Where Are All the Women Tech Leaders in Montreal?

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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.

WomenTechInvestor

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:

* Michelle McBane, Investor at IAF
* Shirley Speakman, Investor at IAF
* Laura Lenz, Investor at IAF
* Whitney Rockley, VC at McRock Capital
* Lelia Boujnane, Founder & CEO of Idee
* April Dunford, Marketing Consultant
* Melissa Shapiro, PR Consultant, former head of comms for Mozilla
* Heather Payne, Ladies Learning Code
* Heather Leson, Open Knowledge Foundation
* Lauren Friese, Founder of TalentEgg
* Alyssa Richard, Founder of RateHub
* Ali de Bold, Founder of ChickAdvisor
* Jen Evans, Founder of SqueezeCMM
* Krista LaRiviere, Founder & CEO of gShiftLabs
* Carol Leaman, CEO & Founder of Axonify
* Malgosia Green, Chief Product Officer at TopHat
* Dr. Foteini Agrafioti, Founder of Bionym
* Ariel Garten, CEO & Founder of InteraXon
* Katherine Hague, CEO & Founder of ShopLocket
* Arati Sharma, Shopify (formerly of JetCooper)
* Dr. Lyssa Neel, CrowdMark and MaRS Innovation
* Candice Faktor, COO at Wattpad
Joseph Czikk

Joseph Czikk

Joseph Czikk is Managing Editor at Betakit. Prior to Betakit Joseph wrote for the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun, Regina Leader Post, Techvibes and BC Business Online. Joseph often goes crazy on twitter during NHL and NFL games.

  • Aron Solomon

    HOW IS IT POSSIBLE that we’re still writing about this in 2013? We need more pieces like this (ideally, many would be written by women) to keep focus on this issue. From where I sit, this pops up, people get their backs up about it, then it fades into the background.

    I’m honored to work with many of the amazing women listed in this piece, as well as many, many more, including Elena Yunusov, Krista Jones, Jamie Gilgen, Rose Broome, Leona Teixiera, Zeina Belouizdad, Sue McGill, and many, many more. I can’t imagine what the startup world would be without them.

  • hugeshoesale

    More female CEOs from the edtech cluster alone: Ilana Ben-Ari (21 Toys), Amy Coupal (Curriculum Services Canada), Popy Dimoulas-Graham (Hour Republic), Beth Jefferson (BiblioCommons), Nicky Middleton (Brainspace), Susan Kweicien (CubeForTeachers), Christine Renaud (e180), Meaghan Daly (Forward Vision Games), Janice Diner (Horizon Studios), Debora Rubin (Ping Pong Story), Sara Winter (Squag), Julia Coburn (WorldVUZE)…

  • Neha Khera

    The femmes in tech are out there! Girls in Tech has nearly 1,000 members in Toronto alone now. All of them are amazing, and doing amazing things. Just because their names don’t make it in the spotlight and in paltry lists like the one above, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I think the conversation should stop being about ‘where are the women’ and more about ‘the women are here, let’s support them’.