Toronto

This woman wants to see more people of colour shape Toronto's tech world

After more than 20 years spent in the tech industry, Jessica Yamoah says she still looks around at board rooms, incubators and conferences to find a sea of white men.

Innovate Inclusion is taking a diversity audit of some of Toronto and Waterloo's tech incubators

Unhappy with the lack of diversity she saw in the tech world, Jessica Yamoah decided to launch a program for entrepreneurs of colour. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

After more than 10 years spent in the tech industry, Jessica Yamoah says she still looks around at board rooms, incubators and conferences to find a sea of white men.

There are few people of colour, she says, and even fewer black women like herself.

What that means, she says, is that an industry supposedly built on innovation has chosen to limit the pool of experiences from which it can draw.

It misses out on the perspective of visible minorities, and potentially, the needs of that diverse community as consumers, she said.

"When you look at it from an economic standpoint, having diversity and inclusion doesn't just make sense. It makes money," she said.

"And that's one of the keys things for us, but a lot of times it's missed."

So Yamoah has teamed up with Sarah Juma to change things: the pair launched Inclusive Innovation, a program geared to helping entrepreneurs of colour, particularly women, connect with incubators and other resources.

There are things that, as a woman of colour, I think about on a regular basis that someone that doesn't walk in my shoes everyday wouldn't think about.- Jessica Yamoah, co-founder of Innovate Inclusion

It's hard to track any improvement, however, without a baseline. In order to measure that, Yamoah and Juma, have begun a diversity audit of several of the region's incubators: Communitech in Waterloo, Ont., and Toronto's DMZ and MaRS.

The pair are interviewing those from different cultural backgrounds who work within those hubs and looking at the policies and demographics of the leadership teams.

"There are things that, as a woman of colour, I think about on a regular basis that someone that doesn't walk in my shoes everyday wouldn't think about," she said. "So they wouldn't create an app, or design a program that I might." 

Yamoah said that it's important to make sure that communities, traditionally underrepresented in the tech sector, know that there are resources available to help them.

She said it's also important to make sure that members of those communities know they don't have to be a coder or a graphic designer to be successful.

Equitable funding

She points to her partner, Juma, who launched StyleID, an app that the catalogues the clothing worn by actors in television shows and allows users to buy it.

Juma's background in the entertainment industry sparked the idea — and she connected with others who had the technical expertise to help.   

The pair are travelling to Ottawa this week in the hopes of meeting officials in Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to discuss how funding for tech incubators can be distributed in a way to benefit a more diverse group of entrepreneurs.

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