South by Southwest has become one of the main technology gatherings for up-and-coming companies especially those with an interest in smartphone and social media. Since its launch in 1994, SXSW has seen its popularity and reputation grew bigger and bigger. What has also grown each year, however at a slower pace, is the presence of women. It is a fact that the tech industry is an industry dominated by men. However, it is also a fact that more and more women are gradually filling tech roles and reaching higher positions. SXSW is at the image of the industry it represents which explains why this year about 25 speaker sessions were about women in technology which is already five times more than last year. The festival is really at the image of the industry because it is in a way shaped by those who worked in the industry. Indeed, conference’s panels are chosen through a crowd-sourced selection process with people entering proposals that participants then vote on and for which they provide feedback.
The shift at South by Southwest accompanies the shift in the industry where more and more roles are filled by women such as Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO who also wrote a book about it,“Lean In” that has now become a best seller. Previously she also gave a very inspiring presentation at TedTalk where she covers why only a small percentage of women manage to reach the top of their profession. I personally highly recommend it to women and men alike as we all learn something from it.
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo Inc. CEO who started her job more than six months pregnant is another famous example of a successful woman in the tech industry. But number still speaks for themselves. Research proved that in the US 74% of workers in computer and mathematical occupations were men, while women represents 20% of workers in software development, at a more executive level the proportion of female to male executives is two to nine. However, this does not mean the tech industry is stopping women from getting in. The shift must happen at all level. Young girls do not find the industry appealing as it still bears a very manly image which explains the disparity at university level. In the UK in 2011, 85% of engineering and technology degrees and 82% of computer science degrees graduates were men. The numbers are quite similar in Europe and in North America where approximately only 15% of women graduate with a technology degree. According to Carley Roney, co-founder and chief content officer of XO Group Inc.: “the number one thing that can make more female entrepreneurs is female engineers. They have the ideas but they don’t have that best friend they can sit with and jam code.” To have more female developers could be one of the solutions to attract more women into the tech industry.
Hopefully, the shift SXSW is going through will soon become a trend. Until recently, the festival had a policy requiring panel organizers to give at least one woman a speaking slot. Hugh Forrest SXSW Symposium’s director commented on the matter: “If I had a dime for everybody who said that’s a great rule but there just aren’t enough qualifies women I’d be rich, rich, rich. My reaction is: Look a little bit harder. It’s impossible for me to believe that you can’t find a female speaker in the world who isn’t extremely qualifies to speak on any given topic.” Among the panels that exclusively addressed women’s issues was “Starting Up In A Man’s World” that featured Catherine Cook, co-founder of social media company MeetMe Inc, Lauren Flanagen, managing director of venture fund Belle Capital USA LP. One of South by Southwest’s objective is to shine the light on women entrepreneurs, developers, executives, musicians, actresses, writers… and to raise questions and debates about the current situation. On Monday, Lena Dunham, the creator, productor and actress in one of the most popular TV-show “Girls” gave a speech about gender unequality in the fim industry. Or this week, NPR news-talk program Tell Me More launched a celebration of women in technology through a twitter conversation using #NPRWIT. . Melinda Gates is doing it!
More women in the tech industry…to be continued.