This is the home I chose for my family and business, and I’m proud to be an Albertan. Lately though, I admit I’ve felt a bit on the defensive. In my work as the CEO of my cleantech firm, Absolute Combustion, and as the Executive Director of the Canadian Blockchain Consortium, I have a lot of dealings with people across the country, from Vancouver to Toronto and Montreal. And since the media has been running daily articles on X-Cite Energy Service’s disgusting, sexually explicit sticker of teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, I’ve been hearing a lot of feedback that shows what the rest of the country thinks of our treatment of women.
Unfortunately, what I’m hearing about people’s perception of how Alberta views women isn’t great. Because of its large rural areas and oil & gas focus, Alberta has long had a ‘good ol’ boy’ image that makes people believe that we’re decades behind the rest of the country when it comes to women’s empowerment. Nothing could be further from the truth, and events like the Greta sticker are adding to a misperception that hurts our province both socially and economically. The good news is that we have a vast amount of real data to correct these misinformed views, and in reality, Alberta is a national and international leader when it comes to supporting the advancement of women.
Alberta’s women are among the highest educated in Canada, and it shows in our growing rates of female employment in non-traditional fields like energy, cleantech and software. According to the Alberta government, women outpace men in attaining post-secondary degrees (65% vs. 62.9%), and amazing programs like the University of Calgary’s Hunter Hub WeLab initiative are drawing more and more female students towards careers in STEM professions.
According to the Alberta Enterprise Corporation, women in Alberta aren’t just keeping up with the rest of the country in starting businesses in traditionally-male fields like technology– we’re leading by a huge margin. Of our 1,238 tech firms, 30% have a female founder or co-founder – that’s twice the national average. In fact, a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows we have the highest rates of women entrepreneurs in the country – 15.5% of women aged 18-64 are starting a business, beating Canada’s 13.3% and far exceeding countries like the US, Australia and the UK.
Our government-sponsored funding organizations like Alberta Innovates and Alberta Enterprise are massive supporters of our talented women entrepreneurs, especially in technology. A full half of tech start-up funding in Alberta is by the government, and that makes amazing statistics like our female leadership in this high-growth sector possible. Other grant programs, education and training initiatives and giving us a leading edge that will be a game changer for the next generation.
I’m thrilled to be a part of our many female business empowerment groups like Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, who are helping raise awareness, facilitate access to start-up and growth capital, and giving women the networks and connections they need to succeed. Ecosystems are the foundation of our emerging industries and help generate and grow our future economic opportunities, and Alberta has built a vibrant network of these non-profits that we should be proud of.
Other Women Step Up:
One of the amazing things I’ve seen here in Alberta is that at the head of many- if not most – of our critical ecosystem-building organizations, there’s a strong and respected woman leader, and she’s ready to help other women make the climb to the top. Albertans stick together and we can feel like one big community, and this is a big reason why we have such high rates of mentorship, advocacy and support for other women. We are united and working towards a common goal, leaving aside the petty politics and competition women experience in many other places.
The support I’ve felt as a female entrepreneur from other women, countless men and our great organizations here in Alberta is just incredible, and I honestly don’t think I would have achieved the same level of success anywhere else in Canada. We’re a real community that champions our risk-taking innovators and continually strives to do better, and we have the numbers to prove that our efforts to accelerate the progress of women in non-traditional industries like energy, technology and manufacturing are working and delivering real change and value.
However, it’s a sad fact that all of our successes in creating equal opportunities and a thriving business culture based on merit and skill rather than gender and identity have less meaning if the rest of the country views us as a backwards place where women are treated disrespectfully and deprived of fundamental rights. Don’t get me wrong – we’ve still got a significant wage and representation gap. But we’re making rapid gains and even starting to outperform provinces like Ontario, and this is why all Albertans need to promote our achievements and change this sadly misinformed perception.
We have so much to celebrate here in Alberta when it comes to the advancement of our women, which is why I’m thrilled to be a speaker and nominee at the upcoming Global Women of Vision Celebration Event in Edmonton on April 8th. Headlined by the incomparable Sarah McLachlan, the evening will be honoring our female leaders like Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser and Canada’s first female RCMP Commissioner, Edmonton’s Brenda Lucki.
Events like this are the kind of media attention our treatment of women should be getting. High-profile incidents that the media latches on to like the appalling Greta sticker don’t define who we are as a province, and they certainly don’t reflect reality for women entrepreneurs like myself. And I truly believe that the rest of the country has no right to judge Alberta until they catch up to our outstanding rates of female entrepreneurship, technology industry representation and volume of organizations building gender parity into our future economy. Let’s keep working together to overcome this stereotype, keep sharing our truth, and show Canada that our province is the best place to be a woman in business.