How Canadian companies build diverse teams. Lessons learned

How Canadian companies build diverse teams. Lessons learned

August 29, 2019

I just got back from VanHack’s Toronto gathering on how companies build diverse teams

(Thanks to Techstars Toronto and Founder’s Institute Toronto for supporting the event! Full disclosure: I wasn’t just an attendee. I was the lead organizer for it.)

I did it to learn how companies are embracing diversity and inclusion here in Toronto, the third largest tech community in North America, amidst the fierce competition for local talent. Tech salaries went up 10 percent last year, while it’s getting harder to retain developers.

As you know, building a diverse tech team doesn’t come by just wanting it to happen. That’s particularly true right now.

I wanted to share what I learned at the event while it was still fresh.

Anyway, here are my takeaways from the speakers at the event.

The Global Talent Stream is more important than ever

More Canadian companies are just hearing about this program, which makes it way easier to access global tech talent. But there’s a lag between hearing about it and doing something about it. (As it happens, VanHack just published a series on our blog on this very topic. Check out how to apply to the Global Talent Stream.)

You probably already know that VanHack helps companies hire international tech and engineering talent and helps relocate them to Canada. Just sayin’. And sometimes, when you’re looking to hire abroad… it can happen really fast!

Diverse entrepreneurs from abroad are helping grow Canada’s tech sector, too

ScaleWithoutBorders is building a space for newcomer entrepreneurs to organize and leverage their work. They’ve got a pretty ambitious program to make that happen. Here’s a little fact from Statistics Canada: “The unadjusted (raw) data indicated that average annual net job growth per firm was higher among immigrant-owned firms than among firms with Canadian-born owners.” Interesting!

Clearly, the way forward isn’t just accessing global talent to grow Canadian companies. Another boost for the economy and a diverse community comes from foreign-born entrepreneurs hiring Canadians where they live.

Toronto and Vancouver are doing a great job of promoting female founders

Obviously, gender diversity is a big part of the conversation around growing diverse teams. I hadn’t realized just how much better Canadian cities were doing on that score, lately. In fact, “Toronto and Vancouver were the two Canadian cities included in this year’s WE Cities ranking of the top 50 global cities for female entrepreneurs, with Vancouver making number 11 on the list, and Toronto coming in at number nine” (BetaKit). There are organizations like DreamMaker Ventures that are taking action by specifically focusing their thesis and funding on statistically underrepresented founders like women.

Tips and tricks. How Canadian companies build diverse teams right from the start

How Canadian companies build diverse teams. Lessons learned

Some practical steps I learned companies can take to ensure their prospective hires feel welcome:

  • Stop asking questions like “How many years of experience do you have as a full stack developer?” Instead, you might ask them, “On a scale of 1 to 5, how much expertise do you have?”
    Why? Well, people from different backgrounds feel less confident about applying to jobs with hard requirements. Competence doesn’t always equal years of experience.
  • Eliminate aggressive language (eg. literally putting on a job description: “aggressively meets targets”), competency level, years of experience.
  • Provide alternatives to cold interviews by letting people know the questions in advance. This way, you’re testing how they react to getting put on the spot – which might not have much to do with their actual coding skills.

Folks in talent and hiring operations like our speaker Jay Zaidi, from Third Point Global, aim to help organizations adopt these practices more quickly.

Canada is an amazing place to live and work

As a born-and-raised Canadian, you can forget sometimes just how lucky we are to be here. But the diverse talent coming here doesn’t forget it. It’s a big reason they make for very motivated and loyal employees and entrepreneurs.

For instance, I met a Techstars Toronto-backed founder, Maarij Rehman of Envoi, who popped by the event. He was going to have his Permanent Residency interview the next day. Here’s proof. Good luck to him!

Sayuri Mizuguchi, a Brazilian VanHacker, who VanHack recently helped land her dream job at talked about her experience. As it happens, Sayuri is a StackOverflow top developer with rankings in the top 1 percent (IBM Watson), 5 percent (Node.js) and 10 percent (Javascript), for three of the top coding languages employers care about. Lately, she’s accumulated 16 certifications and badges through IBM, Microsoft and other platforms. Even more impressive was her attitude.

“I became determined to become the best in order to move abroad. I’m dedicated to building up my experience. I’ve been that way since I decided to make the move here! I’m doing it so that I can clear a path for others to follow too!”

Inspiring stuff — and thank you to Sayuri and others like her who are helping Canada become a leader in innovation. The Diversity and Inclusion and Going Globally elevates us and tbh, the research proves that it makes business sense. The interesting part is the “how to” and is something that I’m going to keep diving deeper into.

Quinn Lawson is a Business Development Professional with VanHack.