Author: Wyatt Fossett
Discover Tectoria panel says tackling unconscious bias, education part of building inclusive workplaces
The ever-quiet sibling of the mainland metropolis that is Victoria, British Columbia continues to surprise and grow. With help from groups like the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology & Entrepreneurship Council, the veil is lifted—if ever so slightly—a few times a year, and it truly exposes the veins of an astounding technological sector which just so happens to be the leading employment industry within British Columbia’s capital city.
The secret to Victoria’s innovation
There’s no shame here. Everyone is more than happy with their growth, and their success from the shadows of Vancouver. Maybe it’s key to their evolution. Perhaps it’s this climate, sans spotlight, that makes people in Victoria willing to try things a little more on the unconventional side.
Discover Tectoria is an annual event held by VIATEC in Victoria, filled with panels and a show floor that puts over 75 of the most innovative companies on Vancouver Island on display. Integral to the growth of their industry, the Discover Tectoria event works to promote the often unknown, or forgotten $4 billion tech sector. It’s a full day of expo floor that includes demos and plenty of local companies looking to hire — the free-to-attend event is big for those seeking work.
Want to keep tabs on your boat using smart-home-like technology? BRNKL has you covered. Maybe, for some reason, you’re looking to replace all of the lights in your abode with fixtures that react to noise, or dance while you sing? Limbic Media has just the thing for you. Perhaps you’re looking to engage children in the field of engineering? Well, there’s a group doing just that.
Victoria is even home to some of Canada’s most successful independent video game companies (see: KANO apps, Codename Entertainment, and Double Jump). With over 20,000 video game projects launched in Canada alone last year, it’s a sector of the tech industry that will not be going away anytime soon.
The VIATEC showcase
VIATEC does an outstanding job gathering some of the most interesting and prospering companies that call Victoria home and puts them on display to continue working towards promoting their tech sector.
Some of the standouts on this year’s Discover Tectoria show floor were:
A lot of people go about their creating alone. But whether it’s in robotics or gaming, collaboration is essential to the growth of our technological industry. The Victoria Makerspace is a member-operated space where imaginative technology developers can share time, tools, and work with their peers. It’s absolutely key that spaces like these exist, and it’s often difficult to get the word out; Victoria’s Makerspace is the best place to grow and collaborate with like-minded people.
What inspires young minds the most? Is it reward? Is it play? One of the most influential things to dreamers are heroes. FIRST Robotics BC promotes robotic sciences to children from kindergarten and throughout high school, creating heroes for young scientists in the form of their competitions and mentorship.
A flagship in the Victoria technology industry, Codename Entertainment cut their teeth on the gaming world with Facebook titles like EggBreaker and BushWhacker back in the day.
Recently, they’ve exploded with their clicker-based fantasy game Crusaders of the Lost Idols that came out on nearly every platform you can think of. On the shoulders of that big success, they were granted the enviable task of adapting a beloved role-playing intellectual property Dungeons and Dragons into something like Crusaders.
In a world where breaking news happens on Twitter, and our social media feeds are a far more viable source for what’s going on than most news outlets, a lot is lost in a sea of voices. Echosec wants to change the idea of smart news and uses billions of social media posts to collect data and report on the happenings of the world based on geofencing technology. The company is gathering interest from government and security firms, social coordinators, and news sites (ironically).
Targeted to women in technology, Loc’elle is a women-only social networking platform that enables like-minded women to easily connect in person or digitally. This is not just LinkedIn for women. Whether you’re looking for new friends, a mentor or running buddy, Loc’elle’s mission is to provide a safe platform for women to connect. The goal is to provide groups that are underserved and underrepresented with more ability to connect and support one another.
In addition to the trade show, a special stage and seating area on the upper level of the Crystal Room in the Victoria Conference Centre held panels all day. The talks—a collection of four or five experts and a moderator—ranged from cryptocurrency security, creative storytelling, local gaming takeover, all the way to “how do I land that gig.”
It was a vibrant theatre throughout the day, with a ton to take away with you for those that managed to catch a talk or two.
When discussing the future of the technology industry — a world with a high-demand for more talent — there’s a lot of weight on the industry to adapt in order to be more inclusive. Wrapping up the day of panels was, by far, the best of the bunch: Industry Enhanced by Inclusion. Unfortunately, it was also the one talk with the least amount of people in the audience.
Young people are key to breaking barriers in tech
It is essential in our changing social landscape to be on the inclusion end of a movement currently breaking down long-standing barriers faced by underrepresented groups in tech. True, major strides have been made. But it’s not enough.
Inclusion isn’t a concept solely related to mainstream, front page topics such as women in tech and how they’re treated, though that is very much a part of it. Rather, it’s a generalized term referring to all kinds of inclusion. Gender identity, disability, race, and other intersecting identities are at the forefront of the conversation. But what is the industry and the people within it to do in order to encourage inclusivity?
The final panel of the Discover Tectoria event included moderator Rebecca Kerstein (Rethink Thinking), and speakers Jeff Hopkins (Pacific School of Innovation & Inquiry), Bobbi Leach (RevenueWire), Nigel Livingston (UVic), and Dawn McCooey (Women’s Enterprise Centre). Two women who are developing the world of women entrepreneurs and the support systems in place for them, one disability researcher, and the founder of a revolutionary education system.
The panel kicked off with a simple introduction, followed by an intriguing question: “How is the diversity perspective changing, and what does it look like today?“ asked Kerstein.
It’s fundamental that we assess and speak to what the current climate is. If we’re not aware of where we are, it’s difficult (or impossible) to map out how we get to where we need to be.
“Social media has done a great service in giving those with disabilities—namely an inability to speak—a voice. Or anyone a voice, for that matter. Young people are the most sure-of-themselves generation yet,” Livingston says.
“There’s a new awareness and support for women in the tech industry, and it’s extremely positive. Though the pace is not enough.” adds McCooey. “At our current rate, some estimate it would take 400+ years to reach a state of equality.”
The conversation needs to shift to the dissolving of the systems already in place, because they’re problematic.
While there is a lot of conversation happening around supporting women in tech, Leach cautions against falling for hype. “We hear and see all of these stats and headlines like a recent one that read ‘women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies grew by 50 percent last year’ but it’s disingenuous. It did grow 50 percent, but that 50 percent increase only put the number up to  out of 500. Outlets are using catchy titles to breed complacency,” said Leach.
This is a major problem. Like Livingston points out, social media has done a fantastic job in allowing anyone a voice (see: Florida students fighting against NRA and Trump). Unfortunately, it’s also an easy tool to manipulate the public consciousness, and has spurred the growth of inaccurate representation of facts.
When you take the current social media tools into account, the conversation needs to shift to the dissolving of the systems already in place, because they’re problematic. “It’s a systemic unconscious bias,” says WEC founder McCooey (echoed by the rest of the panel) on the inherently non-inclusive, grandfathered structure of many industries. “The way we speak to one another, and the predetermined roles within offices, who succeeds and who fails, are pre-formatted. So much so that we ‘expect it’, due to the pattern in the industry’s history.”
Our best bet? Well, that comes down to how much power we give our youth. Millennials are a strong force and possess the drive and determination to shake up any structure already in place. They (as a collective) are the most progressive age of humans and have done valuable work to force the world onto an inclusive path.
“How do we ensure that our future is brighter, and we’re more inclusive?” asked Kerstein.
We’re always told that you can’t change the rules from the outside, and it was reflected here as the panel discusses ways we can adopt an change for the future. The key for older generations is to learn the ways of the new world. For those on the cusp, it’s important to nurture that world. For the youth of the world, it’s to continue understanding yourself, being free within that self, and remain inclusive of all types.
“Working with teenagers in an abnormal education environment like I do, it’s evident. People — and I don’t know if it’s exposure to social media or places like Reddit — are more comfortable with their own identity,” said Hopkins, as he’s on the front lines of a shift in the inclusive educational structure.
“Yes!” exclaimed moderator Kerstien. “It’s also important to jump in and educate when finding yourself face-to-face with an opportunity to dissolve others’ ignorance.”
“It’s very much about language, and our awareness of such a thing, that is the key to being inclusive,” added Leach.
The language in question is an overall term used here to describe a shift in the way we speak to one another, or speak for ourselves. “When it comes to identifiers, I always open with my own, and ask for their pronouns afterwards. It opens up a safe conversation, and as a member of an older generation, displays my desire to be inclusive right out of the gate,” said Hopkins, in response to an audience question of how he uses language to ask someone about pronouns.”
There are many other ways to ensure that the language we use is inclusive. “Women need to adapt away from passivity, in a sense, but it has always supported a more comfortable environment, so it’s still very much a work in progress,” said McCooey on how we should present our at-work selves. The common use of aggressive language to achieve goals, or put into action one’s climb up the “ladder,” is something that has to die. Inherently, this language brews a lack of inclusion.
“We can be more thoughtful. We can ask more questions. We can try to help each other, or ensure that others are more comfortable in any environment,” said Leach.
It is only a revolution, on the brink of toppling an entirely predetermined path, that is going to be the foundation of a tech industry (or any industry) that will progress through the inclusion of all people.
The problem is a poison that many don’t even know they are perpetuating. This systemic bias is something that caters to an already privileged group. A lot of the world is missing out on some of the most qualified personnel out there, all because of an archaic structure or uninviting workplace. There is turmoil now, but thanks to people like the panelists here — and the rebellious youth — there’s an extremely bright future.