Innovators of the Week: Toast Helps Advance Gender Equity in Tech

In 2024, Toast co-founders Marissa McNeelands and April Hicke are expanding the collective with a sponsorship program and U.S. operations.

Marissa McNeelands and April Hicke, co-founders of Toast. Photo by Genevieve Renée Photographie.

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If 2020 was the year of baking bread, then 2024 is the year to get that bread (the colloquial way of saying making money), according to Toast co-founders April Hicke (chief growth officer) and Marissa McNeelands (CEO). When Avenue spoke to Hicke and McNeelands in 2023 about their member collective advancing women in technology, the duo had secured 27 partnerships for Toast with organizations such as Helcim, AltaML and PurposeMed. Today, Toast has worked with approximately 80 companies, welcomed 1,000 members and hosted 100 events with around 4,000 attendees in total.

In April, Toast is launching a six-month sponsorship program called Champions, inviting male and female senior level professionals in tech to actively advocate for fellow tech professionals in spaces where they may not be invited.

“The main difference between a mentor and a sponsor is that a sponsor is someone who will raise your hand for you when you are not in the room,” says Hicke. “That allyship should cost you something, whether it’s time, money, social capital. Whatever that means to show up as an ally, sponsors are showing up for you in that way.”

Later this spring, Toast is also expanding to the United States. Before that launch, Hicke and McNeelands will host International Women’s Days events in Seattle, Austin and New York (places where Toast has a waitlist for membership).

“I think something that is very important to us for International Women’s Day is that men are involved in the conversation,” says McNeelands. “Year after year we are either on stage or sitting in the audience listening to women tell a group of women the things that we need from leadership, and in tech, leadership is 80 to 90 per cent men. So, us telling each other these things is not going to get us anywhere. We need men to be part of the conversations.”

[Note: This story has been updated to fix an error in Marissa McNeeland’s name. We regret the error.]

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