Montreal’s first ever TedxWomen will happen on December 7 at the Cinéma Impérial, and several notable women who have gained success in the city will speak to the audience about “Positive Disruption,” and “our collective need to embrace our strengths so that we can push the limits of social norms and empower ourselves with more choices.”
Among the speakers are Joey Adler, founder of OneXOne and CEO of Diesel Canada, part of the Italian-based Diesel fashion label; Pamela Jeffery, founder of the WXN public affairs consulting firm and the Canadian Board Diversity Council; Margarita Lafontaine, founder of the magazine Premières en affaires; Mélanie Dunn, president of Cossette in Quebec; and Karl Moore, co-director of McGill University’s Advanced Leadership Program. TEDx are local, independently and self-organized TED-like events respecting the TED general guidance.
But one absence is clear: there won’t be a woman representing the startup community speaking at the event. It begs the question of whether there are any outstanding women leaders in tech in the city of Montreal, and if so, why aren’t they well-known? I argue that both their presence and voice is much more diluted than in Toronto’s startup community.
In Toronto, the usual suspects make themselves known both through attending events, through social media presence or by simply having attained success in their field. Some of the names include startup marketing consultant April Dunford, Shoplocket CEO Katherine Hague, the several women representing Ladies Learning Code (including Heather Payne, Melissa Crnic and Breanna Hughes, RateHub.ca founder Alyssa Richard and many others toiling away at their business. (For a larger list see the bottom of this article).
Clearly Montreal possesses several women founders and startup business leaders- but I question how visible they are and how much more of an influencing role they could be playing for other women looking to enter the startup world.
There are a few names in the Canadian startup world who are rather vocal about the paltry numbers of women representatives in the Canadian startup community as a whole- among them Hootsuite founder Ryan Holmes and MaRS senior advisor Aron Solomon.
Solomon told me in an email this morning that when Internet pioneer Jason Calacanis put together the initial speaker list for his LAUNCH Mobile conference, he had just 6 percent women speakers. “I was very vocal against this and he changed it,” said Solomon. As for Toronto’s women in tech role models he said, “I know that Toronto has a world-class group of women in technology – I know and work with many of them.”
Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the pitifully low numbers of women leaders in the Canadian, and Montreal startup scene. In fact, just last week when I took part in a panel discussion (in Toronto, mind you)- Project RHINO’s “All Bullshit Aside”- I had two of the six (that’s right, six!) women in the audience approach me and question why there were so few women there. I couldn’t answer the question.
Perhaps its just the exposure. In Toronto, with groups like Ladies Learning Code, Girls in Tech Toronto and the various role models, there’s an easier access to entry for younger or older women trying to lead a startup business. And despite the low turn out on Wednesday night in Toronto, I can’t see the ratio being any higher had it been held in Montreal.
As of early 2012, only eight percent of venture-backed tech start-ups in the United States were being led by women, according to San Francisco-based Astia Inc., a non-profit organization that supports female-owned tech start-ups. Meanwhile, At Founder Institute Inc., a business incubator based in Palo Alto, Calif., just over 21 per cent of the 415 technology companies launched over the past three years were founded by women. Also in 2012, only 14 of the companies included in Deloitte’s 50 fastest growing tech firms had women in their executive ranks.
A great article that came out early last year in the Globe and Mail also pointed out that nearly half of all SMEs in Canada are owned wholly or partly by women, so an argument against any entrepreneurial drive can’t be made. “So why aren’t more women in the tech start-up community?” asked writer Marjo Johne. Some said the image and appeal of tech fails to float womens’ boats. Others argue women are inherently social, the the relatively unsocial environment of a bunch of guys coding on computers might not appeal to them.
Whatever it is, I challenge more women in Montreal to take leadership roles and organize more meet-ups. There’s certainly some options in Montreal, as a colleague pointed out to me- like Montreal Girl Geeks and Py Ladies Montreal. And, as Solomon told me, “I don’t buy for a second that there aren’t great women in technology in every city.”
So maybe La Belle Province’s women geeks need a little push, or some encouragement for someone to step up and create a movement.
And if I’m wrong, and amazing initiatives in Montreal already exist, then let your opinions be known in the comment section.
In the meantime, our friend David Crow of OMERS Ventures and Startup North hooked us up with a small sampling of Toronto’s women in tech: