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Gender diversity in tech—from awareness to action

Special edition episode for International Women's Day!

People generally know that gender parity makes sense. Research even shows that greater gender diversity enables organizations to have better financial performance. So why is there still such a strong gender disparity in the tech sector, and so many other industries? Jodi Kovitz, CEO of #movethedial, talks about the necessity of bringing more gender diversity to technology and actions organizations (large and small) can take to increase female leadership and representation in the workforce.

Duration: 18:37

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Episode 05: Gender diversity in tech—from awareness to action (audio only)
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Transcript: Gender diversity in tech—from awareness to action


Jon Finkelstein: Hi. Welcome to Shift, PwC Canada’s podcast series. We’re digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I’m your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I’m also the creative director of PwC Canada.   

I’m here with royalty today! We’re back in the studio here at PwC, and I’m with Jodi Kovitz from #movethedial. Welcome.

Jodi Kovitz: Thank you so much for having me.

Jon Finkelstein: I’m so glad you’re here. You are doing some incredibly important work, it’s blowing me away.

Jodi Kovitz: Thank you, thank you so much.

Jon Finkelstein: It’s such an important thing that you’re doing. So, for listeners who may not be familiar with #movethedial, maybe you could just take a second and tell us what you’re up to and what #movethedial is.

Jodi Kovitz: Absolutely. So I am working really hard with a huge, incredible group of people, partners, advisors, volunteers to change the face of tech leadership. So #movethedial is a global movement to advance the participation and leadership of women in technology.

Jon Finkelstein: It’s an important thing for women, and it’s an important thing for technology and for tech, because technology is not going away. It’s only becoming more pervasive, more important in our lives, and when I watched one of your videos online you talked a lot about the diversity of perspective. How can we have something that’s so pervasive in our lives and not have it represented by the population?

Jodi Kovitz: Absolutely. I really think deeply about this. So people often ask me why. Why do we need to move the dial? And there’s a lot of very important dialogue going on right now in the world around the moral imperative, around gender equity, around better business results, but in addition to those very important reasons, we really won’t be designing solutions that reflect the population, unless we include a representative leadership at the table designing those solutions. I was reading a really interesting article in Forbes today about blockchain, and when you think about…in fact, the data we have is that only 5% to 7% of the users of crypto currency are women, and it’s really interesting. So you think about…the user base is not even engaged in the new technology, never mind the talent pool creating, and building, and having the vision for however to use blockchain in the future, and it’s so integral to how our future society is going to function, it really struck me as to why there’s such an urgency to move the dial for the full talent pool right now.

Jon Finkelstein: How did this come to be? How did you get involved? I know you’ve probably told your story a million times.

Jodi Kovitz: It’s okay, I love telling this story.

Jon Finkelstein: So pretend it’s like the first time.

Jodi Kovitz: I love sharing the story of how #movethedial was born. It happened very organically, and I never set out to build a global movement. I had been a lawyer, and then I worked in strategic business development at a law firm, and then a very interesting opportunity came across my desk to become the CEO of a nonprofit in the tech space. That nonprofit is a group of leaders of technology companies in Ontario. So at my first quarterly dinner when I was there sharing my big vision for the organization, I got up and I looked around the room and there was 130 leaders, and I respected them so much, many of them have built very successful companies, and three of them out of the 130 looked like me. I was shocked, because I had spent many years in the legal profession, both practising and then doing strategic business development, I worked with many powerful women that were leaders, and never really saw a difference in gender at the leadership table.

So I was actually quite surprised, and I immediately, right in that moment when I was sharing my vision for the organization, said, “And diversity’s going to be on the agenda.” So, that was seed one. Seed two was that a very good friend of mine who works at a venture capital firm said, “Jodi, the mayor is going to Israel on a trade mission, and you really should be on that trip.” And I said, “But I’ve been in tech for five minutes. I haven’t really earned my stripes as a CEO in the tech space.” He said, “Well, I’m going to call and see if I can get you on the trip.” And he did, and that’s what I call a move the dial moment. When people take away “What can I do? How can I contribute?” Sometimes taking two minutes and using a little relationship capital, actually can change the entire course of someone’s life.

So for me, that phone call that he made, I went with Mayor Tory, and 59 other major tech leaders to Israel, and that trip changed my entire life.

Jon Finkelstein: Amazing.

Jodi Kovitz: It really was. And so I got back, and when I was on the trip, the last piece was that I met these incredible female entrepreneurs, they have a company called iAngels, they were articulate, Goldman Sachs trained, hugely inspiring, and they said they were coming shopping for $100 million for their fund when they came to North America. After they spoke I went up to them and said, “Hi, I’m Jodi,” as I do, “and if you stop in Toronto I’ll make a little event around you.” They said, “Why would you do this for us? You don’t even know us.” And I said, “I just want to move the dial for you. You’re just awesome.” And that really was the beginning.

I sent out invitations, got together a little event last January. I thought I’d get 30 people out to hear the story of these incredible female founders, and then what happened was 1000 people registered in a week.

Jon Finkelstein: 1000 people?

Jodi Kovitz: Yeah, so then #movethedial was born.

Jon Finkelstein: You know you’re onto something when you’re over capacity, when people show up and raise their hands and go, “I want to be part of this.”

Jodi Kovitz: Yeah, and the energy in the room was actually palpable, I’ll never forget it. It literally was an energy, it was inspiration, it was positive, people were just hungry to do more, or get involved, and it was the largest collection of women technologists, and women in leadership positions in the technology ecosystem that had ever happened in Canada.

Jon Finkelstein: Why do you think this movement needs to be? I’m sure you’ve been asked that question a lot. I’m curious because, is it a question of women aren’t given equal opportunity to lead in the tech space?

Jodi Kovitz: I spend a lot of my time thinking about the solutions. This is quite a moment in time, in history; what’s going on in the United States with #TimesUp, and I could go into many reasons as to why this happened, but I really choose to say, “Okay, time is up, so now what? We need to move the dial.” And for me it really is about taking proactive, positive, tactical steps. #movethedial is not about affirmative action for affirmative action’s sake, that is not what this is about. This is about, let’s advance the entire talent pool, and to me that happens in two ways.

First, is really inspiring a shift in mindset. There’s a huge awareness component to shift the mindset, and to encourage people, for every conference, to look harder until you find the capable women. For every hire, to think strategically beyond your network, to outreach, to find people from all different kinds of backgrounds, including gender. As well as, in addition to that mindset, taking some really big action together. And what I mean by that is getting together as an actual ecosystem—corporates, emerging technology, longstanding experts in D&I—and really come together and do some big thinking around what are the most important and most urgent steps that we can take as a collective, in order to make the dial move faster?

There are many outstanding leaders who are really modeling what it means to be a very inclusive culture and to take some bold action. An example: Adobe is very far along in their thinking, and really are recognized on a global basis for the work that they’re doing in D&I. Looking at Marc Benioff at Salesforce and the team, that they really put a stake in the ground and said, “We are going to change pay equity. There’s no reason that women should be making less than men. We’ll do an audit, we will right the ship, it doesn’t matter how much it will cost.” That’s fantastic, but imagine we could get 20, 40, 60 corporations to buy into that step as being so critical, to righting the ship, to advancing women from the perspective of feeling valued and their worth, and really understanding that the new economy doesn’t see gender.

So that is really what #movethedial is about. Trying to inspire individuals, as well as our collective community to take some big steps together that will move the dial faster.

Jon Finkelstein: Why does #movethedial focus on tech and innovation?

Jodi Kovitz: That’s a great question, and let me tell you a little bit about how I define tech. I really see tech not only as emerging tech companies, but also as the entire innovation economy. So when you look at any bank, for example, that once was only about financial services proper, there is no bank or financial institution in the world that is not disrupting the entire way they do business using technology and digital services. So every single bank, for example, that I’m talking to about what they can be doing and partnering with #movethedial right now, they are so focused on the gender imbalance in the new leadership of the bank, because all banks, for example, are transforming into tech companies?

Jon Finkelstein: That’s really interesting. You’re so bang on. It seems to be the most logical place to focus effort on because tech is everywhere.

Jodi Kovitz: Tech is everywhere, tech is everything. People ask me, “Why women? And why did you start with that?” I think it really was about that first moment that I told you about, when I looked around the room at a representation of Ontario’s greatest tech, and its most experienced tech leaders and there were so few women, and then I started to dig into the problem, and I didn’t understand how pervasive the challenge was. That there just was not equal representation of women at the leadership table, and creating companies, and getting funded. So it was really important to me to do some research, because I went on BNN, I remember the day of the first event, and I’m a data person, and there was no data in Canada that was meaningful. There was little pockets of data, there had been done some VC data, there’s lots of data around women in boardrooms, generally in corporate Canada, but I had not seen a comprehensive look at the state of the nation for women across the tech ecosystem.

Where’s the Dial Now?” really shows why #movethedial exists: 5% of tech founders in Canada are women, 13% of tech companies have a woman on their executive team, and we have stats all the way from STEM, looking at boards… These stats really speak for themselves, and really call to action the awareness for why this is so important.

Jon Finkelstein: Yeah, it’s amazing. So what challenges do you think the organizations are facing in order to actually move the dial in the first place? What’s stopping them?

Jodi Kovitz: There’s some new challenges in the new economy. That’s definitely one of the things that I think about. The way that the talent pool is structured, the needs of the individual people, the lack of diversity in the actual talent pool, these are really presenting difficult challenges for the recruiters that are trying to attract technology talent, for example.

Jon Finkelstein: You can’t look for women who are excelling if there aren’t any in the talent pool to begin with.

Jodi Kovitz: Or if you don’t know where to find them.

Jon Finkelstein: Oh, that’s interesting.

Jodi Kovitz: So that’s one of the things that’s very common in terms of the conversation I’ve been having with some of the corporations. So when we talk about what’s part of the value prop of #movethedial, it’s really about, for corporates in partnership, looking at, well, we can meet the great talent. There are incredible women, and that is a huge part of my point, there are incredible women, many brilliant scientists, and engineers, and mathematicians, and experts in deep machine learning that exist in the ecosystem, but one of the challenges is around network. It’s not necessarily been that there have been events or opportunities that have felt inclusive for the amazing rockstar women who do exist. So part of it is finding ways to engage, and nurture, and cultivate community, and really bring people in from the woodworks. Like, I am limited by my own network, so network effect is a huge opportunity, really, for us to work on, through #movethedial, where we’re really collecting everyone.

So I was so fortunate to meet some incredible people who cared deeply about advancing gender equity for underrepresented minorities, and we have created a whole committee that is working on it. It is co-led by two incredible women, and they are working really hard with an incredible team to think about special initiatives of #movethedial to address and speak to different voices in the community: women of colour, for example, women from different backgrounds and sexual orientation, different physical abilities. As well as, to bring into every piece of the work that #movethedial is doing globally a component that considers the thought and perspective of different people.

Jon Finkelstein: It’s amazing to me as just someone who, I guess my predisposition isn’t to think in gender anyway. We talk a lot at PwC about the notion of the power of perspective, and human-centred design, and when you don’t have the full representation of the humans at the table, you’re missing half of the show. People are listening, they’re totally digging what you’re saying, it’s an important thing that you’re doing.

Jodi Kovitz: Thank you.

Jon Finkelstein: They’re wanting to know how they can get involved. How do organizations get involved? How can they contribute? What are the steps? What’s the road map?

Jodi Kovitz: Definitely first of all, join us. Join the movement, is our website, if you sign up for our community, you actually are invited to all of the events that we’re doing, including a very exciting to-be-announced (you’re getting a sneak preview here for your listeners) global summit, which is happening on November 7th in Toronto. We are going to host 500 decision makers, CEOs, heads of people from global companies to learn from each other best practice. Very hardcore, tactical, “take this back to your company, this is what you can do to move the dial” in the morning, and then in the afternoon we’re inviting in 400 young people from all over the world in partnership with some amazing companies that are going to help us do that, to be announced soon, and the afternoon is all about aspiration. From some incredible speakers, who will hopefully really start to enable those young people from different disadvantaged backgrounds to dream that they can be just like Oprah. 

Jon Finkelstein: I’d like to be there. I’ll be there.

Jodi Kovitz: Okay, wow. There you go.

Jon Finkelstein: I’ll put it in my calendar right now. You were talking about a shift in mindset, in terms of what people can do to help move the dial. So, what can we do?

Jodi Kovitz: Great question Jonathan. So, to me, it really is about taking some very small steps. So number one: open some doors. Men should be doing this, women should be doing this, we can all be doing this. It really comes from a philosophy of generosity, and there has to be a shift into just all of us remembering that human connection is what matters, and taking the minute to open a door, or help someone, or take the coffee meeting, give a little advice. We’re all busy, but that act of kindness and generosity literally can change someone’s life, especially when network is so important. So that’s number one.

Number two: I really encourage people to think about taking on a real, what I call a sponsor relationship, and this is not my term, there’s been work done around this for many, many years, and this is more than a mentor relationship. Career sponsorship is about, “I’m going to get to know you.” There’s an implicit contract between us. If I say, “I’m going to take you on, I’m going to sponsor your career,” it has to be authentic. It’s not like a formal thing, where…if you don’t have chemistry there it’s really hard to build that kind of relationship, but let’s say you connect, you believe in the person that you meet, and you make a commitment to them in helping them champion their career, and they work closely enough with you that that makes sense. You’re then in a position to meet with them regularly, help answer any questions, or concerns, or challenges they might be facing, create and connect them to opportunities.

Last, but certainly not least: to really be advocates. There are some incredible men around this movement that get up and talk about this and walk the walk. Talk is talk, walk is walk.

Jon Finkelstein: Yeah.

Jodi Kovitz: You say you’re a man who’s a founder of a tech company, or the CEO of a bank, and you care about diversity, what are you doing about it? What are you doing to actively ensure you have gender diversity, as well as all forms of diversity of thought on your team? If you’re saying that you care about diversity and you have one female developer, and you’re not doing something like joining a movement, or partnering with #movethedial, or working with other organizations, or hunting and hunting, I don’t really believe that you’re serious about bringing diversity to your table.

Jon Finkelstein: Do something.

Jodi Kovitz: Yeah, do something.

Jon Finkelstein: Don’t just listen to this, do something.

Jodi Kovitz: Yeah.

Jon Finkelstein: I mean what would be really interesting is if everybody who listens to this podcast at the end of it goes to your website, is it .ca or .com?

Jodi Kovitz: It’s .ca.

Jon Finkelstein: Okay, so—

Jodi Kovitz: Sign up.

Jon Finkelstein: Sign up, check it out, look at it, look at the stories.

Jodi Kovitz: Yeah, and do something and Tweet that you did it, and Instagram it, and say, “I did this today, #movethedial.” This really is a movement, and it’s as grassroots as that to do something, a small thing, a big thing, and if you’re an amazing woman watching this, tell your story. This is a movement and it will gain traction when we all do our part to showcase who we are as humans, all of our great parts, and all of our challenges that we’ve always had, because that’s a huge value of what we’re building, abundance and authenticity as well, and taking active steps to make change.

Jon Finkelstein: For me, I live by sort of a motto, I didn’t make this up, but if you don’t know where to start, just start somewhere. So that’s my call to action to people who are listening: if you don’t know where to start, start anywhere. Just start.

So that’s it for this episode of Shift, thanks for listening, and hopefully we’ll have you back and we can check in on where the dial has moved in the future.

Jodi Kovitz: Awesome.

Jon Finkelstein: Thanks again.

Jodi Kovitz: Thanks so much for having me.

Jon Finkelstein: High five.

Jodi Kovitz: High five.

Jon Finkelstein: Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, subscribe to our podcast series. You can find us on iTunes, Google Play or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an Ontario limited liability partnership, for general guidance on matters of interest only and does not constitute professional advice. Until next time.

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