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What do hockey and start-ups have in common? In Canada, women

Not that long ago in Canada, it was pretty common to hear hockey skates referred to as “boys’ skates.” As in, kids would either wear figure skates (most likely, if they were girls), or they wore boys’ skates – hockey skates. The reason being that hockey was predominately the domain of boys and, eventually, men.

But a funny thing has happened over the last 20 years. Girls began to take up hockey in increasingly greater numbers, and women’s hockey earned much greater recognition in our cultural zeitgeist, especially as Canada’s women’s team won not one, not two, but four Olympic gold medals between 2002 and 2014.
A look at Hockey Canada data paints this picture loud and clear. Between 1993 and 2009, female hockey participation in Ontario grew from under 8,000 to just over 46,000, a nearly six-fold increase. Meanwhile, boys’ and men’s hockey only increased by 33 per cent over the same period. In 1993, women and girls made up only 5 per cent of hockey players in Ontario. Today, they make up over 20 per cent.

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We’re mentioning all this because today is International Women’s Day, and as much as we and the rest of the world still have plenty of work to do to promote equality for women and girls, there are encouraging signs that Canada is on the right track.

While female hockey participation may not be a big deal, we think more women starting businesses is. About a third of all tech startups in Ontario are run by women, versus only 17 per cent in the U.S. Since 2009, the number of female entrepreneurs in Canada has increased 15 per cent, three times faster than the number of male entrepreneurs. Dell’s 2017 Women Entrepreneur Cities (WE Cities) Index puts Toronto in the top 10 globally for supporting women entrepreneurs. At the University of Toronto, women now make up 40 per cent of engineering students, the highest in Ontario. It’s a huge step forward in Engineers Canada’s goal to have 30 per cent female representation among licensed engineers by 2030.

Women are playing a bigger role in our government as well, comprising between 33 -and 56 per cent of the total number of people elected to office across the Toronto Region’s 25 municipalities. Our second-largest municipality, the City of Mississauga, has over 50 per cent female representation on Council, according to the World Council on City Data, and has had a female mayor since 1978 (Hazel McCallion from 1978 to 2014, and Bonnie Crombie thereafter).

A big part of enacting change is the slow and arduous process of changing minds. What’s your first thought when you’re asked to picture a tech leader in your head? Do you picture a man in that role? Bet you do — with good reason! Only 6 per cent of tech companies have a female CEO and 13 per cent of the average tech company’s executive teams are composed of women. By simply quantifying the gender disparity that exists in technology today, it helps to generate awareness and inspire action and positive change.

At Toronto Global, we’re lucky to have on our Board of Directors a champion for advancing the participation of all women in tech. Jodi Kovitz is the founder and CEO of #MoveTheDial, a global movement to increase the number of women in the tech community, specifically in leadership roles. #MoveTheDial creates a ripple effect by making strategic partnerships with change makers, and providing space for women and young girls to network, learn, and be inspired by the stories of women who are holding the door open in science, technology, engineering, and math to become leaders.

If talent is going to be the big story in attracting businesses to the Toronto Region, we can’t afford to leave a significant portion of our workforce on the sidelines. Research now clearly shows that companies with greater gender diversity, particularly those that have women on their executive teams, C-suites and boards, perform better financially because of the variety of skills and approaches their staff offer. In a region as diverse as ours, it’s so important to ensure this diversity is mirrored in the workplace.

There’s good news on this front. Women made up 56 per cent of Canadian university graduates in 2010, and are projected to make up 62 per cent in 2020. The talent emerging from our postsecondary institutions is more diverse, skilled and well-equipped to enter the workforce than ever before. These numbers create significant force and pressure to enact policy change in gender wage gap legislation and institutional changes in organizational culture, with an emphasis on recruiting and promoting women and minorities to leadership and executive roles.

So we can see that the dial is indeed moving. At the 2019 NHL All Stars Skills Competition, NHL star Connor McDavid clocked the fastest lap time around the rink at 13.378 seconds. Kendall Coyne Schofield, from the U.S. Women’s National Team, clocked 14.346 seconds – just 0.968 seconds behind McDavid. We’re catching up fast.

Whether it’s lacing up your first pair of hockey skates or running your own tech company, women in Canada are closing the gap across all areas of society. It’s just one way we’re leading the world by example.

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