Gender diversity in leadership is associated with profitability and innovation: supporting gender diversity is key to strengthening Canada’s digital economy. Fortunately, the number of women working in Canada’s digital economy is rising. The rate at which women are entering the digital economy is also rising, having gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, gender diversity is challenged at the senior level in Canada’s digital economy. Women aged 45–54—the age group that would typically hold most mid- and senior-level roles—is the slowest growing cohort in the digital economy. Women in Canada are underrepresented in management roles across the economy, and this trend holds true for digital economy management occupations. Similarly, gender discrepancies are especially pronounced in senior and executive roles in Canada. In 2022 women held 26% of seats on boards across all TSX-listed companies. While that is an improvement from 2015, where women only held 10% of board seats, there is still a lot of work to be done.
At the individual level, managers and leaders can work to address two key barriers: (I) visibility and informal promotional structures, and (II) uneven implementation of organizational policy. The first barrier, visibility, exists partly because of social structures in the industry that prevent and reduce women’s face time with their managers; it is the classic boy’s club scenario. Reduced facetime can adversely impact relationships between women and their managers and can result in women being passed up for promotions.
To address this barrier, managers and leaders can implement low-cost interventions like virtual watercoolers to increase face-to-face interactions in a virtual work environment, act as sponsors and advocates, and male leaders can become allies to women in the digital economy. The second barrier, unenforced organizational policy, challenges the success of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policies when senior-level managers and executives lack buy-in. Without this tangible commitment, EDI policies can fall by the wayside. As such, it is important that the digital economy builds inclusive leaders that can enact meaningful change across an organization.
Organizational challenges are complex and extend beyond gender biases. Another key challenge affecting gender equity at the organizational level is the gender pay gap: unfortunately, ICTC’s analysis shows that a gender pay gap persists across the digital economy. Organizations can prioritize salary transparency to support pay equity. In addition, women in tech engaged in this study noted sentiments of isolation, tokenism, and imposter syndrome. These challenges can be attributed to the lack of gender parity in tech, especially in senior-level roles.
Strategies to increase diversity at the individual, organizational, and ecosystem levels must be customized and tailored to meet specific targets and goals. Women in the digital economy engaged in focus groups for this study suggested that such strategies, policies, and programs should be co-created with affected groups. Employee resource groups (ERGs) that build a safe space for employees to communicate their challenges and needs have been noted as one avenue. After EDI initiatives are implemented, key performance indicators (KPIs) should be used to monitor and evaluate program success. When created and monitored with care, EDI strategies such as those highlighted in this report, can have meaningful impacts on creating a more inclusive digital economy that supports women as they progress through their careers.