On Monday 26th November, I attended the WeAreTechWomen conference. I wasn’t sure if it was for me – was I a ‘tech woman’ and if not, would an army of robots spot an imposter and throw me out?
Thankfully I was surrounded by over 400 women from all walks of digital life – some more techie than others but all very welcome.
The conference was sold as being for women in the tech sector who are looking to broaden their technology horizons, learn new skills and build their technology networks. Did it deliver on those points? I think so. The fast-paced schedule meant that no talk lasted more than 20 minutes or so, delivering maximum opportunity to hear from a variety of speakers on a huge number of topics. At points I felt the imposter syndrome creep in – what did I know about fintech or cyber security? But then I realised that was what today was about – hearing about those topics I’m only remotely connected to and know little about but having the opportunity to see just how big the tech world is and more importantly that I have a role to play in it
The inclusive nature of the event – almost entirely female attendance with mostly female speakers was a refreshing change from the male-centic tech/digital events i’m sure many of us are used to attending. (Editor’s Note: And one we are currently looking at for our GECFutures event in the summer) The small number of speakers who were male were clearly advocates for increasing numbers of women in tech with several references to ‘smashing the manel’ (all male panel) and growing diversity. Conversely, several of the female presenters felt comfortable enough to make comments about being away from business due to childbirth and the struggle of juggling their tech businesses and motherhood, to the supportive gaze of the audience.
The opening address was delivered by Baroness Joanna Shields OBE, former UK Minister for Internet Safety & CEO, who started the day with some inspiring thoughts for delegates to take away, saying, “I’ve worked my way up this male dominated tech industry with a child”, “It’s about working together with women to encourage each other” and “We should all be proud of the women across the globe who are fighting for our empowerment.”
I enjoyed listening to speakers talk about the future of AI, the holographic datasphere, fintech, cyber security, data and privacy – the resounding message seemed to be ‘get involved, don’t be scared’
During the lunch break, we attended ‘soapbox’ drop-in sessions and heard about such topics as wearable tech, online violence and abuse against women and tech-enabled sponsorship.
I enjoyed chatting/networking with sponsors and other attendees – there was no hard-sell from sponsors, just a genuine desire to connect and get involved – this was a welcome departure from the usual ‘You need to hear all about my product before I’ll let you have a free pen’ approach I normally get at events!
There were several Q&A sessions with topics ranging from career advice, increasing diversity in tech, flexible working and how to handle gender discrimination, however, the best part of the day for me was learning to code with the lovely Raspberry Pi team during one of my chosen elective sessions – nothing beats a hands-on session!
Delegates also had the opportunity to hear from Dame Stephanie Shirley, IT entrepreneur and philanthropist. Having arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied child refugee in 1939, she started what became Xansa plc (now part of the Sopra Group) in 1962. She’s now been Chief Executive for 25 years. Her Dameship in the Millennium honours was for services to IT.
Speaking about the next generation of technologists, Shirley said, “Girls have to understand the obstacles in front of them and know that they are surmountable…go around, go over, go under, go elsewhere”. Just wow!
The day ended with a speed mentoring session, opened by Vanessa Vallely, Managing Director of WeAreTechWomen, who instilled the importance of mentoring. The next hour was a whir of discussions about career goals with attendees also being able to ask specific questions.
The event was well-rounded – quick enough to maintain interest, varied content, topics and speakers and the right mix of listening, talking doing and mingling. What did I take away? An idea that I’m part of something bigger and that with guidance and application I can choose to take the stepping stones to a new career, if that’s what I want. I see myself as having more transferable skills than I realised – I see that I am a woman in tech and I have plenty to offer.
Jade Mountain, GEC Leader