A summary of Female Futures Forum, London 2017

The panel discussion at Female Futures Forum. Image via The Future Laboratory.

A few weeks ago I was at the Female Futures Forum hosted by the Future Laboratory. It was based on their latest research looking at female entrepreneurialism and innovation. I’d been interviewed by them as part of their research a while back, so it was good to see the final output presented.

The research presentation covered a few key facts about women in business, which may be familiar to many but should become familiar to everyone. They bear repeating; here are some of them:

  • It will take another 169 years to plug the global pay gap between men and women (WEF 2016)
  • Businesses with 3 or more female directors, or a female CEO and a female director, perform 36% better in terms of return on equity (MSCI)
  • Companies with more women on their boards are less likely to be hit by scandals such as bribery, fraud or shareholder battles (MSCI)
  • Women in the US are starting businesses at 1.5 times that of the national average (The Economist)

The presentation also noted how many brands are now paying attention to women and their place in the world. Some campaigns highlighted were UN Women Egypt’s print ads about the gender split in the workforce, GE’s brilliant campaign showcasing a world where female scientists are treated like celebrities, and the Nike ad featuring female Arab athletes.

However not enough companies are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to actually hiring enough women, or promoting them. As Cindy Gallop says:

We are seeing virtually zero change. Stop talking about it – start doing it. I don’t want to see nice words and fancy ads. I want to see THIS. Put your money where your mouth is.

The second part of the event showcased interviews with female Gen Z entrepreneurs who believe, amongst many other things, that there is place for more than one woman at the top, and that it is only by taking care of oneself that a person can create a business that succeeds (the latter quote, and image below, by 22-year-old Phoebe Gormley of Gormley & Gamble).

The last session of the day was a panel discussion featuring Cilla Snowball, Chair of the Women’s Business Council and Group Chairman and CEO of AMV BBDO, Dr Mara Harvey, head of UBS Unique and a senior manager of UBS Wealth Management, Sara Shahvisi, director of programmes at Fearless Futures, and Sam Baker, co-founder of The Pool, moderated by Tracey Follows, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at the Future Laboratory.

Dr. Mara Harvey spoke about the challenges she faced in setting up UBS Unique, a division focussing on female clients, in the heavily male-dominated world of finance. She grappled with something as simple as naming the programme because she knew it needed to be taken seriously by men as much as women (and hence rejected the name Athena!). The goal of the programme is to educate at least 1 million women in finance.

Sam Baker was candid and spoke with honesty about her journey getting funding for The Pool. In her experience, men prefer to hear made up numbers as they want to invest in what they consider ambitious projects, whether or not they made sense. Sam narrated how she went to a VC meeting with her (female) communications director and was told they needed a man on the team ‘because it would look better’. She also narrated how she was constantly asked to justify her lifestyle business as a woman while men who had similar businesses were never asked to, despite by their own admission being less ambitious than her.

Sara Shahvisi said that educating children about things like gender bias should start in school – 21 years old is way too late as habits are already firmly set by then. She also spoke about how women should be compensated for the amount of time they spend caring for other people as they take the bulk of the responsibility for a fruitful society. She highlighted the need to talk about diversity of all sorts – not just gender but race, colour etc.; that the definition of diversity needs to be broader.

Cilla Snowball focussed on the need to make men as responsible for women’s success as women themselves. For example, the analogy about women needing to extend the ladder down to help other women up should apply to men as well. Men should also be celebrated for supporting women as much as women are, so that more men do it. She also made an important point about the need for younger female role models – the older women who have decades of experience are important to showcase but may not be relatable for a 12-15 year old.

All in all, a really inspiring morning. Huge thanks to Tracey Follows for the invite!

 

Koreo Prize: Do you know any smart young people in the UK aged 18-27?

I’m really pleased to be a judge for the inaugural Koreo Prize, a competition to encourage young people in the UK aged 18-27 to explore some of the most pressing issues of our time.

The Koreo Prize is a national storytelling competition for young people to unlock fresh takes on some of the complex social issues affecting the UK, using any combination of media. A UK first, we’re asking participants to choose one or more of six issues aligned with the UN’s Global Goals: gender equality, social mobility, food security, community resilience, wellbeing & social housing.

This competition is open to anyone between 18 and 27, there are no right or wrong answers – just a unique exploration of the issues! Plus, entrants get to be part of a community of emerging young thinkers whilst having the opportunity to win £5,000, paid work placements, free learning opportunities, tickets to global conferences, and mentoring opportunities.

The deadline for submissions is 4 April 2017 and will be judged by a panel of experts from across the public, private and non-profit sectors, including yours truly.

If you know anyone who fits the bill, do encourage them to apply! More info on the website.

My favourites from the Designs of the Year 2016

I went to the Designs of the Year exhibition a couple of weeks ago at the recently-reopened Design Museum. The annual exhibition is something I’ve been visiting for a few years now. There’s always some extremely inspiring stuff -some commercial, some clearly not as commercial – but all worth knowing about. Here are my picks of the exhibition:

Lumos Helmet: To be clear, I’m not a bike rider, but the incidences of bike accidents on the roads of London have been alarming lately. The Lumos Helmet began, as many of these projects do, as a Kickstarter project, and ‘beautifully integrates lights, hard brake, turn signals, and helmet into a single cohesive whole’.

The Bottom Ash Observatory: I’ve never thought of municipal waste as a thing to spend time thinking about (beyond its sustainable disposal), but Christien Meindertsma has published a book showing the richness she was able to extract from ‘100 kilos of incinerated household and industrial waste: the “waste of waste.”’

The Smog Free Project: Daan Roosegaarde’s Smog Free Project is a 7-meter-high structure that effectively functions as the largest air purifier in the world, ‘creating a circular zone of clean air for citizens to experience and enjoy’. It cleans ‘30,000 cubic meters per hour using ozone-free ion technology and a small amount of green electricity’. Currently installed in Beijing and Rotterdam, I know many a city that needs multiple versions of this. Admittedly it helps clean up, instead of forcing people to acknowledge the issue in the first place – but maybe that can be an evolution of it.

Hello Ruby: I heard about this when it first came out (again a Kickstarter project, but back in 2014) so it was nice to reacquaint myself with it here. Hello Ruby is a children’s book for those aged 5 or over that teaches them to code in a fun way.

Joto: This is such a brilliant idea, and I know I sound like a parrot here but it also came from Kickstarter (public launch due in 2017). It’s an internet-connected Etch-a-Sketch, or in other words, you can draw or send messages from the web to a frame on your wall. Super creative.

Refugee Republic: Premiered at the Amsterdam documentary festival IDFA in 2014 and winner of a Dutch Design Award in 2015, Refugee Republic is an interactive documentary about life in a Syrian refugee camp in Domiz, Northern Iraq. A really immersive way to get your head around some of the human stories playing out even as we speak.

Design That Saves Lives, Bangladesh: When the Rana Plaza collapse happened in 2013 killing over 1000 people, I was only too aware of the risk of something like that happening multiple times a day in crowded cities that I’m familiar with, like Delhi. So I was immensely relieved to see the work of Arup’s Ireland office in Bangladesh in the months following the collapse: a structural safety assessment that now helps to save thousands of lives.

MTV’s Martin Luther King Day media campaign #thetalk: I missed this when it came out in 2015, but it appealed to my time in a media agency as one of the most creative ways to get an important message across using TV. On MLK Day, MTV telecast all their programmes in black and white, prompting discussion of race by their target audience, millennials.

Post/Biotics by Vidhi Mehta: A project by an RCA student in Innovation Design Engineering, this project aims to draft the public into helping to test natural substances that might be able to function as antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is becoming a huge challenge to scientists the world over – in fact it is also the focus of the £10 million Longitude Prize. Post/Biotics is a very low-touch way of working on this problem, and reminds me of campaigns like Cancer Research’s Genes in Space mobile game, where players were drafted to find a solution to cancer.

10 Things I Learned In 2016

1) NARP: Nonathletic Regular Person. From this conversation between Jason Kottke and his niece about her usage of Snapchat.

2) Nae-nae: ‘a hip-hop dance that involves planting one’s feet, swaying with shoulder movement, placing one hand in the air and one hand down, and incorporating personal creativity’ (Wikipedia). From Sophia DeJesus’ college gymnast routine, as described by Time.

3) LIGO: Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. From this New Yorker story about how scientists finally found gravitational waves. Also, the ‘interferometer’. What a brilliant word!

4) Zero-day exploits: ‘an undisclosed computer-software vulnerability that hackers can exploit to adversely affect computer programs, data, additional computers or a network. It is known as a “zero-day” because it is not publicly reported or announced before becoming active, leaving the software’s author with zero days in which to create patches or advise workarounds to mitigate its actions’ (Wikipedia). From this blog post by Ben Thompson discussing the dispute between Apple and the FBI over hacking an iPhone earlier this year.

5) Mario and Luigi: the names of the two robots created by the MIT Senseable City Lab to crawl underground sewers in Cambridge, MA and collect virus samples. From this Forbes article explaining the project.

6) This Noah Chomsky quote, which can be applied to 2016 in general, from this Medium post by Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab on why she left the University of Wisconsin-Madison for Temple University.

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

7) The cellphone reception area between DC and Baltimore was called the ‘dogbone’ because it represents the shape of the area served by the same tower. From Sarah Koenig’s day 3 update to Serial Season 1. 

8) The longest artist name recorded on Songkick is The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die (61 characters). From this Songkick post on designing with data. 

9) Prosopagnosia: Face blindness (Wikipedia). From this TED talk by Nancy Kanwisher, ‘A Neural Portrait of the Human Mind.

10) Qualia: The way things seem to us. Read this PDF for more. First spotted in this Aeon article about how AI can shed new light on literary texts.

Highlighted passages from ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book is almost quotable in its entirety. It can be distilled into one hashtag: #blacklivesmatter. Still, here are a few passages that I pulled out.

Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made. That is a philosophy of the disembodied, of a people who control nothing, who can protect nothing, who are made to fear not just the criminals among them but the police who lord over them with all the moral authority of a protection racket. It was only after you that I understood this love, that I understood the grip of my mother’s hand. She knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine. And no one would be brought to account for this destruction, because my death would not be the fault of any human but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of “race”, imposed upon an innocent country by the inscrutable judgment of invisible gods. The earthquake cannot be subpoenaed. The typhoon will not bend under indictment. They sent the killer of Prince Jones back to his work, because he was no killer at all. He was a force of nature, the helpless agent of our world’s physical laws.

All my life I’d heard people tell the black boys and black girls to “be twice as good”, which is to say “accept half as much”. These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile. No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as good. I imagined their parents telling them to take twice as much. It seemed to me that our own rules redoubled plunder. It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of our time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered. The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but moments. It is the last bottle of wine that you have just uncorked but do not have time to drink. It is the kiss that you do not have time to share, before she walks out of your life. It is the raft of second chances for them, and twenty-three hour days for us.

But like at least one third of all the students who came to Howard, Prince was tired of having to represent other people. These Howard students were not like me. They were the children of the Jackie Robinson elite, whose parents rose up out of the ghettos, and the sharecropping fields, and went out into the suburbs, only to find that they carried the mark with them and could not escape. Even when they succeeded, as so many of them did, they were singled out, made examples of, transfigured into parables of diversity. They were symbols and markers, never children or young adults. And so they come to Howard to be normal – and even more, to see how broad the black normal really is.

 

Highlighted passages from ‘Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir’ by Carrie Brownstein

I know this is the end of the year, but ‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir‘ was one of the first books I read this year. I’m just putting these down for posterity, passages that stood out for me, that I thought resonated with me or were otherwise just lyrical. And they teach me so much in themselves; about memories, music, elitism, fandom – and just being human.

Nostalgia is so certain: the sense of familiarity it instills makes us feel like we know ourselves, like we’ve lived. To get a sense that we have already journeyed through something – survived it, experienced it – is often so much easier and less messy than the task of currently living through something.

There was a stillness about the past, a clarity, the way it has been somewhat defined and dissected, in the rearview mirror; it was there for the taking, for the mining.

I don’t know much theory, I play by instinct and feel, I could probably get schooled by an eight-year-old on tonics and inversions. But back then, the word ‘musician’ had a professional characteristic to it that would have made it more alienating and anathema. Back then, I was still just a fan of music. And to be a fan of music also meant to be a fan of cities, of places. Regionalism – and the creative scenes therein – played an important role in the identification and contextualization of a sound or aesthetic. Music felt married to place, and the notion of “somewhere” predated the Internet’s seeming invention of “everywhere” (which often ends up feeling like “nowhere”).

To this day, because I know no other way of being or feeling, I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in a band – I have nothing else to compare it to. But I will say that I doubt in the history of rock journalism and writing any man has been asked “Why are you in an all-male band?”

Though I had no reservations about touring with Pearl Jam, elitism was a stubborn habit to kick. A small part of my brain retreated to my younger self, reminding me that in certain circles Nirvana had been considered the cooler, more authentic band. Nirvana’s music dragged you across the floor, you felt every crack, every speck of dirt. Their songs helped you locate the places where you ached, and in that awareness of your hurting you suddenly knew that the bleakness was collective, not merely your own. In other words, it’s okay to feel like a freak. And in high school, and for much of my adult life, maybe even now, I had, I do.

I love being a new onlooker, a convert. To become a fan of something, to open and change, is a move of deliberate optimism, curiosity, and enthusiasm.

 

Support the Ada’s List crowdfunding campaign!

 

Hello to whoever’s still out there reading this! This last year has been a whirlwind, but I’m out of blog hibernation to announce an important project for Ada’s List, the global community for women in technology I co-founded 3 years ago. We’re an online community where women who work in tech:

  • Talk off the record about professional, tech and science-related topics
  • Find amazing women to speak on panels and talented ladies to write about
  • Find support if you’re a co-founder, entrepreneur, freelancer, corporate innovator
  • Get mentoring, and so much more.

Whatever we’ve achieved so far has happened on a shoestring with the blood, sweat and tears of volunteers who care about making the tech sector a better place for us all.

That’s why we’re launching a crowdfunding campaign. With concrete resources to support us, imagine what more we could achieve.

We know that in an ideal world Ada’s List wouldn’t exist, because there would be no need to fight for gender equality in STEM. But, the truth is the sector is dominated by men. There are not enough women in STEM positions, or on boards of companies. This all adds up to creating a macho-culture which not only impacts what women can sometimes achieve but also influences the end-product built by a company – and things are better when they’re created by a diverse group of people.

A quick summary of some of the things we’ve done:

  • Launched our agenda, committing ourselves to increasing diversity and promoting women into leadership across the tech sector
  • We are growing at 5-10% every month
  • Our UK General Election survey last year was covered in the mainstream press, and we were featured in publications like Fortune and the London Evening Standard.
  • We’ve established a strong management team supported by committed volunteers and an advisory board.
  • But we are even more proud of how active our membership has become. It’s not just a talking shop – members are supporting each other daily, by mentoring, sharing jobs and organising or participating in regular meetups and events keeping women in tech engaged in the industry. 

How can you help?

Today, we’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign. We want to raise £25,000 so that in 2017 we can expand Ada’s List.

Anything you can donate will help us kick off a successful fundraiser – thank you!