Just as Alberta is making a name for itself in the tech industry, there seems to be one thing lacking: women. Entrepreneur Kylie Woods is determined to change that through Chic Geek, her non-profit organization focused on creating gender diversity in the tech industry.
“Technology shapes our lives, how we live, work and play and if women are not shaping that technology, there is a risk that we lose shaping our future,” says Woods. “We need women’s voices at the table.”
At 18, Woods moved from Saskatoon to Calgary to attend the public relations program at Mount Royal University. Shortly after graduating in 2012, wondering what was next, she stumbled upon the tech scene in Calgary.
“It clicked. I was just like, ‘This is the place for me,’” she says. “Everybody that works in this space is so driven, passionate, motivated, inspiring and I was like, ‘I need to be in this energy!’”
Through coffees and conversations, Woods realized there was a need for women in technology — and a need for more resources for them.
“I remember going to a bunch of tech events and meetup groups, and I would walk in and I would often be the only woman and the only young woman there, which was very intimidating.”
A 2016 report by the National Center for Women & Information Technology outlined that women only hold 25 per cent of all computing roles in the United States. It also found women were leaving technology roles in large numbers.
Woods founded Chic Geek in January of 2013, to help ‘womxn’ — an inclusive definition that embraces those with a variety of gender identities — in the technology field.
The organization started by putting on events like Geeky Summit, a conference that provides hands-on workshops and hosts speakers, as well as holding tech talks to help build a strategic network while profiling women in tech.
Through Chic Geek, Woods has found many women are leaving the tech industry because they can’t see a path to advancement.
“With womxn especially, we have this kind of belief that if she can see it, she can be it, but if I don’t see anyone else that looks like me in these kind of roles, then I’m not going to feel like I can do that too.”
University of Calgary computer science student, Aarti Barakale says she is saddened by the lack of gender diversity in not only the tech field, but her program as well.
“It’s sad. It’s a sad reality,” she says. “After second year, we saw a huge drop in females in computer science classes.”
Barakale co-founded WiCS, Women in Computer Science, at her university.
Barakale feels it is important for women to have a space where they feel comfortable and can ask questions. She says programs targeted toward women, which help them connect with each other, are important in growing the industry’s gender diversity.
She hopes universities can help in connecting students to different resources such as Chic Geek.
“If they would’ve provided enough help in the early stages of someone’s career, for example my career, it would’ve been so much better when I actually step into the professional setup,” she says.
Chic Geek recently launched a new service called “career pathing” where they help women at different levels in their tech careers connect with others. Woods emphasizes the importance of role modelling.
“Whether you’re a little girl or a grown womxn, we still have the mentality of ‘If I can’t see someone like me in there, then that’s not a space for me.’ So that role modelling is really important,” she says.
As the technology industry in Alberta continues to grow to more than 3,000 companies, Woods is excited seeing how tech culture and the industry continue to change. Chic Geek recently received $300,000 in grants from the government to continue to build new support for women in the technology sector.
In 2019, Woods became a mother to twin girls. Grappling with her own assumptions of what it means to be “a successful entrepreneur,” Woods has learned to create her own definitions when it comes to being both a mother and a successful business woman.
“I need to role model to other womxn that we can do this our own way, how we design, and we can have control over it and own that narrative.”