This shouldn’t be a causal hashtag for social media but a rallying cry for change.
“It’s actually so great, it completely changes the dynamic of a conference,” I find myself saying to my #TeamSocial colleague over hot dogs that had surprize corn kernels hidden inside. We were speaking about the fact that 46.3% of the 70,000 attendees at Web Summit were women. That’s 2% more than last year, but this small percentage jump alone is still more than all the attendees combined at the 2010 edition of the conference held in Dublin. To be fair that year they only totaled at 400 people – but still!
You can sense the difference. The heavily mixed crowd makes it feel more like a cultural festival that happens to be celebrating tech rather than the sausage fest of conferences I attended back in my former life as a tech journalist. Even when I used to cover this world rather than be a part of it, it was hard being a woman in predominantly man’s world.
When on occasion male colleagues would be allies it would be the other woman themselves that made things difficult, as they fiercely defended what little slice of dominance they had in the field. As someone in internet pop culture once pointed out, it’s information, not pie, you’re not stealing someone else’s slice. There is more than enough to go around, why can’t we share?
Because, let’s be honest, it’s rough outside the confines of this conference ground. The numbers out in “the real world” are most certainly not on our favour. Or as my colleague would go on to say at our lunchtime post hot dog conversation: “I mean, it’s so great that they are here, but where are they normally?”
“We really need to look into diversity and inclusion into the tech industry itself,” said Saniye Gülser Corat, Director for Gender Equality of UNESCO during her Web Summit talk, Is Siri sexist? “[There are] only 17,5% of women in the overall tech industry; less than 10% of women in AI, only 5% of CEO’s of tech companies are women; and very few women on the boards of these companies. So this is the place where we should start making these changes because the more diversity we have the better products we have. It’s also good for business.”
And she is not the only one who thinks so:
So yes, it’s more than a little cool that the female management of Siemens is representing at the Web Summit this year. Natalia Oropeza causally owned the stage as she urged a packed house that we will not survive the next 10 years without cyber security. And today Sabrina Soussan will take to the Tech/Auto stage at 11:35 to espouse about how the future of mobility is bigger than connected cars.
It’s also nice to be a part of the change. To see diversity work it’s way down to other levels of the business too, like the team that I work with at Ingenuity Studios in South Africa – a region, it should be said, run by a female CEO. We are a healthy mix of women across the content creation and coding/dev spheres, and more importantly, a healthy mix of different races too.
Because let’s be honest, as nice as it is that we have a lot more women at this conference we could still stand to have a lot more colour. Even more so in the tech world at large. The need for diversity cuts more than one way, and we should be asking what we can do to make that happen. Maybe this the sort of question we should be asking, and let’s leave poor Siri alone.