Jodi Kovitz, founder and chief executive officer of #movethedial. (photo by photagonist.ca)
What began as Jodi Kovitz’s personal desire to increase the technology industry’s minimal efforts to attract women leaders is now a broad movement – #movethedial.
Kovitz was born in Calgary and moved to Toronto with her mom when she was 5, while her dad remained in Calgary. Growing up, Kovitz’s role models included her grandmother, Dr. Muriel Kovitz, who served as the first female chancellor of the University of Calgary, and who today lives in Vancouver.
“I had a very loving home and was always pushed and encouraged to be true to myself, be creative and build things,” said Kovitz. “I started my first business when I was 16, which was a greeting card company. I have always pursued entrepreneurship throughout my career, in various forms.”
After graduating from the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School, in London, Ont., Kovitz worked at a consulting firm over the summer. Her mentor there advised that she do something more entrepreneurial, so Kovitz joined a tech start-up.
“I ended up meeting an amazing woman leader in banking after a couple of years,” she said. “Even though I really enjoyed myself and was getting a lot out of it … I left the start-up and went to join her at the bank, where I learned a ton about leadership. I was working specifically in HR [human resources] and leadership development.”
After going to law school and a brief stint working as a lawyer, Kovitz became the chief executive officer of the nonprofit Peerscale, a peer-to-peer group for tech CEOs.
“Peerscale is when I started #movethedial, which very much started as a passion project while I was in my other role,” said Kovitz. “But, it soon became so large that it called me to create it in a formal sense and to move into it full-time.”
Since then, #movethedial has become a global movement and a social enterprise, working to advance the participation and leadership of women in technology.
“While there’s work we need to do over the long term,” Kovitz told the Independent, “we need to ask what we can do now to better engage, include and advance either women in the ecosystem in the moment, as well as those that are just graduating, even just considering going into STEM [science, technology, engineering and math]…. It’s a multifaceted approach.”
The kick off of #movethedial in 2017 was to be a cosy 30-person event posted on social media – 1,000 people came.
Kovitz asked attendees who wanted to help. Fifty people responded, she said, “and we did a whole bunch of initial pilots and experiments. After a year, there was just so much passion and excitement that I was very fortunate to be approached by someone I’ve been friends with for a long time, who cared deeply about this mission and offered to back me … so I could start and create the vision I had … and that I wouldn’t be as afraid to take the risk as a 40-year-old single mother starting something as a full-time job. He was there, supporting me, and partnered with me in many ways, in terms of his advice and experience in building a very large-scale, global, billion-dollar business, as well as tactically helping me through things and scaling the organization.”
The organization #movethedial works with tech companies to attract and recruit women – all people who identify as women, just not people born as women – as well as advance, engage and retain women in their companies. It also works with community groups on a platform called #movethedial stories, showcasing the experiences of women technology leaders around the world.
“We’ve touched thousands of people that way,” said Kovitz. “We have an annual global summit. Last year, we had 2,802 people at our summit in Toronto, where we’d brought speakers in from around the world, and we connected our audience to one another in a really profound, magical way…. We’re creating what the future of #movethedial can look like, thinking through youth and how we can really impact … the ecosystem … and create a different future.
“What really drives me is that we can’t actually build technology solutions for everyone in the population [without including everyone in the population]. And, by the way, everything is tech, right? Banks, taxis, food … everything is tech. We can’t design solutions relevant to the masses if we don’t have representation from our population at our design leadership and governance tables. We just can’t build solutions that work for all the people.
“The urgency for me is around AI (artificial intelligence). It’s really starting to dominate how we use technology. Everything is going to, if it doesn’t already have an algorithm … and AI is taught. If all humans that teach and create AI are men, these machines will develop different patterns of behaviour and algorithms. My fear, and there’s a lot of research to back this up, is that we will build our human biases right into the solutions and algorithms, and we will never be able to undo it. For me, the urgency to create teams that reflect the population is to ensure that we don’t put our bias in forever.”
For more information, visit movethedial.com.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.