By Karen Scipi on Nov 15, 2015
Watching thousands of techies storm the floors and swarm the 20+ summits at Web Summit 2015 was an extraordinary experience. As I really looked at the people walking around, though, I couldn’t help thinking, “Where are the women?” Of course I saw women, but I saw far fewer women than men.
Web Summit Centre Stage
Not relying on my own unofficial observations, I noted a V3 article that not only validated my observations with reflections that mimicked mine but went on to share this data point from Capgemini: “only 18 percent of speakers at Web Summit 2015 were women.”
To be fair, though, throughout the Web Summit, significant awareness was placed on the ever troubling lack of women in professional roles in tech. Hearing different speakers and panelists comment on the state of Women In Technology (WIT) got me wondering: Who exactly are WIT? And why wouldn’t more women pitch up “at the best technology conference on the planet” (Forbes)?
Unofficially I asked somewhere around 50 +/- people from both inside and outside of the software industry to tell me who they think WIT are. I found it interesting that the majority of those who answered mentioned engineering, scientific, and developer job titles or gave me the name of a woman they know who holds a role with a similar job title.
These responses got me thinking about the shape of WIT—who’s in, who’s out. Without a doubt, those women who hold roles with technical job titles are in. But what about those women who have dedicated their entire careers to the tech industry but don’t hold job titles that include the word engineer or developer—women, for example, who design (but don’t build) software or those who write about how to extend or customize software?
Shouldn’t women who’ve built careers in technology and who’ve spent years deep-dive learning about specific industries, domains, software, platforms in order to write content that enables users, as well as those who who’ve spent years designing user experiences as well as developing conceptual object and data models, or those who occasionally code—but never held a job title that includes engineer or developer—count, too?
Microsoft’s Peggy Johnson, EVP, Business Development: Partner, thrive or die session
During my three days at the Web Summit, I attended as many sessions as I could in which women were speakers or panelists. I was hoping to learn from them—learn more about the “who counts” aspect of WIT, as well as hear creative proposals or solutions that address the gender imbalance in the tech world. While today’s grassroots efforts, such as Black Girls Code and CoderDojo, are fantastic, we need to proactively create a next generation of tech women, or we will simply continue having this same conversation.
Sinead Murphy’s “commitment to change” gave me hope that the momentum towards such change is increasing: “As part of an initiative we’re [Web Summit] running to even the gender ratio at our events, we’re giving 10,000 complimentary tickets to our events to women in the tech industry across the world – we hope that it will, in some small way, contribute to solving the problem." The Web Summit will invite “10,000 female entrepreneurs as [Web Summit] guests in 2016.” The Women In Tech Summit will be held in Lisbon next year.
An equally remarkable commitment was announced at Oracle OpenWorld 2015. Oracle CEO Safra Catz announced Oracle’s plan to build a new public school, d.tech, saying, “I’ve realised it’s absolutely critical that big companies like ours […] to do something because when you look at the statistics, you realise there are simply not enough women in the pipeline in the math and science education areas.” For more about this new high school, read the diginomica article, Oracle OpenWorld 2015 - Safra Catz on the tech industry's female talent pipeline problem.”
Clearly these are excellent examples of forward movement. But we—ALL women who work in tech, as well as our male colleagues—have the opportunity to step up and do more. The challenge of drawing more women into all types of tech roles—no matter the job title—belongs to each and every one of us. What will you do?