Digital Eve dies off in Canada

DigitalEve Toronto has become the last chapter in Canada to officially close its doors after board members unanimously voted to shut it down, citing lack of interest and income.

In an e-mail to DigitalEve Toronto members that was posted late last month on its Web site, the board wrote that the training had to be put on hold indefinitely because of facility costs and lack of interest in training programs. The letter also cited low attendance at DigitalEve’s last several events. Because training and events were the not-for-profit’s only source of income, the board could no longer run the organization, the e-mail went on to say.

Former DigitalEve Toronto executive director (1999-2001) and co-founder of DigitalEve International Jennifer Evans said while she has been away from DigitalEve for a few years since starting her own company, Sequentia Communications, she remembers having difficulty getting sponsorships following the dot-com bust.

“I think there’s still a very strong need for this kind of organization,” said Evans, who is also president of Sequentia. “I think what’s happening is the industry is fragmenting so much that we’re really not speaking to career people anymore.”

DigitalEve is a global, non-profit organization for women in new media and digital technology. Its Canadian roots can be traced back to the creation of Webgrrls Toronto in 1996. The Toronto chapter launched in November 2000, followed by other Canadian cities including Calgary, Hamilton, Ont., Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., Montreal, Nova Scotia, Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria. Chapter locations in the U.S. and worldwide include Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Japan, United Kingdom and Israel.

Heather Finley, past president of DigitalEve Toronto from 2001 to 2002, said DigitalEve came about in a different time in the IT industry than what we know today. Ten years ago, computers were just being widely deployed across organizations and many people, including women, in the workforce didn’t have much experience with them, if any at all.

The problem, said Finley, who founded IlluminArts Communications and is a well-known marketing writer, editor and project manager, is that many non-profits are created to solve a problem and once that problem is solved, they aren’t needed anymore.

“There was a lot of development and fast changes and it was hard to get a leg up to get to the first step,” she said. “By the time you got to the first step, the technology was already ahead of you.”

While the technology landscape has changed drastically in the last decade, Kay Blair, executive director with Community MicroSkills Development Centre (MicroSkills) in Etobicoke, said women still struggle to break into a profession that is and remains male-dominated. Blair said she is saddened by the news about DigitalEve Toronto.

“It’s very sad times for Canadian women,” she said. “At the federal government level there is really a lack of recognition about the plight of women and the need to allocate adequate resources that will supply their needs.”

Likewise, Stephen Ibaraki, CIPS vice-president, said CIPS, which operates Women In IT initiative, encourages the backing and support of women professionals.

“Anything like this creates concern in the sense that we think it’s unfortunate that such a good program would not receive sufficient public support to continue,” he said. “We hope that they will come back. We at CIPS extend our support.”

DigitalEve list managers are working on moving the member lists to a new domain and are also looking into evolving DigitalEve into a new format.

Sophie Bart, who headed up DigitalEve Toronto’s Communication Online Design (CODE) program (2001-2003), which matched member volunteers with NGOs that needed Web site design skills, said she doesn’t know what will happen to that program now.

“We had over 100 volunteers and 11 Web development projects, which means 11 organizations that we were working with,” she said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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