How do you build a more diverse tech company? It starts at the top

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Huda Idrees, the founder and CEO of tech startup Dot Health, says she's fortunate enough to have investors and a board of directors who are supportive of the inclusive kind of company she wants to build.

Huda Idrees, the founder and CEO of tech startup Dot Health, says she’s fortunate enough to have investors and a board of directors who are supportive of the inclusive kind of company she wants to build. (Chris Chan)

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When Huda Idrees founded Dot Health, a health technology startup in Toronto, she had a radical thought: what if her new company’s culture didn’t have to suck?

In an industry where women and people of colour are often underrepresented, a company’s first hires typically reflect its founding team — so mostly white, and mostly male. But Idrees’s startup is a striking example of what can happen when the opposite is true.

“If I’m leading the company, I can set the tone for it,” said Idrees, who was previously the chief product officer at the finance startup Wealthsimple. “And it does happen top-down.”

A common refrain among those who have spoken to CBC News about diversity and inclusion in Canada’s tech community in recent months is that there is no single trick that can help a company diversify the gender or race of its hires, or make its workforce more inclusive.

‘I really would love to build a company, that’s a tech company, that’s mostly women.’Huda Idrees, founder and CEO of Dot Health

But one theme in particular that has come up repeatedly is that, if anything is going to change, it has to start at the top — with those who are funding, founding, managing and mentoring Canada’s current and future tech companies.

“If we had valued this from the get-go, I don’t think that we would be in the mess that we’re in,” said Saadia Muzaffar, the founder of Tech Girls Canada, an organization that advocates for better representation of women in STEM fields, in an interview with CBC News in June.

She believes that if investors counted diversity and inclusion efforts as one of their metrics for a company’s success, change “would start happening tomorrow.”

At Dot Health, Idrees says she’s fortunate enough to have investors and a board of directors who understand this, and importantly, are supportive of the inclusive company she wants to build.

“I really would love to build a company, that’s a tech company, that’s mostly women,” says Idrees, whose six hires have all been women so far. “I think the opposite happens all the time.”

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