Disrupted: Equity + Inclusion

Equity + Inclusivity are buzzwords that are too often tossed around the community. Tech Manitoba chose to dig deeper at this year’s third and final Disrupted. The virtual conference spotlighted speakers, industry experts and activists who showed us what it looks like to actually do the work.

Powered once again by RBC, nearly 200 people trekked back onto Remo to connect with one another. Tech leaders showed up to share, listen and discuss our role in creating a more diverse and inclusive industry.

A Digital Land Acknowledgement

Deirdre Lee is an artist, poet and maker of magic demanding more of in terms of reconciliation. Tech Manitoba set this intention by sharing her video reading “A Digital Land Acknowledgement Existing As a Settler on Unceded Land: A Guide.” Standing outside in a frame of trees Deirdre is biting and furious and poetic.

She urges all of us to strip away our assumptions and think about whose traditional territory we live on. And don’t do it for the ally cookie or the activist cred. It’s our time to listen and learn and Deirdre says this journey has no easy fix. We need to nurture ourselves; much like encouraging plants to grow.

Untapped: Finding Tech Talent in the Newcomer Community

As the host, Jessica Dumas infused Disrupted with her experience as a lifestyle coach and diversity and leadership instructor. As a role model and advocate for women’s empowerment, Jessica was a fitting person to introduce opening keynote Anne Kjær Bathel.

Anne is the Co-Founder and CEO of ReDI School of Digital Integration. In response to the refugee crisis, she founded the school in Berlin as a vocational training program teaching tech and programming skills to asylum seekers. It went from 42 students in the first semester to teaching 2000 this year.

In the first year, Anne saw her biggest blind spot when only 10 per cent of her participants were women. She set a goal to have 50 per cent women participants and it paid off. The school now has 65 per cent female participation and 47 per cent women in high-end tech courses.

Much like Manitoba, Germany suffers from a labour shortage in tech. There are currently 86,000 jobs available and the country loses about 6 billion euros each year due to lack of talent. Anne decided to fill this gap with the 1.2 million refugees arriving who were looking for work, income and opportunities.

Top takeaways:

· Look for backing in powerful places that make sense. Anne connected billionaire Mark Zuckerberg with a refugee camp where he met a fellow tech lover and was moved enough to back the school.

· It’s short-sighted to not view technology as a basic human right. Access to digital literacy skills, the internet, and proper equipment are essential to participating in this digital world.

· The school took off once Anne’s tech team started talking with actual refugees. Each time they met both parties brought two friends — which is a hot tip to scale fast.

· Women need access to childcare, courses catered to their schedules, places where they feel safe (snacks are nice) and representation in instructors and mentors.

Interactive Playground

Disrupted featured robust networking and meaningful conversations at the Interactive Playground. Exhibitor tables represented local industry reps and Tech Manitoba encouraged participants to talk about diversity and equity practices.

The Manitoba Industry-Academia Partnership (MI-AP) wants to shift the emphasis from students to working in tandem with employers on creating more inclusive business cultures. This includes addressing fundamental cultural differences like eye contact — which is a sign of aggression and disrespect for many Indigenous people.

The POPP3R Cybersecurity table led a conversation on newcomers to Canada. They talked about employment opportunities when your tech credentials and accent are from another country. Networking came up as a way to wade through these barriers and lean on community connectors like Tech Manitoba.

Dance break at Disrupted

Attendees lit up the chat as Gurdeep Pandheer got people out of their office chairs. The Canadian Bhangra artist taught participants the traditional dance of the Punjabi/Sikh farmers from his home amongst the birch trees of the Yukon.

Gurdeep said smiling from your heart (not just your hips) is as important as the rest of the dance. Whether you hit all the choreographed moves or just enjoyed the exercise, the whole thing was joyful and uplifting. Which is always Gurdeep’s intention.

Building Inclusion — Fostering Indigenous Talent in Tech
RBC Report and panel discussion w/ John Stackhouse

RBC created the Building Inclusion — Fostering Indigenous Talent in Tech in search of reconciliation and a way to help Indigenous youth find their footing in this digital economy. John Stackhouse, Senior VP, RBC gave the Disrupted audience an overview of these findings.

According to the survey, Indigenous students lag by 13% in their confidence of digital skills. This might have something to do with internet infrastructure still being a barrier for the majority of their communities. The report showed that many Indigenous people live in areas where the broadband technology is comparable to the 1990s.

The panel featured Dallas Storm Flett-Wapash and Jace Meyer who offered their insight as Indigenous youth. Dallas is a video game developer student situated in Keeseekoose First Nation. Jace is the Executive Director of First Nations Technology Council, Indigenous Innovation Institute.

Takeaways from Dallas Storm Flett-Wapash

· Video game development is expensive. As a teen, he worked on a crummy laptop and currently has to drive to his community college to access internet. When teaching workshops, he thinks about the tech his students actually have access.

· Working on prototypes that have NDA’s left him without a portfolio. He suggests repurposing those prototypes in an entirely new context so you can demonstrate the type of work you do.

· Many Indigenous youth come from far away communities and institutions don’t recognize all the things they have to acclimate to.

· Don’t be afraid to participate in creative spaces. You have a right to be there.

Words of advice from Jace Meyer

· It’s really easy to forget where the baseline is. The fact is 75 per cent of Indigenous youth don’t have access to the internet at all. We need to really recognize that.

· Many people see tech as global but it also has the ability to erode culture. Think about how we can be more purposeful as a culture in reconciliation.

· There needs to be more diverse representation at the table. Recognize how important it is to ask the questions no one is asking.

Local not Foreign with Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman

“Consider what Canada means to you.” Drawing on his immigrant experience as a consulting and clinical psychologist, Dr. Abdulrehman posed this thought to the Disrupted audience.

We’re told Canada is multicultural, but Dr. Abdulrehman says the truth is we’re “unicultural.” His references of typical Canadiana are steeped in stereotypes — mountains, maple syrup and hockey. But for Dr. Rehman, it also means thinking twice about how he comes across as a Muslim man. Like for many Canadians who don’t fit the colonial settler mold, he swings between a sense of pride and danger.

Dr. Abdulrehman says the solution lies in representation. He wants people to celebrate an inclusive list of world holidays and lead with diversity by testing their own biases. Fueled by passion, Dr. Abdulrehman reminded all of us that there is more work to be done.

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Insights from Manitoba’s tech community.

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