Job title: Founder of Chic Geek
Why she's a 2016 Top 40:
Toh is the founder of Chic Geek, a welcoming and inclusive non-profit organization that supports women looking to gain skills in technology and entrepreneurship.
photograph by Erin Brooke Burns. Photographed at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks.
Kylie Toh never did get used to being the only woman in the room. Keen to learn computer programming after graduating from university, she attended two or three tech meet-ups a week. Aside from the discussions about coding and networking opportunities, one thing was clear: she was often the only woman there.
“I was really lonely and I felt like I didn’t belong,” says Toh. One experience was so bad, she left early and ended up crying in her car out of frustration.
It was evident to Toh that Calgary’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sectors had a diversity problem. Instead of taking a backseat in hopes that things would improve on their own, she founded Chic Geek, a non-profit organization that offers welcoming, beginner-friendly tech workshops on topics such as digital analytics and e-mail marketing. In addition to teaching tangible skills, Chic Geek also organizes free speaker events and offers a mentorship program where participants work one on one with Calgarians in the STEM sector.
While Chic Geek’s offerings are open to all, they’re targeted at women. “When we enable women to feel confident with technology, they are no longer just consumers of it — they are the creators of it, as well,” says Toh.
Since its inception in 2013, Chic Geek has held 98 technology and entrepreneurship events and has profiled 120 women as leaders, role models and mentors. And interest continues to grow. More than 2,000 men and women have attended Chic Geek events to date.
The entirely volunteer-led team behind it all — which Toh estimates have put in a combined 5,000 volunteer hours — has grown in size from four women in 2013 to 15 women in 2016. Personally, Toh has put in more than 2,100 volunteer hours while launching her own company, fresh & nimble design co., in August 2015.
In just three years, Chic Geek’s influence has expanded beyond Calgary. Toh was one of six Canadian women invited to participate in the International Visitors Leadership Program hosted by the U.S. Department of State in March 2016 to discuss the diversity problem in STEM.
Chic Geek’s ultimate goal is diversification of the tech sector. “Diversity is really important because it supports innovation,” says Toh. “When you have people with different backgrounds and experiences working together, you can solve new problems in new ways.” — Karin Olafson