International Women’s Day 2020
Element AI Element AI
March 7 5 min

International Women’s Day 2020

“There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish” - Michelle Obama

  • Diversity and inclusion are not nice-to-haves, they’re fundamental to creating products and services that represent and serve our society.
  • Measurement is key: if we don’t create goals and track our progress, then we cannot expect change.
  • Not only do we need to recruit women, but we must retain women in a culture that fosters inclusion.

Why International Women’s Day?

Every year on March 8th, social media is flooded with well wishes and spotlights on incredible women. Filled with optimism and pride, we bask in all the possibilities that can be created in a culture of inclusion and equality. But as March 8th turns to March 9th, the status quo returns and reality sets in: we are not there yet.

Looking around, many of us are surprised that the glass ceiling has not yet been completely shattered. Yet current statistics can make it seem as though we are in a different century altogether. There is opportunity, but it can be hard to access; positive progress, but steps backward along the way; leaders make change, but in countless instances women still lack what they need most: a seat at the table.

Last year, we asked our colleagues to give their younger selves a piece of advice, we’re looking within the organization, planning for a diverse and inclusive future. Inclusion runs much deeper than International Women’s day, the statistics won’t improve unless we take action. That’s why this year, we’re addressing the ‘what now.’

Inclusion by the numbers

The statistics presented to our volunteers were chosen not only because they were a good representation of what needs work, but also because they hit so close to home.

Women make up 35.3% of employees in management positions.

Statistics Canada, 2019

63% of the time, men are given higher salary offers than women, despite being in the same job at the same company.

Hired, 2018

Only 27% of female students say that they would consider a tech career, according to a 2017 survey.

PWC, 2017

Like our colleagues, you may be shocked, but not surprised. Progress is measured, and in an effort to be as transparent as possible, we feel that it is important to match these statistics with our own. At Element AI, 28% of our employees are women, and 24% of leadership positions are filled by women. On our technical and scientific teams, 21% of our employees are women. Do we still have a long way to go? Absolutely.

How do we encourage change?

Diversity and inclusion may start from the ground up, but change often comes from the top down. We can no longer simply tell girls that they can do anything, we have to show them. That means showing them people who look like them in positions of power, or even simply in a tech environment.

1. Recruitment

    Inclusion is not merely encouraging women to apply to jobs with the language we use in postings or benefits we offer, but actively seeking out as many underrepresented groups as possible, who may not have found the job postings in the first place. In Montréal, we are lucky to have so many great organizations that were founded on the drive to shine a brighter light on often-underrepresented groups. Some that we’ve worked with in the past and present, and that we would encourage everyone to take a look at and support, are Black in AI, Lesbians who Tech, QueerTech, Grace Hopper Conference and Women in Machine Learning & Data Science.

    2. Retention

      In 2016, the National Center for Women & Information Technology found [PDF] that “in the high tech industry, the quit rate is more than twice as high for women than it is for men” . Four years later, we see there is no easy fix; a culture of inclusion goes well beyond the surface. From identifying with positive role models in leadership, to feeling your voice heard and acknowledging and valuing different communication styles, we are committed to investing in ways that foster the culture we pride ourselves in. What does this mean? Creating dialogue and asking for continuous, sometimes harsh, feedback.

      3. A culture of inclusion

        So often, we propagate stereotypes without knowing it. Whether it be funnelling or conditioning women to what are perceived to be ‘female-dominated fields’ or the reverse. Small, seemingly insignificant decisions can be major. For instance, have you ever thought of how the use of personal pronouns in job postings could create inherent biases? Or presenting imagery for an event skewed to a certain gender could be perceived as a barrier to those interested? That’s why representation matters, making sure all voices can be heard at the same level. That’s why our recruitment pipelines must always have a diverse set of candidates, and that’s why going forward, we’re making the small move to only put out episodes of our podcast, The AI Element, with 50/50 men and women. But more than that, we’re doing it because if we didn’t, we’d miss some of the most impressive and exciting work in the AI space.

        What now?

        Shining light on the shortcomings of our society can only go so far. Responsible AI is more than a tagline, and Element AI is acting.

        We want to be an example and will execute consistently to measure ourselves against industry benchmarks. We will be conscious—conscious of culture, conscious of our word choice, conscious of the initiatives we support and conscious of how we’re doing.

        It’s time for us to walk the talk. Inclusion is embedded in our culture and we will hold ourselves accountable.

        Have something to say? Email us your feedback at We want to hear how you think we can keep the conversation going.