Vancouverite Khristine Carino knows a thing or two about “tech” but if you ask her what tech is, she must take an extended moment to respond.
That’s because “tech encompasses almost every facet of life, all kinds of jobs,” said Carino, who is among an informal coalition of women and groups in B.C. whose objective is to get more women, of all ages, to enter the tech workforce. It's commonly referred to in the industry as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Recent statistics in Canada continue to show women are underrepresented in the technology and digital information sectors and the trend may not be improving anytime soon.
Canadian women accounted for roughly one in five information and communication technologies (ICT) specialists in the private sector; among 16 to 24-year-olds who can program computers, Canadian women accounted for just 26.8 per cent — lower than the 29.7 per cent average among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, Statistics Canada reported March 8.
Furthermore, of women who have “post-secondary credentials in computer and information sciences,” only one in three (31.5 per cent) women worked in STEM in 2020 and 2021 compared to half (50.1 per cent) of men with the same credentials.
According to the BC Tech Association, women make up just 18 per cent of the tech workforce.
“When we say even women in tech, it does not only mean women who code or women involved in software engineering or hardware engineering; it means women who work in the technology industry, whether as receptionist, maybe in a gaming company, or people in sales or even women who advocate for more women in the industry, who are not necessarily working in the tech industry,” said Carino.
But the involvement of women in programming, such as for cellphone applications, is particularly important granted women account for half of tech users. So, explained Carino, if you don’t have enough women developing apps, they may be left out of user experiences or have experiences not compatible with a woman’s specific needs.
“We have to involve women in the tech industry, because women are users of technology, or applications and solutions,” said Carino, 55, a marketing consultant and past president of the advocacy group Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology.
But, said Carino, “women are being left behind because, in terms of jobs in tech, the general perception is that it's a man's world. And then there is hesitation for younger generations, for younger girls, for younger professionals to get into tech, because they think that tech is just coding or engineering and it's basically dominated by men.”
Carino acknowledged that the participation gap is a product of a bygone era where men dominated the computer and dot-com revolution from the top down, be it Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
Yet, she noted, “probably the reason they were able to do this job is because their [spouses] stayed home. Yeah, and so, women were invisibly part of the development of tech in those days.”
Carino hails from the Philippines, having immigrated to Canada 18 years ago. Her Filipino background is, perhaps, a beacon for women, as the Statistics Canada report singled out Filipino women for their particular advancements in tech, noting they represented almost half (46.9 per cent) of all Filipino people with a post-secondary credentials in computer and information sciences.
“People say it may take a century for us to catch up. But I believe that, you know, with the different initiatives of both public and private organizations in B.C. and across Canada, at least for our women here, we are given the opportunity to finance start-ups. So I am hopeful that we are doing the best that we can,” said Carino.
“We have acknowledged that there's this deficit in supporting women or bringing women into tech, but I also see the efforts of different organizations in bringing light and support to women,” she said.