The fairer sex is changing B.C.’s tech sector for the better.
Meeting women wasn’t top of mind when I graduated from business school in 1994. Had it been, I might have picked a different career path. Instead I chose finance, which was dominated by men, especially early stage venture finance; and technology, also dominated by men, especially in software and engineering-focused companies. So finance in the technology sector was a double whammy: I have a whole bunch of men to talk to all day long at work and to network with at night. (Not that there is anything wrong with that. . .)
This is not a rally cry for getting more women into the fields of technology and finance, although I’d love to see more. Rather, it is an opportunity to cite a few local examples of women in technology who are poised for huge success.
First, some facts: in 2011, women made up 17.4 per cent of engineering students at UBC. The university’s best year ever for female enrolment was 20 per cent (in 1999). Within engineering, UBC reports that four disciplines with the lowest female enrolment are electrical, mechanical, software and computer. Not encouraging, yet times are changing.
Now, think of all the successful B.C. technology stories and count the women in senior or founding roles. There’s QLT founder and CEO Julia Levy. And Janet Wood is very successful in her executive role continuing from the Crystal Decisions days through Business Objects and now SAP.
While I can’t think of a woman founder or executive in high-profile technology acquisitions in B.C., Vancouver’s emerging technology companies boast plenty of female leadership firepower. Hyperwallet Systems continues to do well under the leadership of founder Lisa Shields. Global Relay Communications founder Warren Roy credits Shannon Rogers, president and general counsel, as being crucial to its huge success. Some local female founders have been successful with their companies as well as building their own brands: Cybele Negris at Webnames.ca and Amielle Lake at Tagga Media both come to mind. Other female-helmed tech startups gathering steam in the local market include Allocadia Software (Kristine Steuart and Katherine Berry) and ePact Networks (Christine Sommers and Kirsten Telford), which just joined the cohort at Growlab, a technology accelerator.
Vickie Cammack is a health care veteran, but in 2008 she founded Tyze Personal Networks. Joining social values with technology, Tyze is a secure communication network that builds private communities centred around one individual, helping bring together their families, friends, neighbours and care professionals. It is off to a fabulous beginning.
BroadbandTV founder Shahrzad Rafati has all the qualities of a successful technology entrepreneur, even though this is her first and only startup. She is tenacious and not easily cowed. She is very bright, both as a computer science grad and as a business strategist. She is incredibly hard-working and has conviction in her and her team’s ability to build great technology. Her personal story is compelling as well. A mere 13 years ago, she was in Tehran wondering where to go to university and had very little exposure to the latest inventions in the technology industry in North America. We should be grateful she picked UBC. Hers is a great story.
BroadbandTV has seen incredible sales growth and has been profitable since 2009. It is an important partner to YouTube, thanks to technology that enables the rapidly growing new generation of video content creators to improve their exposure and make more money from their content. The future is bright for BBTV.
While it is not fair to hang the mantle of “role model” on anybody – including these women – those who are successful in technology in B.C. have to deal with it, step into that role, celebrate their successes and help mentor a new crop of fantastic entrepreneurs. Hopefully more of whom will just happen to be women.