As serendipitous messaging goes on the issue of women in tech, it’s hard to improve on the collision of events that unfolded Wednesday in Waterloo Region.

Earlier in the day, BDC Capital, the investment arm of the Business Development Bank of Canada, announced that it’s injecting $50 million into women-led technology firms as part of its effort to support women entrepreneurs.

Just hours later, the Princess Cinema in Waterloo and the Zonta Film Festival jointly hosted a showing of the feature documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, which examines the reasons behind the dearth of women and girls choosing computer science as a vocation in the United States, despite thousands of available jobs and the desperate need for qualified programmers and engineers.

“Mindsets, stereotypes, clogs in the educational pipeline, startup culture, lack of role models and sexism all play important roles in this mounting gender, ethnic and economic issue,” the film’s director, Robin Hauser Reynolds, says.

That tension – plenty of technology-related jobs and few women filling them – is playing out across Canada, too.

“I loved the film,” said Danielle Graham, Communitech’s Women in Tech Program Manager, at a post-screening panel discussion. “I think that you could do a similar film about this region and end up with a lot of the same conclusions and see a lot of the same experiences. I like how accurate it was.”

Addressing the absence of female tech talent is the goal of the BDC’s funding injection. Some $40 million will be used for venture and growth capital for women-led tech firms and graduates of partner accelerators,  with deployment of the money beginning by the end of 2016.

Another $10 million will be used as pre-seed and seed funding for new startups. Communitech will be the delivery vehicle for much of that portion of the cash.

“The Fierce Founders Accelerator is the only women’s accelerator program in Canada,” says Graham. “Given we have been working on our Women in Tech initiatives with Status of Women Canada for the last three years, including three boot camps supporting 25 women-led startups each year, we have already been working towards this goal and are well-positioned to support BDC in finding the right companies for these funds.”

The BDC initiative plays directly to many of the issues raised in the film Wednesday. At the panel discussion, Plum CEO Caitlin MacGregor – Plum uses modern behavioural science and predictive analytics to pinpoint the best applicants for jobs – talked about the variety of roles available for women in the tech industry.

“I’m out there looking for people with transferrable skills that can contribute to the industry,” MacGregor said, “even if you don’t code.”

At the same time, she acknowledged the need for programming talent, and specifically more female talent.

“I have kids,” MacGregor said. “I love what they’re learning at school, but what I want them to do is really make sure they have access to coding as early as possible.

“I would have loved to have had that much earlier on.”

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.