May 27, 2019

Canada is Failing in Applied AI Innovation: a CATA Op-Ed with Cindy Gordon, Co-Chair, CanWIT (Women in Tech) Sara Kirke Caucus

Canada is Failing in Applied AI Innovation

Canada is failing in Applied AI innovation and the impact will be severe unless everyone leads in new and more powerful intentionality ways. 

First, As a country, we have done an incredible job advancing AI for research, with our world-class research institutions. But, in nearly every area of AI commercialization, we are hanging on by our fingernails, a sobering reality check to hear.

To win in AI, Canadian leaders must start purchasing AI Canadian company solutions far more rapidly than we are.

To win in AI, we must file more patents and sustain innovation.

Did you know that there were fewer  patents filed in 2018 than in previous years, despite investment from the Canadian government of more than $250 million? 

Canada is at risk of falling even further behind, as it has seen a dramatic decrease of patents for AI filed in 2018. The number of AI patents in 2018 was only 52, twenty patent filing lower than 2017, which was just 72. When compared to 2009, in which 183 AI patents were filed, Canada had seen a decrease of approximately 70% over the past nine years.

While other leading nations in AI patents have increased the number of patents filed, Canada is the only country among the top 10 that has experienced a consistent decrease since 2018.

Consider the following: 311 AI patents were filed in Australia in 2017. Australian currently sits in 6th place out of the top 10 countries. The number of patents filed in Australia in a single year is still larger than all of the AI patents filed in Canada in the past four years.

If we want to lead in AI, we must to the greatest degree possible source Canadian AI products and solutions.

To advance in AI, we need to bring the full work force to bear.

Women make up less than 20 percent of tech jobs, even though we make up more than half of the workforce. 
Even worse, women now hold a lower share of computer science jobs than they did in the 1980s. This is surprising because unemployment across tech positions in 2016 at 2.5 percent was significantly lower than the 4.9 percent national average.

The boom in the industry is creating more jobs for techies. Data reveals there are currently over 600,000 unfilled tech jobs.

In the AI and Data Sciences area, the gaps are scarcer. 

Why are women then not as visible in technology?

There are many factors about STEM. Girls become interested in tech careers at age 11, but lose interest soon after. Experts believe lack of female mentors and gender inequality are some of the factors responsible for this trend.

Gender bias is extremely prominent in the tech industry. Sadly the majority of technology companies foster a culture that doesn’t encourage women to pursue a career in tech or if they do enter, they leave at the age of 31. This intentionality gap has been in place for over 25 years.

McKinsey believes to get to the next fairness level of attracting, developing and retaining women in tech will take over 30 years. 

This is simply not good enough. 

Governance leadership counts.

In Canada, women represent about a quarter of board directors on the FP500, the list of Canada’s 500 largest corporations  Canadian Board Diversity Council, 2018). We are very slowly modernized governance practices in diversity representation on boards.

Last year, California passed a law requiring all publicly traded companies headquartered in the state to include at least one woman on the board of directors by the end of 2019, and between one and three female directors based on the size of their boards by 2021. There are fines of up to $300,000 for non-compliance.

Other USA States are currently considering similar laws. 

Ten years ago, Norway became the first country to impose a gender quota, requiring nearly 500 firms, including 175 firms listed on the Oslo bourse, to raise the proportion of women on their boards to 40 percent.

Advancing more women into technology governance and leadership positions is not just a diversity responsibility it is a business responsibility.

Diverse Teams perform better, not by a marginal difference. Performance is higher by 60% or more when you have more diversity in your leadership ranks.

If you care about productivity and  want your organization to grow in AI enablement and be successful, you must create more equitable workforces. Diversity is a business growth innovation enabler. – the question is what are you doing about it?

Our results in advancing diversity and equitable employment, in terms of boards of directors, VC funding equity (only ten percent of government funds go to women in tech), leadership teams unbalanced, and team diversity remain unbalanced across the technology sector in North America.

  • Not true that women don’t love engineering.
  • Not true that there are not enough women to join board ranks.
  • Not true that women don’t enjoy programming. 

What is true is :

  • less than 5% of start-ups are started by women in tech.
  • Females make up less than 11% of the Fortune 500 executive ranks.


  • 82% of men think we spend too much time talking about diversity, while over
  • 80% of women believe we do not spend enough talking about diversity, inclusiveness, equity

If we want Canada to win in the AI Race then we must:

  • Strive to buy Canada AI companies more, and write more patents in AI to accelerate our position as an applied innovation country in AI, and
  • Strive to attract, develop and retain more women in technology in all leadership cells in your company.

It’s about modernizing our democracy platform, and recognizing this is about a business productivity and economic innovation growth enablement.

It will take all of us to get this right.

We all have much work to do.


About Dr. Cindy Gordon

Cindy Gordon is an expert in SaaS, business innovation, early-stage software commercialization & sales business practices. She has held senior leadership roles at Accenture, Xerox and Citicorp.

With entrepreneur, VC and Angel experiences, Cindy also has been immersed in numerous global SaaS start-ups like Eloqua, an early seed investment sold to Oracle for over $1B. Other SaaS companies, she is currently involved in include: Corent Technology, CoursePeer, Kula, and TouchTown TV.

Cindy is also the Founder of Helix Commerce International Inc., a strategy innovation firm which has serviced clients  like: CIBC, Davis and Henderson, IBM, ING, LGS Electronics, Mitel, Rogers and TD.

Internationally, she is recognized for her innovation in: SaaS and Big Data thought leadership, with over 14 books in the market. She is also a 2012 recipient of the Governor’s General Award for Innovation. She is a 2017 recipient of the CATA & E&Y Sara Kirke Award for Outstanding Leadership as a CEO. She is also a Advanced Analytics Expert at the International Institute of Advanced Analytics (AI and Data Sciences, Boston). She is also currently working on her 15th book on The AI SPLIT: The Perfect World, or The Perfect Storm.

With NFPs, Cindy’s track record includes: CATA (National Media Spokesperson), Invest CrowdFund (ICC) Canada (Past Chair), Founder and National Chair, Women in Technology (CANWIT), and The United Way. She recently was a board director for Nightwood Theatre,and has also been a Board Director for the Bluma Appel Theatre, and has a passion for theatre and the arts.

Cindy’s passion is the constant pursuit of sustainable innovation and making differentiated experiences to make our world an incredible place. She also loves family time, travelling and cooking.

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