Last week saw the annual WebSummit conference take place in Lisbon, Portugal. WebSummit is described as ‘where the tech world meets’ and attracts a huge number of attendees (60,000+ of which 68% are senior managers, according to their website). Two things particularly interest me about WebSummit: the focus on startups and innovation, and its attempts to increase gender diversity.
WebSummit includes a vast number of startups who are exhibiting and pitching their ideas, as well as talks from more established companies and individuals. A cursory glance at the technology / business ideas being discussed includes everything from co-working space, blockchain, digital marketing, SAAS, smart home systems, the sharing economy and of course lots of AI. There are a number of presentations, panel discussions and workshops but the real USP lies in networking - talking to people from all over the world about the ideas they are working on, making connections with other professionals, investors, mentors or potential collaborators.
For the last two years, WebSummit has offered free or heavily discounted tickets to women in tech (a broad definition). Tech companies are still struggling with diversity, both in terms of attracting candidates and creating cultures that allow everyone equal opportunity to progress. Latest figures suggest that in the best cases women account for 30% of leadership or technical roles, and often far lower percentages are reported. So it stands to reason that tech conferences would suffer the same problem without such initatives as WebSummit have introduced. If it seems controversial to offer women cheaper tickets, consider that on average women still earn less than men for the same work. Women are also less likely to be entrepreneurs overall, though there are signs that this is changing. Giving women easier access to the networking and learning opportunities afforded by conferences like WebSummit can only be a step in the right direction towards increasing diversity.
Outside of the main conference event, social media gives the potential for anyone to set up their own related group, make connections and arrange meetings. It was through a WebSummit Facebook group that I heard about a UX meetup, which attracted UXers from Malaysia, The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and the UK working in agencies, large corporates, startups and the public sector. A pretty diverse mix that made for interesting conversations! Also of great value was a mentoring session offered as part of the women in tech initative. The sheer amount of people and topics at WebSummit is overwhelming so you have to find ways to navigate and seek out what’s of interest to you. And I’m pleased more of us are having the opportunity.