Europe’s leading tech conference, the Web Summit kicked off on Tuesday in the RDS, an event one cannot help but notice what with the hashtag #websummit flooding – or, depending on your outlook, blighting – social media. However, inbetween people tweeting photos from the glorious looking accompanying ‘Food Summit’ and transcribing vague you-have-to-be-there-I-guess snippets from presentations, the worrying male-to-female speaker ratio is also being highlighted by some. With over 200 speakers overall at the Summit, this year sees female speakers clocking in at below 10%.
This disappointing statistic harks back to some months ago when an online advertisement for the conference juxtaposed the anticipated lack of female attendees with the guarantee of there being ‘lots’ of whiskey at the event. How very Sterling Cooper.
While the organisers and some attest to the speakers situation being a result of the natural composition of the tech industry, others feel that the industry ought to be more conscious of its failings in securing a more promising balance. Such a stance is hard to argue with when one looks at the recent history of tech conferences. This year in particular has been marred by a series of seriously uncool and repetitive incidents, consistently delivering a rather hopeless message to women in the field and to those who aspire to a career in tech. From the demonstration of an app called Titstare at TechCrunch Disrupt some weeks ago to onstage rape jokes at a Microsoft event earlier this summer, the tech conference space is promoting itself as one women approach with a tired trepidation. Only last week saw a startup founder’s observations at a New York event go briefly viral when he snapped a woman’s feet – she was wearing heels – and used the hashtag #nobrainsrequired to hammer home his opinion that these events are “supposed to be for entrepreneurs”.
Here’s hoping the attendees at this year’s Web Summit hold more palatable views. After all, today sees the Leaders Lunch, as organised by Natasha Sherling, bringing together leading women in technology. It boasts Padmasree Warrior, the Chief Technological Officer of Cisco, as the keynote speaker. The rather wonderful Cindy Gallop of MakeLoveNotPorn also just took one of the main stages. The rather wonderful news is that if you didn’t manage to get your hands on a Web Summit ticket Le Cool will be hosting an event this evening in the Stag’s Head open to the public. Tickets are available here.
I think we can all raise our whiskey glasses to that.