As recently as 2015, exactly none of the ventures at St. John’s-based Genesis startup hub were led by women. Today, nearly a third of them are.
In an interview Wednesday, Vice President of Finance and Special Projects Colin Corcoran told Entrevestor that increasing diversity in the startup ecosystem has been a key goal for the centre. Corcoran and his colleagues went so far in 2018 as to hire a dedicated staffer, Dyanna McCarthy, to advance the role of women in technology. McCarthy is now Genesis’s Success Manager, working with clients in its Enterprise startup incubator.
Corcoran said much of the growth in women entrepreneurs at Genesis was also thanks to a three-year collaboration with the Newfoundland and Labrador government’s Workforce Innovation Centre. The joint project was dedicated to identifying and finding ways to remove barriers to entry for women who want to enter the startup ecosystem.
“We had a few initiatives in the early days to create the Women in Tech peer group, which really brought about and highlighted the fact that there were a number of barriers to entry... for female and immigrant founders, but in particular, female founders,” said Corcoran.
“Over the last number of years, the Women in Tech peer group has grown and evolved, and we've really embraced a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) lens in terms of everything that we do.”
The Women in Tech peer group offers women networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities, including industry best practices.
In response to findings from the Workforce Innovation Centre collaboration, Corcoran said Genesis has made changes to all of its program offerings and many of its business practices.
For example, he said many job ads use masculine-coded language that reads as offputting to some women, which Genesis is now careful to avoid. Researchers at Harvard’s Kennedy School for public policy have found that job postings that use stereotypically masculine wording are consistently less appealing to women.
“Understanding and knowing that's a potential bias that can creep its way into even the job ad process means applying that (diversity) lens early on, even when you're searching for talent,” said Corcoran. “It’s really important to make sure that the wording is gender neutral, to attract everybody equally.”
The Centre also has an ongoing partnership with the Fry Family Foundation -- a nonprofit founded by Newfoundland natives and chemical magnates Darryl and Marlene Fry -- to deliver women-only workshops on topics such as leadership and overcoming imposter syndrome.
Newfoundland’s startup community has spent much of its history dominated almost exclusively by male-led companies. With what Corcoran describes as the province’s “second generation” of innovation-driven companies now emerging, new standouts include Deanne McCarthy’s Swiftsure Innovations, a life sciences startup on Newfoundland’s west coast that builds ventilator equipment, and Christine Goudie and Crystal Northcott’s Granville Biomedical, which is based in St. John’s and manufactures DNA testing swabs.
“It's really about taking that DEI lens and applying it not just to the programming that we create, but also to our own organization, and embedding that lens into everything that we do,” said Corcoran.