Nova Scotia’s digital technologies industry is booming, but the workforce lacks diversity.
That’s something Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, president and CEO of Digital Nova Scotia, is working to change.
Incorporated in 1989, it is a non-profit that strives to promote Nova Scotia’s $2.5-billion digital industry; this figure includes the $1.5-billion industry itself and $1 billion in spinoff benefits.
Information and communications technology “is the fastest-growing sector in the province,” said Bahr-Gedalia.
“Nova Scotia has the highest number of … graduates per capita in Canada and a growing startup community. The province also has an ecosystem of support and advanced digital infrastructure. We want to help more Nova Scotia companies compete globally.”
Bahr-Gedalia is well-qualified to help Nova Scotians compete around the world.
Originally from Germany, she speaks six languages and has worked in diverse places, including South Africa, the Middle East and Asia. She moved with her family from Israel to Nova Scotia in 2002.
“For the past 20 years, I’ve been working in the tech sector in organizations of all sizes, from startups to multinationals like Intel and Compaq-HP,” Bahr-Gedalia said.
“It’s obvious to me that success comes to those who remove any concept of borders.”
Workplace diversity — including gender, ethnicity and age — is important, she said, because it has been shown to boost creativity and productivity.
The number of women employed in Canada’s tech sector stands at 24 per cent, according to the Information and Communications Technology Council. At executive levels, the number of women is just 16.5 per cent, according to figures from the Information Technology Association of Canada.
“We broadened our recruitment efforts, and now 46 per cent of our board directors are women,” Bahr-Gedalia said.
“In less than a year, our Women Leaders Fuelling the Digital Economy project (funded by Status of Women Canada) has provided … companies with actionable solutions on pay equity, promotional processes and communication.”
By linking with community groups, Digital Nova Scotia has boosted the number of youth from under-represented demographics interested in digital technology.
It has also partnered with the Discovery Centre in Halifax to create the Digital Discovery Camp.
“We began working together last March on a pilot program to interest youth in digital technology,” Bahr-Gedalia said.
“Its success has made it a flagship program for both our organizations.”
Last July, it launched its Applied Leadership Training Program to provide business leaders with specific skill sets.
She said the Dartmouth organization works with research partners like the Information and Communications Technology Council to better understand trends and problems.
The sector needs many skill sets, and professionals work in diverse industries.
“Our sector embeds nearly every other industry, and that number can only increase.”
She said the organization has been hearing a lot about the need for sales and marketing skills in tech companies, and plans to address this concern.
Hard work, optimism and a spirit of adventure have been Bahr-Gedalia’s own career guides.
“I didn’t set out on a specific path. I followed one opportunity to the next, intending to excel, embrace change and adapt to new situations and environments quickly. I’ve also worked really hard and had a supportive peer network.”
In her 20s, she applied for a senior-level position with Compaq while working at McAfee in the United Kingdom. She eventually beat out several hundred candidates to win the job, based largely on her personality and attitude.
“Experience was not an issue. I think that’s the point — it shouldn’t be.”
To be heard on the world stage, she said, Nova Scotians need to lose their customary reticence.
“The more visible we are as a sector and as a province, the more we’ll be able to attract global talent, investment and grow internationally competitive businesses.”
Disclaimer: Entrevestor receives financial support from government agencies that support startup companies in Atlantic Canada. The sponsoring agencies play no role in determining which companies and individuals are featured in this column, nor do they review columns before they are published.