Hanan Chebib. The team is part of a Calgary-based organization hoping to support more women to pursue careers in technology. (Supplied by Chic Geek)

Alberta's technology industry is growing faster than companies can hire, but the reason for the shortfall of skilled labour may not be as simple as a supply shortage. 

Women are leaving the profession at twice the rate of their male counterparts.

That's according to Chic Geek, a Calgary-based non-profit determined to balance gender equality in the tech sector. As the tech industry continues to grow in Alberta, attracting more women to the workforce and retaining those already there could be key to keeping up with labour demands.

Program specialist Hanan Chebib says the typical tech environment can be off putting for some. 

"A lot of women are wanting not just pay equity and not just sort of flexibility around work hours and maternity leave and those kinds of options," Chebib said. 

As program specialist for Chic Geek, Hanan Chebib has designed the organization’s career path program to help prevent women from leaving tech mid-career. (Supplied by Chic Geek)

"But what they really want to see, what they really desire, is moving into a company or being within a company where they actually care about that person's well-being."

Chebib says a lack of interest isn't what's keeping women out of tech. 

According to Statistics Canada, women make up more than 40 per cent of STEM degree holders

"But when you start getting into the actual sector of the workplace, you're seeing only 25 per cent of women actually occupying those roles," Chebib said. 

"And as you get further and further up into things like leadership roles or senior executives, that drops down even significantly more." 

The lack of women occupying senior roles in the tech industry then compounds the problem. 

"One of the primary reasons why women were leaving the sector and leaving forever was the fact that they didn't have any career visibility," explained Chebib. 

"They couldn't see where else they could go or how to make their career progression occur." 

That notion strikes a tone of familiarity with Cher Chen, who left the technology industry 15 years ago for better opportunities. 

Cher Chen has worked her way up multiple corporate ladders but initially found that the technology industry didn’t have the right opportunities for her. (Supplied by Chic Geek)

"I simply was just trying to broaden my horizon and do and take on more responsibility."

Chen says she always felt a desire to return to the tech industry. 

Eventually, she found support through mentorship. 

"I found that to be extremely valuable, especially when I was knocking on the door of the tech industry and I didn't know where to start, I didn't know how to start, like, how do you get in?" 

Chen now pays it forward as a mentor in Chic Geek's career path program and works as a financial controller for Tykans Group.

After leaving tech, Chen found herself in oil and gas and energy-adjacent industries, like manufacturing and accounting for the oil sector.

Transitional skills

Chen believes that while oil and gas used to dominate the job market, Calgary's maturing technology sector is now able to offer more stable and advanced positions. 

"I think the pandemic has changed that, and I think the economic shift also has changed that." 

She says the skill sets built in other industries are still in demand in the growing tech sector. 

"It's the transitional skills that need to be tapped," Chen said. 

Chebib says engaging women to prevent them from leaving the tech industry is an easy win. 

"We know how much this sector is growing, especially here in Alberta, but we know that the talent pool isn't expanding at the same rate, and so we have these conversations around, well, how do you then make sure that you're getting the right talent or attracting the right talent?"

"And it's really easy to do if you actually can show authentically that you're creating diversity and equity and inclusion in your spaces," Chebib said. 

Chen said including diversity in this sector is especially important. 

"There is definitely gender bias in technology," Chen said. 

"If we are building and creating new technology that's shaping the way we live in the future, it needs to incorporate all perspectives."

Chebib agrees, noting that the blossoming tech sector is in a time of self-determination. 

"We have an opportunity here in Canada to create an environment where not only can you be in the tech sector and really love the work that you're doing, but you can also love your workplace at the same time." 

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