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Diversity & Inclusion

Canadian tech talent is tops, but how can the tech sector foster a welcoming environment for women?

In Canada, there is intense competition for technology talent. Firms from all sectors and all sizes are competing in a seller’s market. Those in the industry agree upon two universally known truths: Talent wins, and the skills and abilities of Canadian tech talent are second to none on the global stage.

But, Canadian tech talent is not without its gaps. One item of frequent discussion: How do you do a better job of hiring and retaining women in the technology sector?

All companies are promoting their own unique competitive advantage. The startups offer freedom, opportunity and potential riches. The banks and other established companies offer stability and mature working environments. What too few companies are doing is truly focusing on diversity and specifically offering a working environment that is inclusive and welcoming to women while providing them with a stage upon which they can build their career, shine and thrive.

To address this shortcoming, here are some remedies for companies to try.

Skill-based & diverse hiring is needed

First, take steps to eliminate managers who hire based on their gut. A skills-based test for new hires will help ensure hiring is based on ability instead of gender. At Thomson Reuters Canada, we do a blind baseline coding test to judge people on their skills compared with our impression of their résumés et cetera. That’s not to say résumés don’t matter – they do. You want to ensure you hire people that have proven records of success versus someone’s intuition, which is almost always wrong.

Secondly, make sure that your hiring panels are diverse – both from an ethnic and gender perspective. Too often hiring managers pick individuals that reflect them instead of the communities we represent. Also, you want to ensure you are hiring diverse thoughts, experience and styles that are different from your own. Empower the hiring teams to be self-policing so that they are comfortable calling each other out if they see bias.

Most controversially, favor the diverse candidate over the majority. While this practice is an art more so than a quota, managers must look at the numbers and their results. Are your teams reflective of their community and the broader work force? Are you moving the needle over time? Even if you think you have gone too far, you probably haven’t. All the data available suggest you should err on the side of diverse talent.

I am not suggesting you lower your standards to hire diverse talent. I am saying you need to ensure your talent pipeline provides you with the opportunity to hire them. They are out there – it’s up to you to find them. Here is where technology can help. Increasingly, companies, including ours, are using artificial-intelligence-enabled software to locate diverse candidate pools.

Also be open with candidates about the questions we ask and how the interviews are conducted. Not all candidates are as polished as others or as strong a salesperson, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be great employees.

Enacting your zero-tolerance policy

One thing that must also be emphasized is you have to have a transparent policy on zero tolerance to bad behavior, including male toxicity and sexual harassment of female employees. Staffing decisions must always be based on culture over talent. No one individual, no matter how talented, is worth losing the faith and trust of your entire team. If bad behavior is tolerated, it can spread like a virus — negatively impacting diverse and non-diverse people.

While the above has proved effective for us (30% of our Canadian technology work force is female) it does not address the other fundamental issue inherent in the sector — there are far too few women in the technology sector as a whole.

As a society, more must be done to address the barriers women and girls face entering the field. That effort needs to be a joint one where industry, government and civil society work together. Second, all members of the industry, as a community and as individuals, need to address the reasons why women leave the sector in greater numbers than men. We need to do so much more to create a sector that provides women with everything they want and need from a professional experience.

The one question that needs to be answered again and again is: Why focus on women and diversity? The evidence is compelling: Diverse companies with a culture of inclusion outperform their competitors. We view diversity as a competitive imperative because we know it will result in better ideas and innovation for our customers. Our customers expect it, our employees demand it, and our leadership team is committed to it.

This article was written by Shawn Malhotra, CTO of Thomson Reuters Toronto Technology Centre. A version of this article originally appeared in the Toronto Globe & Mail.

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