Addressing the Shortage of Women in ICT

Some of the information on this Web page has been provided by external sources. The Government of Canada is not responsible for the accuracy, reliability or currency of the information supplied by external sources. Users wishing to rely upon this information should consult directly with the source of the information. Content provided by external sources is not subject to official languages, privacy and accessibility requirements.

Submitted by CATA Women in Technology Forum 2010–07–12 16:42:49 EDT
Theme(s): Building Digital Skills, Growing the ICT Industry



The ICT and other technology sectors in Canada are the fastest growing and are the engines of Canada's growth and prosperity as traditional sectors decline. The majority of Canada's largest employers are in technology-intensive industries. Moreover, the jobs provided by technology are high value jobs.

Virtually every sector of the Canadian economy depends to some extent on the effective application of technology.

Our ability to compete globally, however, rests not just on having the needed technological infrastructure and business climate, but also on having "right skilled" human infrastructure in IT.

As many as 58,000 new jobs were required in IT in 2008. Over the period 2008-2015 Canadian employers will need to fill between 126,400 and 178,800 ICT jobs. This translates into an annual demand of between 15,800 and 22,350 ICT positions to fill posts created by new industry demand or by the retirement of existing workers Canada is lagging behind in graduating the highly skilled workers and highly qualified personnel needed to fuel growth in the technology sectors. Undergraduate enrollment at most Canada universities is down about 50% since 2002. (Conference Board Study 2007)

The "talent war" is a major global competitive issue affecting virtually every industry sector, as demographic trends coupled with changing workforce demands create labour shortages and intense competition for skilled workers. The impacts of an aging workforce, declining fertility and technological change will create a shortage of well-qualified technology workers.

But an existing and underutilized human resource is Canada's women. Women are under-represented in ICT and other advanced technology sectors such as defense and security, and aerospace.

Research shows there are few gender differences in underlying mathematical abilities. Young women do at least as well in math at school as young men.

Canadian economic growth depends on the availability of good scientific and technical talent. Increasing this talent pool by including the women of Canada will not only increase the total number of IT workers, it will also increase the number of top workers. The Chief Economist of the Royal Bank of Canada identified the under-employment of women as a significant cost to the Canadian economy and an opportunity (RBC, 2005).

If the gender imbalance is correct in science and technology, the skills shortage will be addressed.

If the gender balance is not corrected, Canada's economic growth will be weakened.

The Problem

So why do fewer women than men study science and enter the IT sector and why are women leaving?

Findings from a collaborative research initiative between CATA Women in Technology Forum and University of Ottawa in 2007 and a study undertaken by CATA WIT with Dr. Wendy Cukier in 2009 identified the following problems:

  1. Technology workplaces are very attractive to women offering interesting and meaningful work, good compensation and opportunities for growth. However, disadvantages of technology workplace identified including negative perceptions about technology work as well as the lack of female role models inhibit female students from entering post-secondary science and mathematics programs and pursuing careers in technology.
  2. Women see a range of barriers to advancement including their own lack of self-promotion, "the old boy's network", lack of understanding of the invisible rules of the organization and lack of mentoring or development and childcare and family responsibilities.
  3. Retention of women in technology careers is also a problem. 52% of high qualified science, engineering and technology women quit their jobs (Centre for Work-Life Policy June 2008).

    Causes for this female exodus are:

    • Personal experiences of feeling undervalued and marginalized
    • Hostile macho cultures
    • Severe isolation
    • Mysterious career paths
    • Systems of risk and reward that emphasizes risk-taking
    • Family and life balance.

The Solution

These issues are not new but there has been no improvement. Therefore, we recommend a co-ordinated integrated approach engaging a variety of stakeholders in collaboration with government, industry, associations and educational institutions to implement the following:

Improve the Pipeline

  1. Develop a long-term initiative directed at girls in the earliest stages of their education (primary school) and at parents (particularly mothers) to convince them that science and mathematics-based courses and ultimately careers can be enjoyable and rewarding.
  2. Develop a national communications strategy directed at young women that addresses their negative perceptions of working in technology jobs and companies and encourages the pursuit of technology-related disciplines

Increase the Participation and Advancement of Women

  1. Promote to technology company decision makers the fact that organizations which effectively leverage diversity and particularly women in leadership roles have higher performance, productivity and employee engagement
  2. Implement a national systematic and organized mentoring program to encourage young women to pursue careers in technology and to assist them to advance in those careers
  3. Undertake a diversity action plan which leverages the influence of large corporations by encouraging them to consider diversity, specifically women in technology, in their relationships with smaller organization in the value chain.

    The action plan should include:

    • Promoting best practices including changes to human resources practices, marketing, procurement and philanthropy policies through knowledge transfer roundtables
    • Create a women in technology charter to encourage companies to commit to implementing gender diversity policies and strategies in the areas of HR, procurement, leadership development of women's networks
    • Hold diversity training workshops for small and medium sized tech companies
  4. Establish a clearinghouse which links the range of women and technology initiatives across the country and promotes sharing and coordination to strengthen efforts and avoid reinventing the wheel

Monitor Key Performance Indicators

  1. Create a benchmark report card on matrices such as number of women on boards of advanced technology companies, number of women in senior management positions, number of women starting tech companies, women moving into tech jobs etc. etc. and undertake annual monitoring of progress

    Joanne Stanley, Executive Director
    CATA Women in Technology Forum
    July 2010


In 2002, 22.8 per cent of the IT work force in Canada is female; this was down from 25.4 percent in 2000, and from 30 per cent in 2001.
- Study by ICTC 1n 2002 on demographics of Canadian IT workforce

In October 2007, females comprised 25.8 per cent of the IT work force.
- Labour Force Survey, Stats Canada and ICTC.

Women account for one in five engineering undergraduates. Their numbers have not kept pace with enrolment increases. Since 2000, the proportion of female engineering students has dropped by nearly two per cent.
- Canadian Council of Professional Engineers

The number of women holding top executive positions in Canada's s all biggest publicly traded companies fell to 31 in 2007 from 37 in 2006. That compares to 507 men in similar jobs.
- Rosenzweig Report on Women at the Top Levels of Corporate Canada

While women account for 46.6 per cent of the Canadian labor force, only 36.6 per cent hold management positions and a mere 3.8 per cent are at the CEO level in the S&P index of companies.
- 2005 Study Women Take Care, Men Take Charge by Catalyst

Nine out of 10 corporate board members in Canada are men. Almost half of Canadian boards are men-only, claiming they cannot find qualified women. The worst offenders are healthcare corporations, information technology and the telecom sectors.
- Women in the Lead 2006


Table 1: Under-represented groups in technology sectors (2001) Industry 2001
Number of
Male Female Visible
Total labour force 15,872,070 53.3% 46.7% 12.6% 19.9%
ITC 1,792,965 58.0% 42.0% 16.0% 24.3%
Life Sciences 48,905 57.1% 42.9% 18.5% 27.7%
Aerospace 206,095 75.7% 24.3% 18.3% 31.2%
Defence 91,170 79.0% 21.0% 3.5% 6.8%
Electricity 86,370 74.5% 25.5% 6.8% 13.2%
Table 2: Under-represented groups in technology sectors (2006) Industry 2006
Number of
Male Female Visible
Total labour force 17,146,135 52.6% 47.4% 15.4% 21.2%
ITC 1,713,650 59.5% 40.5% 20.3% 28.3%
Life Sciences 57,565 56.5% 43.5% 23.2% 31.8%
Aerospace 195,085 75.6% 24.4% 23.1% 46.6%
Defence 105,850 77.0% 23.0% 5.0% 8.1%
Electricity 96,320 74.9% 25.1% 8.0% 12.9%
Table 3: Change in under-represented groups in technology sector (2001-2006) Industry 2001 - 2006 Change
Number of
Male Female Visible
Total labour force 8.03% -1.31% 1.50% 22.22% 6.53%
ITC -4.42% 2.59% -3.57% 26.88% 16.46%
Life Sciences 17.71% -1.05% 1.40% 25.41% 14.80%
Aerospace -5.34% -0.13% 0.41% 26.23% 49.36%
Defence 16.10% -2.53% 9.52% 42.86% 19.12%
Electricity 11.52% 0.54% -1.57% 17.65% -2.27%


The public consultation period ended on July 13, 2010, at which time this website was closed to additional comments and submissions.

Between May 10 and July 13, more than 2010 Canadian individuals and organizations registered to share their ideas and submissions. You can read their contributions—and the comments from other users—in the Submissions Area and the Idea Forum.

Email to a Friend

Your email address has not been added to any list, and has not been retained on our site.

Share this page

To share this page, select the social network of your choice:

No endorsement of any products or services is expressed or implied.