International Women’s Day 2016

International Women’s Day 2016

I’m really lucky to work with some awesome startups in my role as Global Alumni Program Manager at Microsoft Accelerator. I was even luckier to have a chance to speak with some of our female founders, and put together this video to celebrate International Women’s Day. Thank you to all the strong, inspirational women out there who keep kicking ass every day in so many different ways!

Featured in the video:

  • Tal Shoham, CEO of Evolero, alumni of Tel Aviv Accelerator
  • Hila Goldman-Aslan, CEO of DiaCardio, alumni of Tel Aviv Accelerator
  • Maya Gura, CEO of Missbeez, alumni of Tel Aviv Accelerator
  • Larissa Lielacher, CEO of Flockpit, alumni of Berlin Accelerator
  • Tammy Bowers, CEO of Lionheart Innovations, alumni of Seattle Accelerator
  • Vivian Li, Business Development Director at Sensoro, alumni of Beijing Accelerator

https://channel9.msdn.com/Shows/GALs/Celebrating-Women-In-Startups/player

A tiny step for women… and a tiny step for womenkind

A tiny step for women… and a tiny step for womenkind

Getting women involved in tech, and more broadly STEM, is a long process. Currently, according to reports released by the world’s 11 biggest tech companies last year, just under 30% of tech employees are women. Tech conferences fare no better – even given the tech industry’s overall poor statistics, Web Summit’s statistics of 18% female speakers in 2015 is still surprisingly low. With so many issues at play this is a complicated mission, which of course means that it needs thoughtful solutions.

Recently, in attempting to address this, Web Summit announced their commitment to change in a blog post. Sinead Murphy, head of production at Web Summit, states:

As a woman producing what’s become the largest tech and startup conference in the world, I’ve been acutely aware that female participation in the tech sector has been and continues to be a significant issue.

The post goes on to describe Web Summit’s initial attempt to solve this issue, which is giving away 10,000 tickets to women for their events across the world in 2016 (which includes Web Summit, RISE, SURGE, and Collision). While the low level of female attendance at tech conferences is certainly an issue, giving away tickets is simply addressing the symptom rather than the cause.

The reason women aren’t attending conferences isn’t because we aren’t able to secure our own tickets. Trust me, we can buy our own tickets (after all, all we women do is shop right?!) Women haven’t typically been treated that well at tech conferences over the years – in 2015 for example, T.J. Miller called a woman a bitch while on stage presenting the Crunchies and Britney Muller, Founder of Pryde Marketing, was told before taking the stage at PubCon, “Don’t be nervous. You’re hot! No one expects you to do well.” In fact, 2015 hasn’t been that kind to women across the tech space in general.

More than the offer of free tickets itself (which, to be honest, Web Summit etc. seem to throw at every possible group like open source contributors and students, in addition to the constant 2-for-1 offers), Web Summit and Collision ran a Facebook ad campaign to get the word out about their patronising plan. Unfortunately I didn’t take a screenshot at the time, and I can’t find one for the life of me (if anyone has one, please add it in the comments!) The theme of the ads was “send a free ticket to a female entrepreneur of your choice.” I’m not sure if it was just the wording or, more problematically, the intention behind the concept that was at fault, but the ads came across as an attempt to encourage men everywhere to charitably help those poor women around them to attend a tech conference. Which will in no way represent them anyway, but hey! Give them women a hand! They need it!

There are so many ways we can help woman get involved in tech conferences. Here’s some ideas for Web Summit and other tech conferences across the world – why not give some of these a go?

  • Find more women speakers – this year, 18% of the speakers at Web Summit were women, according to data from Capgemini. That’s up from previous years, but still pretty far off what it should be.
  • Put an anti-harrassment policy in place – Web Summit has one of these in place, which you can find on their website.
  • Tone down the ‘boys club’ attitude – ‘jokes’ on stage like the comments made by T.J. Miller, and the use of porn in presentations, don’t make us feel good. They make us feel objectified, minimized, and sidelined.
  • Pay attention to other minoritiesflicking through pictures of tech conferences, there is not only a noticable lack of women, but also a lack of the diverse communities that make up our societies.
  • Avoid a ‘whoever yells the loudest wins’ attitude – guess what? Women typically don’t have the loudest voices. Making us shout to be heard means that we won’t be.
  • Consider facilities and timings – people, both men and women, can have other commitments, especially if they’re parents. All night hackathons may be difficult for parents to attend. Weekend conferences may be tricky. Would childcare facilities be relevant for your audience?

For more ideas, I recommend this post on Geek Feminism about women-friendly events. As Murphy pointed out at the end of her Commitment to Change blog post:

Is this enough? Absolutely not. Is this a significant step for Web Summit? Yes, for sure. But let’s be realistic, it’s a tiny step in the right direction along a path that the tech industry as a whole needs to move down.

Internet for all?

Internet for all?

Much has been made of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s promise of Internet for all. There have been several false starts; in India Facebook partnered with Reliance Communications who, by most reports, are anything but. Unfortunately Vindu Goel, technology reporter at The New York Times, may be right when he says:

Facebook’s rocky experience since it brought Internet.org to India in February shows that good intentions and technological savvy are not enough to achieve a noble goal like universal Internet access.

There have also been accusations that by trying to create a lightweight internet available to all, Internet.org by default violates Net Neutrality principles – the idea (explained well here) that the whole internet should be free, open and equal for everyone.

Despite all that, it’s an impressive aspiration.

Think about all the things that we, as wealthy first worlders, have access to that those in the developing world don’t because of our access to the internet. Porn on demand, obviously. But also information about safe sex. Access to concepts such as education for girls, equal rights for everyone, and all-access healthcare. These ideas are often not the norm in many places, specifically in many of those that Internet.org is trying to reach.

Unfortunately, these concepts are also not as widespread at home as they could be. According to the Obamacare website, 11.4% of Americans are still uninsured. Girls continue to miss out on basic education across the world – according to the Malala Fund (citing numbers from the OHCHR) there are over 60 million girls being shut out of school. Numbers on equal rights are pointless – we only have to look around us to see the infringements there.

That’s what I like about Microsoft’s approach to this issue. Earlier in November, Microsoft launched their Affordable Access Initiative – a challenge issued to entrepreneurs around the world to ‘develop low-cost connectivity solutions, cloud-based services, and business models that bring the Internet to underserved markets’. Companies who apply and are selected will receive grants of $75,000 to help push their solution out.

By opening the challenge up to the public, Microsoft ensures that a variety of different ideas will be researched and developed. What works in one place may not work in another; this approach addresses that issue head-on. Not to mention the fact that by incentivising independent companies, these solutions can be deployed universally, without relying on the decision of a Mark Zuckerberg (or a Satya Nadella); keeping the solutions free from external interference (such as a push to certain websites).

Of course, this is the theory – we’ll wait to see how it works out. But as Scott Coleman, GM of Microsoft Ventures of which I am a very proud employee, said in a blog post:

…there needs to be access to technology that empowers people to dream, to think about how they can achieve more, to develop and improve their local communities, and to change the world.

That’s something we can all get behind. If you want to apply to the Microsoft Affordable Access Initiative, you can do that here.

Life as a Parent

Me: I want a soft drink.
Daniel: We don’t have any.
Me: I know. Urgh. I guess I could drink water.
Daniel: Or alcohol? Water or alcohol?
Both: Alcohol.

Microsoft Ventures – Life-long Lessons from Microsoft Ventures Accelerators

Really proud reading this post from one of our alumni. Floating right now!

Microsoft Ventures – Life-long Lessons from Microsoft Ventures Accelerators

Things I’d think about doing following the defeat of the amendment to scrap the tampon tax

Things I’d think about doing following the defeat of the amendment to scrap the tampon tax

 

    1. Sending new (or ideally used) tampons to all MPs who voted against the amendment. After all, they’re luxury items – they’d be lucky to receive some.
    2. Not wearing them next time I have my period. I’m sure that’ll be super pleasant for everyone around me. But hey, they’re not essential… who needs em?!
    3. Encouraging more stores to sell tampons profit-free, like the student union at the University of East Anglia.
    4. Using pita bread to absorb my period blood flow. Cheaper, and tax free. Other alternatives that are tax-free (although with questionable absorbency levels):
      – Crocodile meat
      – Cosmo
      – Edible cake decorations
    5. Taking everyone who voted against the amendment to Trafalgar Square and get them to yell tampon at the top of their lungs. Apparently some of them have issues with the word.

https://vine.co/v/eYbF7tEJt2A/embed/simplehttps://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

  • Donating to charities like The Homeless Period who provide sanitary products for homeless women across the UK.

 

As Gloria Steinem wrote in 1986:

Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields- “For Those Light Bachelor Days.”