Closing the gender gap in tech: New competition seeks to make waves in male-dominated industry
Lesley Chard has been coding since the age of nine.
She credits her father, a high school technology teacher, for giving her the freedom to learn through play, despite the painful consequences.
“I don’t know how many times my dad had to format the computer because I screwed it to the point of no return,” Chard says.
Now she wants to share the opportunities she has had with other young people in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Chard is part of the team of women tech professionals behind Digital Waves, a new competition that aims to close the gender gap in the province’s tech sector.
Digital Waves promotes itself as a “digital skills experience” for non-binary teens, offering virtual workshops on app design and entrepreneurship.
It offers exactly “the stages that application designers and entrepreneurs go through to start a business,” says Chard.
The technological gender gap
According to a report released by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, women make up 23% of the digital workforce in Canada, about half the rate of all other occupations.
For many tech careers – software engineers, computer engineers, and computer programmers – this statistic is even lower.
Girls do not see women in these areas and do not see themselves represented.
This imbalance has been an observable reality for Chard throughout his career. As the only woman to graduate from Memorial University’s computer science program in 2015, it “wouldn’t be uncommon for me to be the only woman in a class of 30 to 40,” she says.
Today, in her role as Senior Product Experience Designer at Zorbit’s by Carnegie Learning, she faces the challenge of achieving gender parity in her hiring practices. “You have to make a conscious decision to improve these ratios because the talent pool is not fifty-fifty, it looks more like ninety,” she said.
Trinalynn Porter is a program coordinator with the Women in Resource Development Corporation, which is the logistical force behind Digital Waves, run by volunteers.
“It goes back to those models,” Porter says. “Girls don’t see women in these areas and don’t see themselves represented.”
Porter sees the perception of gender bias as a deterrent for some girls. “They just don’t see themselves wanting
fight these battles. “
The Digital Waves competition does not require any prior technical knowledge to participate. All you need is a good idea. Participants are invited to answer the question: “How could we make Newfoundland and Labrador more sustainable using our smartphones?” “
By submitting an idea, they enter the competition and receive a registration package by mail with information on their next steps.
Each participant will then learn to transform their idea into an application and then present it to an audience. The whole experience is conducted remotely, so participants can engage from any part of the province.
“Digital Waves is a unique experience at the moment,” says Chard, “but we want to connect attendees to a year-long programming. “
She hopes that this experience will be a starting point for young women and young people of various genders, and that she will potentially one day become role models for adolescents like them.
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