International Women's Day, recognized annually on March 8, is a welcome opportunity to spotlight the successes and contributions of women across the board. This year's theme is "Break the Bias." The day is also a time to bring focus to the challenges women face in their careers. I could talk about many of these challenges, but one that has become particularly clear and urgent—one with which I am intimately familiar—is the impact of the pandemic on women in technology.
The topic of advancing women's representation in tech is one we've visited many times over the years. Certainly, leading up to the arrival of the pandemic, there were signs that women were making inroads to close the gap on their male peers with regards to opportunities and influence in this fast-growing field. Organizations like Move the Dial had emerged to promote and support pathways to careers in tech for Canadian women, while employers across the board were demonstrating a genuine commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and programs.
Some of that momentum remains, but the pandemic has given rise to speedbumps that have undone some of that good progress. Several non-profit organizations that once dedicated themselves to championing women in tech closed shop or reduced operations and many women who'd made inroads into their technology careers were suddenly challenged to balance full-time jobs with new childcare, family, and pandemic-related obligations. As a result, some were compelled to reduce their workload or exit the field altogether.
Plenty has been said about the pandemic's impact on women's careers, not simply in tech but across all vocations. Now, as some of the barriers imposed by the pandemic begin to lift, it's important to explore ways of bringing women back into the tech community.
The good news is there is no lack of intent. I can speak directly as a founding chair of the KPMG Women in Technology Community. We’ve seen real interest among women to move into tech roles or upskill to bring more technology into their current jobs. Interestingly, the KPMG Women in Technology Community members at KPMG in Canada are split evenly between those within traditional tech roles (48 per cent) and those who are not (52 per cent), indicating that interests and curiosity in tech positions are far from niche.
Still, making the tech field more accessible and enticing to women takes a multi-faceted approach. Moreover, it requires workplace cultures that respect the talents, perspectives, and dynamic approaches that women bring to the field—and that are prepared to fully embrace them.
Hybrid work models are an oft-cited solution. Organizations that accommodate more flexible work arrangements stand to prevent burnout or attrition among their women employees. Similarly, establishing virtual networks that provide teams with digital resources and collaborative spaces goes a long way toward keeping women in tech engaged, connected, and more able to strike a work-life balance.
Of course, there is also value in providing more support for women in tech who have been stretched thin by pandemic demands. This can take the form of enhanced childcare support, robust work/leave packages, or other meaningful supports. We are doing this with our people at KPMG and encourage other organizations to do the same. It's also one of the reasons the firm recently purchased digital art from the highly acclaimed World of Women (WoW) non-fungible token (NFT) collection. As Nancy Chase, KPMG Partner and National Risk Consulting Leader said of the announcement: "We hope that our purchase draws more women into a sector [crypto] that's on the cusp of changing how we interact with one another in the future."
Lastly, now is an ideal time to consider how enhancing access to upskilling and micro-credentialing can help women keep pace with the sector's demands and entice those looking for ways to enter tech roles for the first time.
The pandemic created obstacles in every industry. For women in tech, those obstacles can mean taking steps back or exiting the field altogether. International Women's Day is a reminder that increasing women's representation in tech benefits not only Canadian talent but the sector and the Canadian economy as a whole.