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!

 

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!

Summary of Ada’s List event: Talent + Gender + Ethnicity – where are the women of colour in tech?

Last week, during London Technology Week, Ada’s List was proud to organise a panel discussion on a topic close to our hearts: how to increase the number of people of colour (especially women) in the technology industry. We state our ambition on this matter very clearly in our Agenda: the technology industry needs diversity of people and thought to make the products and services that emerge as successful as possible.

Over the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of groups and individuals talking about gender diversity. We decided it was time to focus on diversity of background in addition to this. We assembled a very talented (and yes, diverse) panel: Ade Adewunmi (Head of Data Infrastructure at Government Digital Service), Ade Oshineye (Developer Advocate at Google) and Arfah Farooq (co-founder of the Muslamic Makers meetup and Head of Marketing at Makers Academy), moderated by Ada’s List’s Kajal Odedra (Senior Campaigns Advisor at change.org).

Being a person of colour in tech

The panel started by discussing their experiences of being a person of colour in tech. On the positive side, it is easy for people to remember them because they are such a rarity. On the negative, there’s a lack of role models because there aren’t enough people of colour in the first place. Also sometimes, finding a safe space to be yourself at work is hard; for example, if you’re a practicing Muslim then you need a space to pray during the day. As a person of colour who uniquely experiences certain issues, they often have to decide whether to make a big deal of something or let it pass; as one of the panelists said, that is often exhausting.

On tokenism

With many companies committing to diversity in hiring these days, it is not unusual to think of ‘diverse’ hires as token hires, made simply to fill that quota. On the one hand, no one wants to be seen as a token hire, but on the other, that may be the only way to enter that company in the first place, from where you are in a position to change the status quo and get more people of colour on board. There is an assumption that the status quo is absolutely fair and there is no need for quotas, as one of our panelists said, but that is not the case – so quotas are not a bad thing. As she eloquently put it:

‘when you’ve never had to share, equity feels like oppression’.

On diversity in large vs. smaller companies

Lack of diversity is very often a structural problem – i.e a cultural problem, not a pipeline one. Humans have only so much empathy and sometimes they cannot see why a specific issue is a problem, especially if as a white male you’ve never experienced them. However, being a structural problem, structural solutions need to be put in place to tackle it as a matter of importance – otherwise no one does anything about it in a concerted manner. No doubt, for larger organisations it’s often easier to care because they have the resources to throw at the problem – also in today’s world they have to (witness how Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter all got called out when their diversity statistics were discovered recently). For smaller organisations, the key is in the founding team: if they are not empathetic, then cultural problems will pervade no matter what you do. It is important to remember, however, that having a diverse founding team does not automatically guarantee diversity of workforce: sometimes diverse founders are not very inclusive at all (and this is often seen in the media when senior people from different ethnicities in the tech industry say they believe in ‘hiring only on talent’ – whoever said that hiring a diverse workforce would mean you need to compromise on that?!).

One of the panelists made an interesting point on spreading awareness of your culture even if you are the only person of colour in your organization: though it is often tiring to have that burden, if you don’t do it no one will, and people often appreciate learning about new cultures. Another of our panelists added to that, and warned that if you get a reputation for being difficult, or worse, get fired, then you have no way of helping others in any way – that knowledge of how much to assert your point of view regarding diversity is a very delicate balance that you only learn to achieve with experience. It is also crucial to challenge senior people in companies who have clear prejudices, or make wrong comments. Sometimes the bias is unconscious, but it still needs to be called out, and again you can only have those conversations if you are at that senior level yourself and share a relationship with people at that level that will not put your career in jeopardy if you speak to them about these subjects.

Tactics to get a skilled diverse workforce

Go for structural solutions: for example, Thoughtworks sponsors free coding scholarships for women at Makers Academy, where they ensure candidates are from diverse backgrounds. These candidates then get the chance to be hired by ThoughtWorks. In a similar move, a few years ago Etsy sponsored female students at Hacker School in New York and increased the number of women on the team by 500%.

Give unconscious bias training to all employees: People usually think of themselves as good people who are not biased. Making this training compulsory might help people see that they aren’t bad individuals, but they need to be aware of their inherent bias so they can tackle it. This is particularly important for managers who are in a hiring position. Facebook and Google both offer this training, and Facebook’s Managing Bias training course is available for free online.

Managers, push back on shortlists that are not 50-50 male-female: I am increasingly hearing positive stories of enlightened, informed managers in the tech industry who are pushing back at recruitment and HR teams if they are given candidate shortlists that are not equally split in male/female representation. Managers are in a very strong position to make a difference, and pushing back that bit can really help the diversity of teams and companies in the long run – even if you have to keep a position open for a little while longer than you’d like when your own manager is asking questions.

Get diverse experts in to talk to your teams: A lot of companies organise events for their employees or the wider industry. Instead of inviting white men to take the stage repeatedly, make sure you get people of colour and women on a regular basis so that becomes normal, not unusual. This will of course be difficult but it’s important to send the signal because, as one of our panelists experienced, there are men who sometimes do not see women as experts in coding (for example) because they have never known or worked with a senior female developer in the industry before, and are not used to taking instructions or lessons from them.

All in all, an important set of questions and very interesting answers that I personally was proud to be a part of on behalf of Ada’s List. Thanks to all our panellists for a great evening.

Ada’s List at Innovation Stories 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak about Ada’s List at the Innovation Stories conference by the lovely Nadya Powell.

Ada’s List has been a really interesting journey for us 4 co-founders over the past 1 year and 8 months or so, but we haven’t really had the time to sit and digest what it means and where we should go next. This presentation provided me the opportunity to do a bit of a retrospective of our activity to date, and came at a time when the co-founders have started asking ourselves questions about what we want going ahead (more on that hopefully in the not-too-distant future).

I started the talk by talking about social movements, and how by virtue of being a community that works for change through collective action, Ada’s List is a social movement in itself. It came in at what I think was the right time – the women in tech discussion had just about started increasing in noise around 2013, and now it is a part of even mainstream media.

I mentioned MIT’s Building 20 and the way they collaborated across disciplines to create interesting work, which happens a lot with Ada’s List, being a group of people with roughly common interests but different backgrounds and expertise.

By dint of both circumstance and intent, we’ve spearheaded some thought-provoking debates around the workplace and work culture, government policy around women and technology and parenthood in the modern workplace, through the events we’ve organised. Our survey around the political leanings of our members in the run-up to the UK’s General Election this year was also a big project for us.

We’re going nowhere, and intend to go far with what Ada’s List calls Change at Scale: changing structures, political process, work culture…by doing what we do for women in tech, we want to change things for everyone.

Reminder: please fill in the @adaslist survey on govt policies relevant to women in tech

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A while ago, the Ada’s List team envisioned a survey to find out what our community of 1000+ women in tech (and the women in tech they know in turn) really think about government policies and priorities leading up to the UK general elections in May. The survey is finally ready, and it would be brilliant if you fill it in if you’re a female working in tech yourself, or pass it on to people you know who are. The survey is here.

To be clear, we welcome anyone who is 18+, identifies as female and is working in technology in the UK (or, for non-residents, have an affiliation with the UK/UK politics) to take this survey, even if they are not currently a member of Ada’s List. This means if you have women in tech networks or groups at your workplace or in your community, we would love to have them fill it in as well. Please share it with all of them – the more data we have, the more robust the output will be. They are all also welcome to join Ada’s List if they are not already a member, but it is by no means a pre-requisite to fill in the survey.

The responses will be completely anonymous – we will not have any information as to who is filling it in, so please be as honest as you want to be.

Those not based in the UK – if you could share the survey with any UK-based women in tech, we will really appreciate your assistance in getting the word out.

The last date for responses is Monday, March 30th. This will give us the time we need to collate output. We intend to share our findings with the wider world by the end of April.

Sincere thanks are also due to Ada’s Lister Rebecca Martin, who has created the survey for us on Tickbox, a new platform to encourage engagement in politics, launching in April before the elections.

Here’s the link to take the survey again.

Thank you to all of you for participating in and sharing the survey in advance.

Words of wisdom from @annfriedman

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This morning we had Ann Friedman speak to a bunch of us at Ada’s List. Ann used to be the Executive Editor of GOOD, and is a freelance journalist who has written for NYmag.com, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Hairpin, and Columbia Journalism Review amongst others.

There’s a Storify of the morning here, but I also wanted to separately share the links Ann referred to as I think they are all worth knowing (or re-familiarising ourselves with):

Shine Theory, or how powerful women make the best friends by Ann Friedman in NYmag.com

Horizontal Loyalty, from a 2011 commencement speech by NPR’s Robert Krulwich at the University of California Berkeley

Mentorship vs. sponsorship in fast-tracking your career by Jenna Goudreau in Business Insider

On scenius and stealing like an artist, Austin Kleon at SXSW 2014

100 Interviews, a personal project by journalist and comedian Gaby Dunn that kick-started her career

Ask and Offer, by Natalia Oberti Noguera on trying to match your skills with what someone else needs and vice versa

The Island, a (fictional) place to consign harassers to that can become code for warning people about them, by Ann Friedman

The Disapproval Matrix for understanding haters, by Ann Friedman

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If you’d like weekly links to companies outside of the West doing interesting stuff, sign up to my new weekly newsletter

I often get asked what the main information sources I read are. While most of them are pretty standard for anyone working in media and technology in this part of the world, lately I’ve been feeling a gap in my own knowledge when it comes to information from other parts of the world in these areas, especially given my personal interests in that region.

Over the last year or so, a number of interesting sources of information have launched online: The Next Web’s Jon Russell has an Asia-focussed newsletter, Bill Bishop’s Sinocism newsletter paints a valuable multi-hued picture of China, Quartz now has an India edition (and their Daily Brief email focussing on the region), and Your Story publishes news stories from across Asia and South-East Asia, to name a few. Of course there are also the more mainstream outlets like the Economist, Time, Harvard Business Review and so on. But what I was looking for was something beyond just the big news stories of the startup and communications industry outside of the West – it was information on the lesser-known companies and projects, albeit rooted in tech, that are disrupting markets across the world (and outside of just India/Asia). And also, information on companies in those parts of the world not founded by men (refer to Ada’s List).

So a while ago I started creating a list of these companies. And then I figured that writing a weekly newsletter would not only help me keep track of the most interesting non-US/UK/EU projects across the world in a more memorable way, it might also be useful for some other people (five of you, maybe ten, I don’t know).

So if you’d like, pop in your email address and see if what I find is interesting to you. It won’t be more regular than weekly (I only wish I had the publishing proclivity of the brilliant Dan Hon or the detailed perspectives of Frederic Filloux and Jean-Louis Gassée, but you have to go with what you have eh) so you won’t have to worry about me spamming your inbox.

I figure short and sweet is a good way to start – so each Wednesday expect a list of no more than a handful of companies that are interesting to me, based in or focussed on areas outside of Silicon Valley and Silicon Roundabout – you know, those Other Valleys.

PS: If you’d like to submit an entry for inclusion in the email at any point, I’m happy to take submissions which you can send through via this short form.

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