The week ahead: A new tipping point for the tech industry

22 Jun 2015

Unless the tech industry becomes more inclusive for women and embraces diversity, it is only operating at half its potential.

John Kennedy on a moment of truth that could transform the tech world forever – unless we make the tech industry more inclusive, it will only ever operate at 50pc of its true potential.

Usually this column concerns itself with equipping you with what you need to know for the week ahead. It could be Apple’s WWDC, the goings-on at E3 or other momentous milestones in the relentless march of progress in the tech industry.

But at Inspirefest in Dublin last week it became very clear this so-called march of progress is a hollow claim when you realise that in terms of innovation, the tech world is only operating at half steam. It is not firing on all cylinders.

We all need to finally admit that the sector needs to be more welcoming to women and minority groups if it is going to achieve its full potential.

There were many moments of truth last week in Dublin as we heard from individuals like Brianna Wu, the games developer who found herself at the centre of #gamergate last year; Kathy Kleiman, who uncovered the real heroes behind the ENIAC computer were women that were nearly airbrushed out of history, and Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia, on why female founders receive less than 4pc of venture capital each year in Silicon Valley.

Moments of truth included the “unconscious bias” that exists in many of us; the fact that it is young women curious about coding and engineering who could sow the seeds of greatness in the decades to come, and how most of all we are arriving at an important tipping point.

That tipping point is the realisation – as summed up brilliantly by Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code – that because women have been held back, the booming tech industry is only achieving half of its potential.

“By limiting women in technology we are limiting ourselves to only half of the world’s solutions,” Bryant said.

“A global technology revolution is taking place and if women and girls aren’t part of it, the future for women’s rights is bleak.”

What is truly alarming, however, is the ample evidence of women’s contribution to science and technology that is there right in front of us if we bother to look.

Dr Nina Ansary, author of The Jewels of Allah, showed that despite the repressive regime in Iran, Iranian women have been at the forefront of scientific breakthroughs in recent decades. She named Dr Pardis Sabeti, a computational geneticist who in 2015 was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people and living geniuses of our time. Sabeti was one of the first scientific leaders to sequence Ebola when it first became an epidemic. There were more: Anoushe Ansar, the first Iranian women in space and the world’s first private female space explorer; Google’s security princess Parisa Tabriz, who protects the booming tech giant from cybercrime, and the mother of modern astronomy, Alenush Terian.

But change is coming. In an emotional speech that won a standing ovation, Brianna Wu said: “The truth is we are winning and we are making changes in the game industry.

“There was more diversity than I’ve ever seen in the history of E3. We had more women on stage. We had less sexualised women on stage… We are changing the industry because we were willing to speak up, we didn’t stay silent. We’ve introduced consequences into this equation.”

But before we can have real progress, the truth is the tech and science sectors need to admit there is a problem. This was summed up best by Adam Quinton, founder and CEO of Lucas Point Ventures: “The fundamental problem, especially in Silicon Valley, is that it loves to think it’s a meritocracy, which is bull. It’s not. It’s a mirror-ocracy.”

Real change will occur, said Cindy Gallop of If We Ruled The World and Make Love Not Porn, when examples of success can be seen in the form of female founders who achieve remarkable business breakthroughs. Maybe that will shake up the boys club.

“I want to see women making huge exits from start-ups, and up there in the rarefied tech billionaire ranks with Larry and Sergey and Evan and Travis.

“All those barriers will fall away from all of us when we can prove that women can make a s**t ton of money.”

The tipping point is the realisation that the tech industry is operating on just 50pc of its real potential.

For the week ahead I advise you to immerse yourself in the long tail of content that has emerged and will continue to emerge this week from Inspirefest 2015 in Dublin.

This is just the beginning.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years