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Highlights from Halifax

The streets were full of snow but weather was not enough to stop a room full of fabulous Haligonians from joining us for coffee, muffins, and contributions to the advancement of women in the digital economy.

We were welcomed and greeted by Joanne Stanley, Executive Director of WCT, and Laurie Sinclair of the Center for Women in Business. Following that, Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, President & CEO of Digital Nova Scotia, set the context for the session.

Lessons Learned

Ulrike shared her personal notes on what has been foundational to her success, crediting her willingness to learn and adapt along with her resourcefulness as the primary contributors. Learning from failure and picking yourself up after a stumble also filled her notebook of lessons learned.

Ulrike talked about a Digital Nova Scotia project (funded by Status of Women Canada) established to work with Nova Scotia companies on the importance of diversity. She shared the project’s results:

  • 93 managers were trained on diversity and inclusion;
  • Those managers collectively manage 5000 people;
  • 12 best practices captured;
  • 3 awards given to participating companies and individuals for their accomplishments.

While driving the results above, the project benefited companies in many ways. For example, by calling for a change in the language used in job descriptions so that they better relate to women, companies saw more applications from female candidates throughout the hiring process. For another example, one company realized it had a gender pay equity problem and put its money behind acting to address it. A video of Ulrike discussing the Digital Nova Scotia project can be viewed on WCT's Facebook page.

Entrepreneurship Top of Mind in Nova Scotia

As with the other roundtables, we moved to the discussion section of the agenda by asking what fourth topic the group would like to explore in addition to the “Career Advancement”, “Required Resources”, and “Measures of Success” topics already on the list. Having participated in five roundtables prior to Halifax, I was eager to hear what this group might come up with its “wild card” topic. I was thrilled when the group selected Laurie Sinclair’s suggestion of “Entrepreneurship”—a topic very much reflecting the market and needs of women in Nova Scotia.

The sections below provide highlights of what we took away from the Halifax discussion groups.

Topic 1: Career Advancement

This group covered a lot of territory and made these recommendations:

  • Host a similar roundtable with men and ask them the question, “how do you recommend advancing women in the CMT sectors?”. Compare the results with roundtables previously hosted by WCT which featured a predominately female perspective.
  • The need for formal and informal coaching, mentorship, and career sponsorship was called out with an emphasis on fostering relationships outside an individual’s place of employment.
  • Culture fosters diversity and gender diversity is part of the larger need to embrace all kinds of diversity.
  • Transparency and pay equity was a topic raised by this group which ignited into a larger, full-room discussion during the share-back session (more on this below).

Topic 2: Measuring Success

Another rich discussion took place regarding how to measure success. Highlights from this group:

  • Organizations generally set targets and measure the important strategic initiatives that generate revenue. The group cautioned that the same thinking and approach needs to be applied to advancing women in their careers and achieving gender balance.
  • While recruitment is important, so too is the need to spend quality time and effort thinking through retention strategies for women already in the workforce. This includes putting forward the idea of measuring training and learning opportunities for existing female employees.
  • Organizations should consider tracking and measuring more details about the application/hiring process as well as negotiating salaries, raises, and promotions to inform progress and adjust approach.
  • Leaders need to put themselves out into the community to represent what they are doing, how they are building a welcoming, diverse culture, and making connections that will produce future benefits. This is a great call to action not surfaced in previously held roundtable discussions.
  • Call to action for women to support each other in networking efforts and to see this as one of our responsibilities in improving the gender balance.

Topic 3: Required Resources

This discussion topic brought to light many great ideas that can be incorporated into future plans, including:

  • More storytelling and examples of success.
  • Need to highlight what skills are transferrable and provide roadmaps for careers in IT that leverage those skills.
  • Build culture through having diversity champions who are knowledgeable about company policies, practices, and successes. It is important to note that often these types of resources are centralized (i.e. usually in Ontario) and more consideration is needed as to how to translate benefits to different regions.
  • Job descriptions are an important tool for attracting candidates. HR and organization leaders need to be proactive and intentional in their approach to job descriptions to mitigate risk of turning away potentially strong female talent.
  • Investment in additional tools and training to support recognizing and managing gender bias.

Topic 4: Entrepreneurship

The group has lively discussion centered on a few key points:

  • We need to support and instill entrepreneurial vision in more women through coaching and helping them see the potential and possibilities. In addition, it is important to help entrepreneurs to feel like they are not all on their own.
  • Mentorship/sponsorship programs centered on supporting entrepreneurs and corporate Canada Intrapreneurs
  • There is a need to make funding available to help women increase the size and influence of their networks to drive results.

Too Comfortable with Pay Inequity?

Before wrapping up in Halifax, we circled back to the topic of pay equity and the fact that it had been raised in various ways by each group throughout the morning. We noted that perhaps we have just become too comfortable with the inequity and have allowed it to become “the new normal”. It is like a faded wall in your house—despite the need for painting, you never get around to it and eventually you don’t really notice that the color is not as brilliant as it should be. We have almost come to accept earning .73 or less for each dollar our male counterparts make. All in attendance agreed that actions and approaches to solving for this difference, both collectively and as individuals, could be the topic of an entire roundtable itself. While no roundtables are planned for the topic at this time, it is something that WCT may consider for a future date. If you have any thoughts on this be sure to engage and add your comments or post to twitter (#WCTBlueprint).

Wrapping Up

In closing, a big thank you to the topic facilitators Johanna Nesbitt, Sabrina Poirier, Lynda Leonard, and Willow Guy for engaging the working groups in their discussions. A special thank you as well to The Center for Women in Business and Laurie Sinclair for hosting us at Mount St. Vincent University.

Halifax was fun, an excellent learning experience, and provided us with a different point of view on what is needed for women’s advancement in the digital economy.

But Wait… There’s More

I am pleased to announce that we have added a seventh roundtable to our list. This last stop on the WCT Blueprint for Women’s Leadership roundtable tour will have us at Communitech in Waterloo, Ontario on April 19th . Read the recap.

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