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International Women’s Day: Celebrating Canadian women in tech

Where are the women? It’s a popular question posed by media, critics and even peers in the technology industry in recent years.

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year I decided to highlight three Canadian women working to open doors for the next generation and create more diversity in the field of technology.

The Tech Leader: Amira Dhalla

As a community and campaign manager at Mozilla (the creators of Firefox), Amira Dhalla has spent a considerable amount of time teaching girls, and people of colour, around the world about the engaging opportunities that exist within digital fields.

Recently she’s spent a lot of time teaching lunch workshops to young girls at Nelson Mandela School in Toronto. The school, located in Regent Park, introduces tech fundamentals to students who many not initially see themselves working in the industry.

“Some of these girls don’t have access to computers or cell phones when they get home… tools we take for granted,” she says. “I was so inspired by students in these classes [at Regent Park] who want to learn.”

Before Dhalla began her global learning initiative she worked in Toronto teaching digital literacy to women. She freely admits she wasn’t always interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) but the pace of which the field constantly moves and changes drew her in.

“I wasn’t always into tech but I wedged myself into it because of how fast it’s changing,” she says. “I want to do things and see the impact of my work right away, and with tech you can see it right away.”

The Tech Reporter: Amber Mac

Amber Mac spends most of her time surrounded by entrepreneurial and successful women. As a tech expert and host of such shows as CP24, CBC and G4Tech TV she sees the gender imbalance that exists within the industry first-hand. But don’t despair: youth across the country, she says, have several people they can look up to for inspiration.

“In Canada, we're fortunate to have a number of amazing female role models in the technology world,” Mac explains. “From Kristine Stewart at Twitter Canada to Katherine Hague at ShopLocket to Sarah Prevette at BrandProject, there dozens of women I admire on a daily basis (and stalk professionally on Twitter).”

As a strong supporter of women in tech Mac it’s important for females to know there are a variety of jobs — not just coding — that women can get involved in. Days of sitting in a dark room analyzing lines of code isn’t all you have in store.

“Today, when we refer to technology professionals, we're not simply talking about computer experts, but instead we're talking app designers, community managers, e-commerce owners, and everyone in between. In other words, there are many more opportunities for women to get involved in these new positions.”

The Tech Activist: Ashley Jane Lewis

When Ashley Jane Lewis knows intimately well that there is a lack of diversity in the tech world. Her work with Girls Learning Code, Girls Crack Code and other organizations has shown her that.

These experiences inspired her to launch Spark Makers: A program that she describes “as a cross between Girl Guides and a tech workshop.”

The program, which will teach girls “soft skills and hard skills” needed to succeed in the tech world comes complete with badges for every activity achieved (think: learning how to code or building your own website) to encourage more gender diversity in the field.

“Instead of signing up for a one-day workshop, girls would do an activity one night and learn a new one another night. This way they’re learning essential stepping stones, and at each level they get a badge they can show and share with friends and family.”

The one-of-a-kind initiative is an important step, not only because Lewis can share her knowledge with a new group of prospective tech leaders, but because it will also showcase how one’s artistic skills can complement a career in tech.

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