Are there enough women working in tech? Canada’s workplace is changing. And it’s changing rapidly. The last 12 months have illustrated that point vividly. Almost overnight most of us went from office workers to remote workers. And the kinds of jobs we’re doing are changing too. Technology is already a huge part of the economy and it continues to grow. Nearly two million Canadians work in the tech economy. And that is growing by around 4% every year. But men are still hugely overrepresented in those jobs.
And that’s something our guest this week is trying to change.
Sara Bentham is the Director of the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre at Georgian College. The Centre is a cornerstone of the local start-up community. And is a key collaborator with the Innisfil DMZ. Sara is doubling down on efforts to empower local entrepreneurs with projects like the Xccelerate and XccelerateHER Conferences. Projects intended to increase the number of local women working in the tech economy.
What HBEC does
Sarah defines her Entrepreneurship Center as being without borders. It is providing support and resources to entrepreneurs all around the world. The group, currently being funded by Georgian College was originally supported by an endowment from The Bernick Family.
“Henry and his wife understood the value of mentorship and due to the impact that it had on them,” explained Sarah.
She further talks about her organization and what they’re currently doing:
“The center currently has 16 mentors that provide information on a variety of topics including e-commerce, financials and accounting, sales, and diversity and inclusivity.”
According to Sarah, the organization is trying to create a mentorship Center of Excellence where entrepreneurs can come and get access to whatever resources and support they need.
“We are in a really fortunate position where we’re friends with all of the partners within the ecosystem. We put together huge events that allow people to network with each other,” she says while explaining how the feel of a community can be great for businesses.
Building a New World
More and more people are realizing the importance of mentors; however, there’s still a need to highlight the benefits of mentorship and what it offers. Sarah thinks that “the word of mouth referral system” has helped their organization find a niche in this industry. They’re targeting students so people are well prepared to face the challenges of the real world before they enter it. However, Sarah agrees that criticizing someone’s idea, especially when they believe in it, can be very difficult. She also talked about the challenges women face in different fields and how small regions like Simcoe county are motivating women to go out and work. Her organization is offering tremendous support to women in different parts of the country. At the same time, they have to plan according to the changing times. The pandemic has highlighted new issues, new problems, and clever solutions.
“We are seeing lots of new clients, lots of really new interesting ideas, many related to COVID,” says Sarah while talking about how COVID has changed things.
She agrees that the situation has left people tired but we can’t ignore the compassion we have seen despite entrepreneurs having to deal with their own problems.
Seeing Things Change and Improve
We have seen technology improve things and this change is not just happening in big cities but in small towns as well. Innovation is helping businesses reach more people, save money, and reduce the risk factor. Sarah believes that innovation is being seen in every field while specifically highlighting food businesses.
“Food innovation is really hot here; we get several entrepreneurs that regularly share and create amazing new food products,” she says “We have some real success stories that are coming out of our region, especially related to food.”
Technology has made scaling easier allowing businesses to reach new markets and cross borders. This seems to have benefited the manufacturing sector. The center is working to help companies in this niche.
“Within our center, we also have a research and innovation department that does R&D for companies,” explains Sarah “We’ve been able to do some really interesting projects with manufacturing firms around this area to expand their product line.”
She also highlighted how ecommerce is growing as a field and how “lots of companies are going through their Ecommerce Rockstars Program.”
She believes that technology has allowed online businesses to come up with new concepts and products such as weighted blankets and blue light glasses.
Supporting Women in tech
Sarah is a big supporter of women in tech and is looking at other cities like Waterloo and Boulder, Colorado, for inspiration on how to create an ecosystem that promotes diversity and inclusion.
“I like to look at it (collaborations) almost like a giant wheel where you’ve got an entrepreneur at the core, and then all these various partners that can provide different types of support,” she says while talking about partnerships her business has formed over the years.
A big part of that support in the XcellerateHER program. It’s designed to address the gaps in support and resources that exist in the region. The program will help women get inspiration for their businesses through education with peer-to-peer groups, mentoring programs, panel discussions, funding accessibility, and more.
Living in a Small Town
Sara has lived all over the world. But in the end she decided to move back to her home town in search of a different kind of lifestyle.
“We’ve got this beautiful balance of life and work where you’re working hard, and accomplishing amazing things,” she adds while mentioning more benefits of living in a small town like being close to nature, exploring different sports, and just having fun.
Looking at Remote Employees
Sarah talked about how the pandemic has allowed people to realize the importance of being able to work from home. Companies are now more open to hiring remote employees, which has solved the problem of ‘lack of skilled employees’ since talent can be imported digitally.
The Xccelerate Summit
Sarah talked about Xccelerate Summit, an event that takes place during the last week of October. In Sarah’s words, it is “the business version of homecoming.”
She defines it as a place “where you come back, connect with other business owners. And obtain a wide amount of knowledge through leadership, and start to see what the next trends are in business.”