SheCanCode at TechConnect Live in Dublin!
Yesterday I was privileged to be a keynote speaker at TechConnect Live at the Royal Dublin Society which is Ireland’s biggest tech event since WebSummit relocated to Lisbon, and attracted more than 3,000 key decision makers from the international tech sector. Speakers included some really inspiring women, Louise Phelan, Vice President of Global Operations for EMEA at PayPal; Mary Cronin, CEO of ThousandSeeds; Elaine Lavery, Co-founder at Improper Food; Emma Hogan, Data Analyst & Activity Leader at the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) and Hélène Guillaume, adviser at Founders Intelligence.
Surprisingly, only 20% of the ~200 keynote speakers were women; and by observation only, I would say the gender ratio of attendees was roughly the same. Where are the girls? I think there is a lot to be said about the ratio of female speakers at tech events, as it puts the gender gap into perspective. Tech is one of the most, if not the most interesting industry of our time, and given that the inaugural event was free to attend, it really shows that there is a need to raise awareness about the types of opportunities that tech presents.
Interestingly, WebSummit are on a huge drive to get more women to their event and following last years’ event, and have committed to inviting 10,000 female entrepreneurs as guests to the upcoming event in Lisbon. They are committed to change and I believe that the initiative they are running is going to make a positive change in the industry. Applications to nominate a female entrepreneur to attend free-of-charge have now closed, which proves that there are 10,000 women that are interested in attending a tech event like WebSummit.
It was a riveting experience to be a speaker at an event with 3,000 people, and the pressure was certainly on; however, I was asked many questions following my seminar and I felt the audience were incredibly engaging. Some of the questions I was asked afterward included: my thoughts on implementing quotas - which is basically what the 'Rooney Rule' attempts to address. I will be making a blog post about my thoughts on this, which you should look out for if that is of interest. Other insights I gained from questions afterward highlighted the lack of meetups in Ireland for women in technology, and the lack of women who, are willing to speak up at conferences and meetups. I think this reiterates the lack of confidence that women in tech experience, and perhaps suggests that we should be more welcoming of women's opinions at such events and the need to actively seek out and attract women to such events, like WebSummit has successfully done.
A very interesting insight is that Germany recently implemented a 'Code of Conduct' at tech meetups. I learned about this when a German C++ engineer came to speak to me afterward and said that he had witnessed a girl being laughed at for saying she was a coder at a meetup in Berlin recently. His opinion of the Code of Conduct was even more interesting: he mentioned that the fact that people needed to be reminded of the Code of Conduct before participating in a tech meetup highlighted the occurrence of unacceptable behavior in such meetups and further evoked feelings of being a part of a minority in the industry. While a Code of Conduct is taking a step in the right direction, it also brings to mind a point that I made in my seminar: that this is a non-issue. We want the next generation to not have to strive for anything; this should not even be a conversation and there shouldn't be the need for a 'Code of Conduct'; it should be the norm.
The support I received was overwhelming, and included a PhD Computer Science candidate, Ali, recognizing the problem and offering help from a technical perspective to SheCanCode to build out our database and libraries. An offer that would both require dedication and be time-consuming, but one that shows how willing men are to be a part of the solution.
Some other highlights included meeting Daria Recker and her lovely husband who could not stop talking about what an incredible women in business she is. Besides being a speaker at TechConnect Live, she has been selected as one out of more than 4,000 applicants to go head-to-head with 150 innovative entrepreneurs next week at Richard Branson's Virgin Startup Competition in London next week called #Pitch2Rich for her enterprising educational children's books. What really resonated with me was that she mentioned that she couldn't have gotten this far without the support of her husband, and he could not keep his eyes off her.
I was also approached by Pete, Global Head of Product and Solutions within Hedge Fund Services at BNP Paribas, who told me of his sister: a PhD in aeronautical engineering from MIT, as well as a professor and the Dean of Students at Olin College of Engineering outside of Boston. We briefly exchanged some words and what he said really stuck with me:
Keep fighting that good fight.
This is what drives me to continue with SheCanCode, and what inspires me everyday; to hear of the struggles and the success stories, and to inspire women to see the opportunities that the tech industry holds for them, despite the socio-historical context of technology that has limited them until now. In order to change the current norm to one wherein women feel empowered within the tech industry to make an impact and speak up, we need brothers like Pete; husbands like Daria's and engineers like Ali. We need everyone in the industry to not only recognize that there is a problem, but to see the opportunity that getting more women into tech would hold.
Despite the pressure to set the bar high as it was an inaugural event, I felt that the atmosphere of the event had an aura of passion and excitement – and trust me, I have been to countless tech events in the last year. I am really looking forward to next year – hopefully we will see more women there too!