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Only men can close the gender pay gap in tech

With men comprising 80-90% of leadership roles in the tech industry, they are the most well positioned to affect pay and career progression

Photo by Getty Images on Unsplash
Photo by Getty Images on Unsplash

Marissa is a thought leader in Digital Journal’s Insight Forum (become a member).

The tech industry has long struggled with a significant gender imbalance in leadership positions. Despite increased representation in the industry, women in Canada’s tech sector are not progressing at the same rate as men. A recent study from The Dais shows that mid-senior level women (those in the 60th-80th percentile) saw no real wage growth from 2016-2021, while men continued to see significant growth up to $15/hour more. Education is not to blame — men with a Bachelor’s degree in tech roles earn $25,200 more than women with the same level of education.

An interesting finding within this study — which combats some of the common arguments defending the gender pay gap — saw that changes in wage growth were not due to women working fewer hours, the presence of a new child or the rate of job-switching by gender.

The reality: Men control leadership and pay

Though perhaps not intentional, unconscious bias is a systemic issue that leads to women getting fewer opportunities and less pay. The responsibility to close the gender pay gap falls squarely on the shoulders of those who control the majority of leadership roles — men. With men comprising 80-90% of leadership roles in the tech industry, they are the most well positioned to affect pay and career progression. Men in tech must leverage their influence and networks to advocate for and sponsor women. This goes beyond giving advice; it’s about actively creating opportunities and pushing for women’s advancement within organizations.

Why men should care about the gender pay gap in tech

Closing the gender pay gap is not just a matter of fairness; it has significant economic benefits. Research shows that companies with diverse leadership teams are more innovative and profitable. A report by McKinsey & Company found that gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Not to mention, advancing women’s equity has the potential to add $150 billion in incremental GDP, according to McKinsey’s Power of Parity report, which states adding more women to the technology sector as a significant driver to achieving these results.

In Canada, our tech industry faces a talent shortage, and closing the gender pay gap can help attract and retain top talent. Women are more likely to stay with companies that value their contributions and pay them equitably, reducing turnover rates and associated hiring costs.

Having more women in the tech industry is critical for our country to remain innovative and compete on a global scale.

The urgent need for sponsorship

In order to close the gender pay gap in tech, we need more women in leadership roles. Author and London Business School Professor, Herminia Ibarra, has conducted extensive research on the differences between mentorship and sponsorship and why both are crucial, yet distinct, in advancing women’s careers. In her work, Ibarra highlights that while mentorship provides valuable guidance and support, sponsorship goes a step further by actively promoting career advancement.

Ibarra states, “Mentors advise; sponsors act. Mentors provide a sounding board; sponsors advocate. Mentors help you envision your future; sponsors pull you up to the next level.” Her research reveals that women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored compared to their male counterparts. This discrepancy means that women receive plenty of advice but fewer concrete opportunities for advancement. Men, on the other hand, benefit from sponsors who use their influence to secure promotions, high-visibility projects, and critical career opportunities.

The impact of sponsorship is profound. According to Ibarra’s findings, women with sponsors are 23% more likely to progress in their careers compared to those without. This active advocacy is essential for overcoming the systemic barriers that women face in the tech industry. Without sponsorship, women are left navigating a landscape that inherently favours men, perpetuating the gender pay gap and limiting their potential for leadership roles.

Action through sponsorship: Toast’s Champions Program

At Toast, we are involving men in the fight for gender equity in tech. Our inaugural Champions Program, which launched in June 2024, offers a compelling example of how sponsorship can drive change. This initiative trains and pairs Director+ executives from tech organizations with up-and-coming women in tech for personalized sponsorship. The program consists primarily of male sponsors, or ‘champions,’ recognizing that men hold the majority of leadership roles in the industry, and can leverage their influence to support women’s advancement.

Although early on, the Champion’s Program is helping tech leaders take the first steps toward diversifying their succession pipeline. By learning how to be intentional in the way that they use their political capital, these leaders are making tangible strides toward closing the gender pay gap and ensuring that talented women have equal opportunities to thrive and advance in their careers.

Preliminary data from the program shows that after the first round of training, male champions were 49% more knowledgeable about challenges that women face in tech, and had a 69% increase in understanding of strategies to support women’s career advancement.


The need for actionable opportunities for women in tech has never been more critical for Canada’s tech sector. By involving male leaders who hold significant power and influence, we can start to dismantle the systemic barriers that have kept women from advancing in tech. It is with sponsorship, not mentorship, that we will start to see women advance more equitably. The time for complacency is over. Men must step up, take responsibility, and actively work to close the gender pay gap in tech. The future of the industry depends on it.

Learn more about the Toast Champion’s Program here.

Marissa McNeelands
Written By

Marissa McNeelands, co-founder and CEO of Toast, is an award-winning AI and DEI leader committed to transforming the tech industry. Her organization, Toast, pioneers AI-driven recruitment practices and a supportive community that uplifts women in tech, ensuring they not only get hired but thrive and ascend in their careers. Marissa is a member of Digital Journal's Insight Forum.

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