More women in tech are key to future-proofing the industry

Marie Wiese has spent 25 years working in Canada’s technology industry. She was vice president of sales and marketing for a software company before becoming a freelance sales and marketing consultant. Weise set up Marketing CoPilot, which helps B2B companies boost their competitiveness online.

Marie also makes podcasts and speaks at conferences about the need to attract more women into the tech industry.

Marie, how does Marketing CoPilot work?

We show tech and manufacturing firms how to map their sales process to their web presence and use it as their best sales tool and their best demand generation. Some call it content marketing, some call it digital marketing but what we’re really good at, is identifying how a company’s specific buyers go through the buyer journey, and ensuring that that conversion strategy is mapped on to a website correctly, so you’re capturing leads and nurturing leads in the business.

Do you work with all sizes of tech companies?

Our primary client base is companies with more than 20 employees and over $5 million up to about $100 million in revenue. We have consulted in large enterprise companies around content strategy and keyword strategy, and now find we are working more and more with larger companies. This is due to our coaching on how to launch and map a marketing tool into the sales process and CRM.

But traditional small and medium-size businesses have been our niche. Ironically, 80% of our clients are now in the US, where things have progressed in terms of content marketing and marketing automation tools.

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Why do you think that the US is more advanced in this area?

Canada is roughly the same size geographically as the United States, but we have 37 million people here, whereas there are 37 million people in California alone. The sheer size of the US market means that mediocre companies can bubble to the top because there’s a market for their business regardless. And, as a result, the same company in Canada will earn one-tenth of the revenue that the same company in the United States will make.

Studies indicate that a mature business should be spending 10% to 15% of gross revenue on sales and marketing; 25% if you’re in start-up mode or trying to tackle a new market. In Canada, on average, companies spend less than 8% and traditionally 3% on marketing.

So we’re behind the US. Not because we don’t know the technology exists or the products we need, but because companies can’t afford to spend what they should on marketing side; and more often than not, will hire salespeople as a way to solve the problem and have no clear lead generation formula. I think a lot of companies are going to get left by the wayside if they can’t embrace digital transformation in the sales and marketing function.

Is this anything to do with women not being engaged in the tech industry?

Traditionally, girls haven’t wanted to go into tech and IT; ironically, the T in STEM is the only segment not growing. We’re seeing more girls in science, maths and engineering, but not in tech. I think that we’re not creating the right environments for girls in schools to boost the pipeline.

But many people tell you it’s not a pipeline issue. There are lots of women graduating from post-secondary schools who would do quite fine in technology, but while it continues to be a male-dominated culture and environment, a lot of women opt to do work that is more “meaningful.”

They want to do good work and are willing to take less money if the working conditions right.

There are four areas that we’ve uncovered in our research and podcast interviews over the last year-and-a-half that are impacting women in the tech sector, the main one being recruiting practices.

What are those four areas?

Small and medium-sized businesses will just put ‘database programmer’ into a search on LinkedIn, without thinking about what the role involves and whether there are other pockets of talent they should assess to determine the roles they need to fil. Because they don’t create good job descriptions or a feel for the company, they wind up with, the same kind of people applying for their jobs.

Secondly, they don’t have mentorship and sponsorship programmes in the company which aid women’s success.

Thirdly, they don’t have a good handle on their work environment; for example, whether they have flexible hours or a work from home policy – which would benefit 80% of women, who end up as primary caregivers, either for children, spouses or ageing parents. Or have they created a culture that is “really cool,” aimed at guys in hoodies in a basement coding?

Lastly, pay equity. We know, for a fact, that men are paid on average 15% more in the tech sector.

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How do you tackle those four areas?

We’ve included them in our Intro To workshops to help tech companies to identify their blind spots and put together an action plan. Women make up 61% of the total workforce in Canada and the US. There’s going to be a talent shortage, how are you going to backfill that? You’re not going to be able to future proof your business if you’re not addressing these issues now. So that’s how we’re trying to tackle it.

Are tech companies in Canada behind those in the US in becoming more diverse and inclusive?

I can’t say that we’re ahead or behind. I feel we’re not collecting the great data in Canada and women already get excluded because we’re not even collecting the right data to be talking about some of this stuff.

Unfortunately, a lot more money gets spent in the United States on research, and that’s how we obtain a lot of our data. Of the publicly available research that we’ve scoured over the last 12 months, I can’t say whether we’re ahead or behind because the data just doesn’t exist.

When you talk to tech companies in Canada about attracting a more diverse workforce, do they understand what you’re trying to do?

I can give you anecdotal evidence of going to conferences, speaking to 100 people in a room and having only five come up to me after and say, ‘awesome, this is what we’re doing, we have women we’d love to have on your podcast, and this is what we’re working on’. Everybody else will offer up blank stares and be silent, and when asked whether they would want this programme in their company, the answer is ‘I don’t know’. That’s the sad fact of the matter.

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What do you think should happen within the sector to encourage change?

In Canada, the government is funding a lot of groups to raise awareness on the issue. But we don’t mandate. Whereas in the United States, it’s my understanding, that some states mandate what percentage of the workforce must be women.

We’re trying to do it as we always do in Canada, the nice way. By this I mean, explaining to businesses why they should do this and it good for them.

We only have a small percentage of women-led companies and women in senior management positions in tech companies. The data I’ve gathered suggests that it’s going to take us a long, long time to move this forward. I think the government is going to have to mandate a few things, but I don’t know what the appetite is for that.

Why are you so passionate about this?

Because I’ve worked in this sector for 25 years and feel that, if we wait another 25 years, we’re not giving women in this country awesome opportunities. The tech sector has been very good to me personally, and it’s a great place to work.

There are going to be huge opportunities in the sector over the next two-to-five years to generate jobs and make money. We know that when you support a woman economically, you can help lift her and her children out of poverty. To be able to encourage women into jobs in the sector means that everyone wins.

I’m also passionate about it because I’m concerned that the advancement of AI and other technologies, the new algorithms, are being written by a few likeminded people speaking for us all, rather than a diverse group of individuals. I think that’s a bad thing and we need more people at the table.

Is there a tech company that you feel epitomises what a diverse and inclusive workplace is?

The larger the company, the more advance their work is in trying to improve diversity, and I know of a couple of businesses who have audited what women are paid and have made strides to achieve pay equity.

Quite a few of the major software companies are working to address their gender pay gap and equity, but if you talk to people within those organisations, you get a sense there is still a way to go. The delta becomes even bigger when you get into smaller tech firms, which is also where the lion’s share of the jobs are.

There are lots of organisations talking about this, whereas I want to see tangible action. I have now ramped up my research to challenge businesses to show me what they have done so that they can share best practice with others.

Should the tech industry be looking at what other sectors have achieved?

Yes, I’ve said that for a while now because we had an issue here in Canada, specifically in the province of Ontario, where in the 80s, there were no women doctors. Women weren’t finding their way into the medical profession, so they created programmes to get students through school, and now we have parity.

I think everyone is paying attention that we all win as a society and as communities when we are diverse and inclusive, and we’re giving opportunities to women. But I think it is difficult in certain sectors where they’re so heavily skewed, so we have a lot more work to do.

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What’s your biggest hope for the future?

That more tech companies will understand the issues and want to have a plan of action. And I’m connected to a large number of women in leadership, coaching and HR, who are willing to put programmes together to help. But the tech companies themselves must recognise that it’s something they want to do and do something about it.

Are you saying women in tech need the support of senior leaders to progress?

Yes, and that the leadership and business coaches, as well as HR, are underutilising existing programmes of support for women. For every woman I talk to about what she’s doing in tech, there are another three who talk about why they left tech. The problem is not just getting women into the sector but keeping them in. They hit a wall at a certain point and then say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.

Which industries do they move on to?

That’s interesting. The women I’ve spoken to in the last 12 months are pursuing something very different from what they went to school for. They’re leaving to, quite frankly, have complete career changes and to work on their terms.

If they start a business, it’s usually in an area where they think they can generate revenue, but it’s either consulting or in an area completely different from where they started.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...