After graduating from Mount Royal in 2012 with a Bachelor of Communication ― Public Relations, Kylie Toh wanted to learn how to code. She was keen to explore computer programming as a way to understand the building blocks of software while also making the most of her public relations skills. But she quickly discovered one major drawback to the computing world in Calgary.
An obvious lack of other women.
Toh found networking and coding discussions to be frustratingly male-dominated, and realized the lack of diversity meant that the industry was missing out on the perspective of half the population. Although she started out wanting to be a programmer, she says she realized her skills were driving her in another direction. She set out to build a supportive community for women already in and those wanting to enter technological fields.
In 2013 Toh founded Chic Geek, described on their website as, “a Calgary-based non-profit building a welcoming, supportive community for women at the intersection of technology and entrepreneurship.”
Public relations and an overall understanding of communications has helped me build Chic Geek into the unique organization it is today.
“Public relations and an overall understanding of communications has helped me build Chic Geek into the unique organization it is today,” she says.
“Branding, design, messaging and marketing are all skills I learned while I was at Mount Royal. Often thought of last, those were priorities when developing Chic Geek and today, we are a team of 23 volunteers, with over 5,000 women and men in our community, and were the host of the first conference in Alberta to celebrate women in technology and entrepreneurship.”
At only 26, 2016 was a big year for Toh. She was one of Avenue magazine’s Top 40 Under 40, named as a Calgary Hero by Metro, and at one of Chic Geek’s annual Geeky Summit events a new grant program founded by the Alberta Status of Women ministry was announced. She was also deemed one of Alberta Venture’s Need to Know in 2015.
To date, Chic Geek has held over 100 workshops, and Toh says that women don’t need to be “super technical” to join in. The non-profit uses an inclusive gender definition to encourage all identities that are not conventionally represented in technical and entrepreneurial fields to sign up. They also host speakers, leadership and learning sessions, networking events and socials. Women can be mentors or mentees, and Toh truly believes that encouragement and facilitation are the best ways to success.
In addition to Chic Geek, in 2015 Toh launched another business, fresh & nimble design co., which is a website design company that makes an online presence more accessible for small businesses.
Adept at recognizing a need and then figuring out a way to fill it, Toh says it was courses taken through the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Bissett School of Business while working on her degree, as well as her experience with Mount Royal’s branch of Enactus, that were highly influential on her career trajectory.
“It was the first few entrepreneurship classes that I took where I learned the most about myself and what I can do,” she says.
"Kylie understood that university is about more than a set of courses,” says Ray De Paul, institute director.
“She embraced the many opportunities that Mount Royal provides to grow as a person and as a professional, allowing her to graduate with much more than a degree."
Mount Royal University is a place where you discover yourself, explore new opportunities and realize your potential
In the future, Toh would like to continue to engage women to enter technical careers, but by expanding to work with those doing the hiring, not just the hirees. She sees her next step as training high-tech companies and startups on how to attract a different demographic. And she figures Mount Royal’s future alumni all have the ability to make the same sort of difference.
"Mount Royal University is a place where you discover yourself, explore new opportunities and realize your potential,” says Toh.
“The people who come to Mount Royal are hungry, curious, high-performers who will go on to change the world."
Read more on how Toh and other members of the Mount Royal community are encouraging more women to consider careers in STEM.