“If you build it, they will come.”
The Field of Dreams quote might have been talking about a baseball field, but in the case of RISE—Windsor’s newly unveiled initiative aimed at uniting women in tech—it seems just as apt.
On March 5, 2020, the week of International Women’s Day, Nicole Anderson launched RISE, a network to empower entrepreneurial women in Windsor-Essex. The network will serve to unite existing resources for the region’s women in STEM fields, offering a one-stop shop for those in search of support, community, and mentorship.
The program operating out of the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) came about as a result of the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy grant, which was led by WEEDC and the efforts of WEEDC’s Small Business Centre, WETech Alliance, EPICentre at University of Windsor, Workforce WindsorEssex, WECAN, and Build a Dream. Together the group was able to secure $692,000 in federal funding over four years, which will be used to generate programming locally for women looking to grow in the tech sector.
According to Anderson, WEEDC’s Director of Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, the initiative is one Windsor needs desperately. When her team at WEEDC wrote the grant to secure the funding for RISE, they highlighted that Windsor-Essex is largely considered the worst place to work in Canada for women, and they needed this to improve. Compared to some of the country’s larger tech hubs, Windsor-Essex does not boast many women in tech, but Anderson is confident that this grant, and RISE, is going to help change that.
The topic is close to Anderson’s own heart. A co-founder and pioneering member of University of Windsor’s EPICentre, a local hub for start-ups and innovation programming, Anderson’s fingers have been on the pulse of the region’s growing tech sector for years. Inspired by her experiences living in Toronto while obtaining an MBA from Ryerson, Anderson realized what was largely missing from Windsor’s tech sector was a female-focused support network for those in and looking to enter STEM fields.
Who better to build it than her?
The excitement in the air during Anderson’s March 5 event, “How Women in Tech Are Changing the World,” was palpable. The openness and lofty heights of the converted cathedral space of Water’s Edge Event Centre provided a perfect backdrop for discussions about how women can break down gender barriers and rise above the glass ceiling. The launch played host to a panel discussion of women across STEM fields— from engineering students to tech CEOs—who discussed the nuances of what it means to be a successful woman in what are largely male-dominated fields. Areas of expertise from the panel included perspectives on everything from manufacturing through to cannabis and new venture formation. Audience question topics from a notably female crowd explored everything from the advice they wished they had been given at the start of their careers to how best to navigate the complexities of differing leadership styles across genders.
In addition to uniting existing initiatives aimed at supporting and elevating women in entrepreneurship and STEM, RISE will offer a range of programming that will serve as important educational outlets and networking opportunities for the region’s female workforce. Whether it’s mentorship, workshops, or highlighting female-friendly businesses in the area, Anderson notes that RISE will offer many things to Windsor’s community.
“We want Windsor’s businesses to show us that they’re opening their doors to women. RISE will be featuring female-friendly organizations on its website, and part of how we evaluate this is whether the organization has undergone diversity and inclusion training. This is something that every sector can benefit from, and ultimately will only help in enhancing the attractiveness of a workplace.”
As an added benefit to Windsor’s business community, RISE will offer this diversity and inclusion training for free through Build a Dream’s Workforce Innovator’s Network to any organization that wants to be part of RISE.
For Nicole, there needs to be accountability. She wants businesses in the region to show that they want to help women in STEM fields and that they’re willing to actually make the moves to be inclusive, and not merely pay lip service to the idea.
Anderson notes that it’s important for everyone, including RISE members and advocates, to understand that she doesn’t want the initiative to vilify men. “We need male champions to lift us up, especially those in senior levels. We can’t reach the top without their help—or, at the very least, it will make it easier if we do have it.”
When it comes to the topic of how aspiring businesswomen can find their niche locally in STEM fields, Anderson is happy to lend her perspective: “Take advantage of what’s around us. There are so many incredible networks available, and now they’ll be easily accessible through RISE. Use them to find people to help you achieve the goals you want. Mentorship is important while pursuing a future career, and so is getting involved. There are so many resources available to us—financial and non-financial. It used to be a question of finding them, but the hope is that RISE will make this simpler for all.
“Be as involved as you can, grow your network, and it will help you in Windsor-Essex.”