Change The Ratio Waterloo Region 2017 Recap

The second annual Change The Ratio Waterloo Region event was inspiring, sometimes maddening, hilarious, and completely energizing. This recap shares some of the highlights. If you missed it, the video is posted at the bottom of this post, and slides can be viewed on Slideshare. Don’t miss the tweet summary, too. The speaker names link to their bios at the end of the post.

The Kitchener Public Library was our co-host again this year in the lovely theatre at the Central branch. CEO Mary Chevreau provided greetings and offered us all FREE library cards! She and Bob Egan, Manager, Community Development, emphasized the library’s commitment outlined in the Strategic Plan to inclusion, access and digital literacy. They also referenced membership in Hive Waterloo Region and partnerships to deliver digital literacy, especially in Studio Central plans.

Hive Waterloo Region Executive Director Stephanie Rozek set the stage for the speakers: “I believe we have an opportunity here, in Waterloo Region, to make a truly meaningful change. There is a lot of talk about wanting to be Silicon Valley North …However the tech sector both here and abroad is overwhelmingly a monoculture, while our demographic base is diverse and varied.

“This is an issue and challenge for all of us to deal with, for it affects everyone, not just women and minority groups. If we can introduce more diversity into our workforce, it will result in more innovative solutions, stronger bottom lines, and a better place to live for everyone.”

National Engineering Month Ontario was this year’s sponsor. NEM is doing important work to change the perception of engineering to make it more appealing to women and minorities, and at a younger age. Erica Lee Garcia from NEM and Engineers of Tomorrow stressed how important that emphasis on diversity is, and how it’s part of each of over three hundred events put on for National Engineering Month (#NEM2017) in March this year.

Caity Dyck had one of the most memorable quotes of the night, which explains the resistance there is to changing the ratio: When you are used to Privilege, Equality feels like Oppression. Together, Caity and Steve Prentice talked about a new program at the University of Waterloo to support first year female Engineering students. As Caity explained, it’s not about helping them get through the program, because they are exceptional students and that’s not what they need. Instead, they’re telling these young women, ‘We’ve got your back,’ to support them through the sexism they will encounter, like the messages they will hear telling them “You got in because of a quota” or “You got that co-op placement because you are girl”, despite generally having higher scores. Grrr… let it out.

Photo credit: BrentWettlaufer.com

Good guy Steve was shocked by the stories of what the students have been sharing this year, but Caity has heard it all. Both are determined to make a difference for the current cohort of female engineering students.

Sam Nabi followed next, providing alternatives for the way tech startups are run, challenging the status quo of how startup mentality is only about the money and the hunt for the unicorn billion dollar evaluation, as well as how software is developed with inherent bias and how startups are funded. For example, if you think within a monoculture you may be coding the forms you create to require at least a three letter last name, but many cultures outside North America have two letter last names. Sam shared his slides online for easy viewing and they are worth a look for more ideas, such as how those with privilege need to choose to spend it wisely, as a form of currency.

Photo credit: BrentWettlaufer.com

At Hive we often share how girls by age 8 are discouraged from pursuing tech, but nothing is as poignant as hearing personal experience. Samantha Estoesta Williams gave a hilarious and touching presentation – complete with GIFs! – as a young girl interested in tech, who got discouraged, interested, and discouraged again. It was hard to hear that as a kid growing up with a mathematician father who encouraged her exploration she hard-coded a website at 8 years old, but then her grade school science teacher shot her down, and she learned that school science fairs are geared to safe projects winning prizes — the  “freaking volcano” — vs. more demanding explorations of intervals and music. University was no better. The boys were asked about the tech behind their projects and young women about the design. Who wouldn’t pursue communications instead of computer science then?

Watch the video and you’ll be cheering her on! Sam is now working at Mad Hatter Technologies, a supportive tech agency with strong female and ethnically diverse representation in its staff — and she is looking at getting into coding again.

Photo credit: BrentWettlaufer.com

At this point in the proceedings we had a short ad break to put in a plug for Code Like a Girl, asking you to help this amazing blog reach 5000 followers! Share #AMPCodeLikeAGirl and subscribe. 

Danielle Graham has been a long-term passionate advocate for women in tech and women as entrepreneurs. Danielle grew up in southern Africa and it was there she first noticed that the environment and opportunities for women were different than those for men. She was surprised to see this gender difference was the same in Canada when she moved here as a young adult. Inspired by the women entrepreneurs she met in Ethiopia she started up her company. Now as Communitech’s Women in Tech Program Manager she is helping make a difference with the Fierce Founders program. It has already increased the number of female-led startups at Communitech from 8% to 23%!

Cat Coode closed the evening off challenging our perception of engineers and making a case for engineers being artists and rounded individuals. Complete with tutu and tap shoes, she shared her love of tech and of dance. Search for ‘engineer’ on Google and you’ll see the standard images of hard hats. But engineers are problem solvers and creators too. Check out the slides for the ones that provide definitions for Artist and Engineer – they’re surprisingly similar!

Photo credit: BrentWettlaufer.com

The speaker Q&A had some great questions. We didn’t plant it, we swear, but one of the most essential questions was from a young white man asking how to be a better ally. All the speakers had great feedback. It starts by amplifying the voices of the women in your workplace. By praising great work and pointing it out to others. And then to be great listeners. Look for more on Storify.

Be sure to join us next year for Change The Ratio WR, and in the meantime keep using the hashtag #ChangeTheRatioWR to share your successes, frustrations and face palms. Together we can make a difference.

On April 26 the 2nd Hive Waterloo Region Member Meetup will include a brainstorm on next steps we can all take to increase diversity and inclusivity in our tech and engineering sector. This is your invitation to join us! Until then, here’s the video to inspire you to personally make an impact and Change the Ratio!

 

Speaker Bios

Erica Lee Garcia @ejdlee

Erica is the Venture Lead of Engineers of Tomorrow, as well as Co-organizer of National Engineering Month Ontario.

A professional engineer with over 10 years experience in automotive manufacturing, mining and non-profit management, Erica has done an immense amount of work to effect social change through engineering, through starting several businesses and working in social enterprise both locally and abroad.

She is often a mentor to students and recent grads who aspire to change the world. With Engineers of Tomorrow, a venture in partnership with Engineers Without Borders Canada, she is inspiring the next generation of engineers through effective, impactful outreach to youth and the general public.

 

Caity Dyck

Caity Dyck has worked with Engineering Outreach as part of UW’s Women in Engineering team for a number of years, and is one of the most passionate supporters of women in STEM I’ve ever met. Her enthusiasm is absolutely infectious, and I have no doubt that anyone she works with, whether that’s kids in Engineering Science Quest or the professionals and parents she encounters, comes away inspired to do more to make the engineering profession more dynamic. Caity holds a Bachelor of Arts from, where else, the University of Waterloo.

 

Steve Prentice

Steve Prentice is the Residence and Community Life Manager at St. Paul’s University College, and is responsible for creating and maintaining a positive environment for students. Originally from Newcastle, Ontario, Steve has lived here ever since coming to UW for school. He received a B.A. in Religious Studies and Anthropology, and spends most of his free time on the squash courts.

 

  Sam Nabi @samnabi

Sam Nabi is a freelance web developer and the founder of Shopzest, an e-commerce platform for local businesses in Waterloo Region. In his own words, he has worked ‘as both cog and puppetmaster in the volatile gig economy’, alongside remote teams distributed all over the world. He graduated from the University of Waterloo in 2013 with a degree in Urban Planning.

Samantha Estoesta Williams @smoestoe

Samantha runs Community Engagement & Government Relations at Mad Hatter Technology and though she didn’t study tech at school, she’s been a computer geek since birth, thanks to the influence of her father, a computer teacher.

 

 Danielle Graham @daniellebgraham

Danielle Graham, is the Women in Tech Program Manager at Communitech. She oversees all aspects of development, implementation and delivery of the Fierce Founders Bootcamp and Accelerator programs for women, as well as numerous other female-focused resources and events.

Danielle brings a true diversity of experience to her work. She has worked as a consultant with Deloitte across the technology, financial services, and consumer products sectors, has experience consulting overseas in South Africa and Ethiopia, and worked with women’s microfinance loans for USAID in East Africa.

She also co-founded Crio Water, an award-winning sustainable home drinking water treatment company. She holds an MBA from Laurier, an MA in African History from Dalhousie, and a BA in Arts and Science, History, and French from Trinity College, at U of T.

 

 Cat Coode @binarytat

Cat Coode is an internet safety expert and electrical engineer who has spoken to tens of thousands of people, from students to companies, about the value and perils of being online. She spent over 12 years working in technical design and leadership at RIM after completing her degree at UW, and she is also a parent.

Her concern about how to help guide her kids in a digital world led her to found Binary Tattoo, with the mission of educating and empowering people with knowledge of how to use the internet and social networks to create positive online identities, maximize their experience, and stay safe.

She has appeared at trade shows, on TV & radio shows, and in national publications as an online identity expert. She was nominated for a 2014 WOW award for Entrepreneurship, took 3rd place in Communitech’s Women Entrepreneur’s Bootcamp pitch competition, and is a member of their inaugural accelerator for female founders in tech. She is also the Tech Writer for Yummy Mummy Club, a popular online content site for parents.

Why Build a Hive? The Case For Digital Literacy Today

Over the last four years, Hive Waterloo Region has been evolving into what it is today, and what we envision for our future: a thriving network of individuals and organizations committed to increasing digital literacy in our community, and supporting diversity and equity in our tech sector. We’ve been able to get this far thanks to the support of hundreds of people, not only here but around the world. I’m so grateful for what we’ve been able to achieve thus far, and our team is looking forward to building on those successes.

Why is our work so important? I’d like to share with you some comments from Hani, a student in Cambridge Ontario, about why it matters to her:

“[It] teaches girls about coding so maybe, they can become programmers when they get older. They teach you things like how to make a website and if you’re making a website, how to insert links and how to insert images. It gives girls like me, an amazing head start for coding! That gives us better chances to get into a good university/college for their future lives. All that because of this amazing program.” – Hani*, 9, Cambridge Ontario

Hani was in grade four when she and her friend learned to code with Python – a real-world programming language – as part of HackerGrrlz, a program our team ran last year under the Year of Code Waterloo Region campaign. If you’re unfamiliar with coding, this is a remarkable achievement for someone so young.

Hani, and many others like her, are the reason Hive Waterloo Region exists:

  • Kayla*, seven and attending a French immersion school in Waterloo, has attended public learn-to-code sessions at the library and is just starting to learn Scratch and Scratch Jr. One of her favourite apps is Lightbot, a learn-to-code app made by a local startup.
  • Jocelyn is eleven and a student in gifted classes in Kitchener. She’s been building incredible programs and animations using Scratch for several years and with our help has starting teaching her peers. We want to support her and other girls in her future schooling and career, should she decide to pursue technology.
  • Tariq is fifteen and lives in Cambridge. His father worries about the best way to get him engaged in learning how to code, because he knows coding provides a window to new opportunities. He’s looking for advice and resources to help his son.
  • Sharon, 68, is retired and lives in Waterloo. She’d like to learn how to use tools like smart phones, Skype, and Google Docs but she finds the technology intimidating.

Digital Literacy Skills Needed For Our Future

Technology is – and will continue to be – so present in our lives. Those who understand how it works and can use it will be the creators of our future. That’s a pretty big claim, but evidence shows it’s true, and it’s not going away any time soon.

I often use the following to illustrate the impact technology is having on our lives, and why being digitally literate is becoming as important as reading and math literacy:

Very simply – those who have the tools to access learning and knowledge hold power.

Throughout history, the way our societies retain and share knowledge has evolved, from oral tradition to the Lascaux Cave drawings, from hieroglyphics to the printing press, from radio and television to today’s technologies – including Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, and big data.

Consider the invention of the printing press: its invention caused the skill of reading to move from the elite to the many. This breakthrough led to massive cultural shifts as more people were able to learn and think critically about information affecting them. Those who hold the responsibility of learning, sharing, and passing on information to the next generation, in any age, also have the ability to change narratives that define our world and design tools with which we build our lives.

Today’s digital technologies are having the same effect on how the world works, and by giving everyone the opportunity to learn about and understand our new digital tools, we can empower each one of us in our own lives.

Think Globally, Act Locally

Waterloo Region is a growing and exciting area in which to live. Those of us with the ability to do so have the moral responsibility to lift others up. If we are sitting at the table, if we have a voice, let’s invite others to that table and amplify their voices. Rather than aiming to be the next Silicon Valley: let’s build on our region’s unique strengths of community support, barnraising energy, and innovation to build something here that can be the blueprint for other communities to aspire to.

Our work speaks to this directly. The Hive Waterloo Region network – of both individuals and organizations – will:

  • Support our youth and our future, by providing digital literacy learning that’s accessible to everyone
  • Support our community with resources to navigate the sometimes confusing new digital world
  • Create a cross-sectoral network of organizations and individuals working together towards a common goal: schools, businesses, social agencies, arts workers, teachers, children, parents, retirees, and more
  • Support our diverse and changing population, giving access to learning to those who are often underserved in the scientific and technical fields: women and girls, newcomers, those in lower income demographics, or those with disabilities.  
  • Create real innovation by advocating for more diversity and equity in our tech sector
  • Promote our Region as a tech centre for excellence, both in Canada and globally

Join Us!

This is your personal invitation to join us, as an individual or an organization – or both! We’ve just launched our membership application cycle for 2017, and the network we build will be stronger with your support. For more information, please visit our Membership page.

We’re looking forward to working with you.

 

*Names have been changed.

44 Gaukel St, Kitchener

Welcome to Hive Waterloo Region

After a successful year as Year of Code Waterloo Region, we are excited to be continuing our mission to increase digital literacy among all our citizens, while promoting inclusivity in our tech sector and equal access to the web and tools for digital transformation.

Now that we are recognized by the Mozilla Foundation as a Hive Learning Community, what next? One of the new initiatives we’ll be working on is bringing our diverse community together on digital literacy and equal access issues through Hive membership. Members include other non-profit organizations, municipal partners, and companies with a mission to give back to our community. By creating a bridge between all we aim to magnify the impact and good we can all do together. Watch for more information coming soon.

If you’re looking for fun learning activities for you or your kids, you’ll find a new roster of events to join us at. And new volunteer opportunities!

On October 4, come visit our new office at 44 Gaukel St for an Open House, from 4-8pm. Meet the dynamic blend of arts groups and tech startups we share space with, under the ArtsBuild Ontario and Accelerator Centre umbrellas.

Thank you to the City of Kitchener for their support, and our past sponsors TD and Libro Credit Union. Talk to us if your organization would like to increase digital literacy in our region through sponsorship and/or membership.