More than 4,000 people turned out to see speakers from companies including Google, Uber and Facebook at the Women of Silicon Roundabout summit. Dorothy Musariri was in the audience as she learned about how women in tech can prevail in a male-dominated industry
Diversity and inclusion has always been the hot topic of every male-dominated industry – and that’s no different for the so-called “women of Silicon Roundabout”.
Silicon Roundabout describes the area around Old Street roundabout, within London’s hipster Shoreditch district, which is now home to arguably the UK’s most thriving tech scene and its own miniature version of California’s famous Silicon Valley.
But like much of the tech industry, founders and employees among the start-ups are predominantly men – an imbalance that speakers and guests at this year’s Women of Silicon Roundabout summit want to address.
More than 4,000 attendees flocked to London’s ExCel conference centre on Tuesday and Wednesday (26 and 27 June) this week to witness talks from more than 100 speakers representing major tech companies like Facebook, Google and Uber – which all recorded gender pay gaps in which men came out on top.
Talks included heart-to-hearts from women in senior positions saying they felt treated unfairly by other men in the company, calls to change the ratio of females working in the tech industry, and ending workplace harassment towards women.
Here’s what we learned from the fourth Women of Silicon Roundabout conference.
The challenges facing women in the tech industry
As it stands, the number of women working in the tech industry is quite low.
According to Caroline Aspey, technology evangelist for multinational cloud computing giant Oracle, people have been tackling gender bias in tech for decades.
She believes it’s only getting worse, with increasingly more young people, and women in particular, losing that ambition and drive.
“We should care about STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, and now arts because the creative mind is helping the come about of robots,” said Caroline.
“We are trying to inspire a generation to believe in this and care about these subjects.
“We have a generation who are coming through who just want to be reality TV stars, footballers and apply for Love Island – we have to inspire them to be engineers and be mathematicians.”
According to data put together by digital events agency Evia, women make up less than 20% of US tech jobs, even though they occupy more than half the US workforce.
In STEM roles more broadly, only 23% of jobs are taken up by women, according to accountancy firm PwC.
Less than 5% of tech start-ups are run by women, compared to 39% of all other companies in the US.
It also suggests that women now have a lower share of computer science jobs than they did in the 1980s, but that’s changing as the industry creates more jobs for tech enthusiasts.
A few UK companies are already working towards boosting women in the sector.
In March 2018, investment bank JP Morgan Chase announced it’s going to invest $1m (£760,000) into supporting female entrepreneurs of colour in tech.
PwC and Tesco are also looking at ways they can assist with the shortfall of women in the ever-growing tech industry.
It isn’t all bad news, as the same report also reveals that, in the past 10 years, the proportion of female software developers has grown from 10% to 15%.
Women of Silicon Roundabout explores importance of diversity in tech
Global travel tech firm Expedia’s technology manager Mindy Jhakra gave a presentation at Women of Silicon Roundabout about digital Darwinism, philanthropic capitalism, as well as diversity in the tech industry.
She mentioned how she has faced a few setbacks as a “a gay, female, Indian in technology”.
But she no longer experiences this in her current role, and she now wants businesses to focus on agile methodologies in the workplace – where businesses are collaborative, flexible and adaptable.
Mindy said: “Agile helps us have a culture of empowerment, respect and courage, which goes hand-in-hand with people and innovation.
“If we get agile right, and it stops being a dirty word and we stop misusing it, it provides us with the tools we need in the workplace.
“When it comes to agile and diversity – it’s the most difficult part for me. I didn’t really know how to talk about my experience and how agile has helped me.
“I know the teams I’ve worked in recently have always been supportive.
“I felt like I could share my ideas and be myself, and these values have created an environment where I can feel safe.”
Biases must be addressed in the corporate culture
Baroness Joanna Shields also took to the stage to tell all on learning to be fearless and joyful as a female leader in a man’s world.
She also spoke about the discrimination she faced from her male colleagues just before becoming a mother.
The rural Pennsylvanian-born tech veteran has worked at the likes of Google, AOL and Facebook, has led start-ups including Bebo to acquisition, and acted as digital economy advisor to former Prime Minister David Cameron.
She is now leading the tech unicorn BenevolentAI, which is disrupting the pharma industry and trying to cure Alzheimer’s disease.
Baroness Shield said she felt that in order to tackle the diversity issues, biases within the corporate culture must first be addressed.
She said: “I was in Silicon Valley from the early day when we first manufactured silicon chips, the Advent, the personal computer, the internet, streaming media, social networking, and now AI.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have a front row seat.”
It wasn’t “all rosy” for the Baroness, as challenges ran deep after she became one of the youngest vice-presidents in the Silicon Valley and took her first CEO role.
She told the Women of Silicon Roundabout audience: “For much of my career, being a female provided baffling reactions from my male colleagues.”
Baroness Shields spoke about how she felt she couldn’t have children because it meant taking time off and she felt the pressure trying to be both a mother and a CEO.
“I’ve worked my way up in male-dominated industries and brought up my son alone and that put a lot of pressure on me to do things perfectly,” she added.