Is there increased urgency for tangible action from women working in the tech sector?
David Savage, Group Technology Evangelist, talks about his experience in Paris at Women in Technology's Global Summit.
This week I was lucky to join Women in Technology’s second Global Summit. In the autumn of 2018 I was asked to moderate a panel for the launch of the UK chapter. That has led to presenting and moderating at awards, summits and small meetups as this extraordinary organization has grown.
In a little over 5 years Ayumi Moore Aoki has gone from the idea of selling t-shirts at Web Summit to leading a global movement empowering over 200,000 members across 6 continents. Once again the Global Summit attracted an incredible array of speakers from across industry and government.
So here is a little taste of some of the key ideas that stuck with me after the two days.
My first take-away was the need to stop talking about mentors. Women need money. On Monday morning I was lucky to moderate a panel on female entrepreneurship, investment and ownership in business.
Plenty was said about the state of investment, and Nicolas Brien, Chairman of the European Startup Network, hammered home the point that only 8% of startups have all-female founding teams (although that’s more than I feared, whilst still being dreadful). Is it a surprise it’s such an uphill struggle when so few women are writing the cheques? Kat Borlongan shared that only 15% of VCs with over $25m assets under management have general partners who are women.
The final statement hit hardest. Stop telling women they need to be better role-models, and focus on fixing the system which continues to perpetuate the problem.
Related closely to this was the point that women are over-mentored, but under-sponsored. Nyla Beth Gavel chaired a panel where navigating diversity in the global workforce was placed under the spotlight. Often allies ask what they can do to better help women progress in their careers.
The challenge for men like me (because I am white, European, grey-haired, and privileged to the max) is to actively sponsor women; not just mentor and coach. The theme I heard from both these two panels was ‘less platitudes, more meaningful action please’.
As the conference moved on it was interesting to hear Behshad Behzadi, VP of Engineering at Google, talk about being bold and responsible. He spoke during a session on AI and policy, and the need to balance innovation and responsibility. I can’t imagine I’m the only person dubious about responsible thinking being *the* guiding principle. Given the clear concerns about bias as new technology is rapidly adopted, how do we effectively regulate our industry? That answer feels some way off.
The role of social media was also explored, especially in the context of the weaponization of information. A panel led by Carolyn Stebbings focused on the dark side of social media, and concerns as fundamental as raising children to navigate in a world where you can’t be sure what you’re watching or listening to is ‘real’, nevermind accurate.
The discussion covered a number of perspectives including asking what responsibility lay on the consumer to fact-check content. Given the complexity of the world we’re living in, is that fair? It was proposed that we can’t let organizations create technology and then just give it away without concern. There should be consequences for unleashing that level of sophisticated tech. But during the conversation the idea that resonated most deeply was the idea that personalization is robbing us of a broader world view. We have lauded personalization, but do we need to weigh that against contextualization?
After two-days I have to admit to feeling fatigued by the sheer wall of information. However, I also felt energized by the enthusiasm in the room for action. These weren’t talks about concepts that have little relevance when people arrive home to their families. More than ever there was an urgency; is it any wonder when technology is shaping our lives more keenly than ever before?
Bravo Ayumi and the whole team behind Women in Technology, and the volunteers and leads in its many thriving chapters.