Equality (or lack thereof) is a hot topic within the tech world and current statistics show that only about 30% of the tech workforce in Sweden is made up of women (Source - Tech Sverige). When looking at software developers as a subset of that group that number falls to 19%. Women in Tech is a global movement aimed at empowering women in the tech industry, making sure they want to stay in the industry and finding ways to close the gender gap and encourage more young girls and women to join the industry.
On March 23rd, 2023 Women in Tech Sweden held their 10th annual conference and this year I was lucky enough to get a ticket. The day was jam-packed from start to finish with non-stop talks and seminars from a diverse group of women on a diverse range of subjects.
Atefah Sebdani talked about her disappointment at joining a company that she thought was diverse and inclusive only to find out that they didn’t walk the talk internally compared to the picture that was painted to the outside world. She stressed how much representation matters and that work and Mondays should be fun.
Mar Hicks talked about the gender shift that happened in the 60s and 70s when governments realised the potential importance of technology. Up until that time programming was heavily dominated by women and seen as a woman’s job. Politics pushed it in favour of men as it grew in importance.
Åsa Zetterberg from TechSverige shared how the tech industry adds 281 billion to the Swedish economy every year, and being a software developer is the 5th most common job in Sweden. Yet only 30% of people in tech are women and only 19% are software developers. Unfortunately the bias starts early. She talked about the need to get girls interested at an early age. I have personal experience of this as I used to be a teacher. In the age range I taught which was 9-12. In my experience boys and girls were both equally interested in coding at that age, quite often the girls were more interested. So we need to find a way to keep that interest alive.
Regina Nkemchor did a lightning talk on Diversity in Open Source projects. This one is near and dear to my heart because I love open source. Her 6 tips were:
- Have an active code of conduct and make sure you enforce it
- Use inclusive naming
- Have mentorship programmes
- Keep track of community health metrics
- Have good process documentation
- Make sure to have representation in leadership
Dr Angel K Durr gave a fascinating talk on cybersecurity and the war on data. The internet nowadays is essential for practically everyone but it’s only safe for some. She talked about how everyone will be the victim of cybercrime at some point and the likelihood of a catastrophic cyberattack happening within the next two years.
Sanne Fleming talked about strategies to manage cybersecurity such as having a regular cycle for updating and patching software, taking regular backups, managing access to services and multi factor authentication. She talked about the need for more education within this area in order to increase awareness about the kind of threats that exist.
Maria Bouzeid’s talk on innovation and sustainability presented an interesting overview of the problems we face with increasing electrification and the way current systems need to be totally reimagined to provide for such a demand for electricity in the future. The old ways can’t sustain new habits and a more circular system where consumers also become consumers is a likely future scenario.
If we think the gender gap in tech is bad, then in racing it's catastrophic. 14 year old Milla Sjöstrand talked about her dream to become the first woman in formula 1 in over 50 years and the eye-tracking technology she is using to help her achieve that goal. This technology is fascinating and I can see it could also be a major benefit within the realms of accessibility too.
Sustainability and circular economy was also the topic of a talk given by Hanne Hed and Rut Meyersson. They encouraged us to Rethink, Repurpose and Redesign in order to lead to a more regenerative future where we have less negative impact on the planet. They questioned why profit and growth should always be the end goal, and emphasised the importance of adding people and planet into what we measure in terms of success.
Tech ethics was the topic of discussion in a workshop by the company Tietoevry, asking the question
“How do we make sure we don’t cause more problems than we solve?”
There are lots of ethical dilemmas within the tech world and the decisions that get made can impact hundreds of thousands of people. They suggested asking questions such as “Should we build it?” and “What could go wrong and for whom?” when faced with plans to build new products and services.
Karin Zingmark gave a powerful talk on trust and how high trust teams are more productive and experience less stress. Her tips for establishing trust were to recognise excellence, share information broadly, focus on dialogue and asking questions, communication, building intentional relationships and being able to show vulnerability. The thing that stood out most for me in this talk however was a personal experience Karin shared. She had been experiencing some discriminatory behaviour by a colleague yet when she took it up with HR instead of HR dealing with the behavioural problem of the colleague they offered Karin a course on how to deal with the stress instead. Watch out for this kind of thing disguised as help.
Stephanie Darvil spoke passionately about the dangers of hustle culture and I love her quote
“Hustle culture is confusing privilege for passion”
The hustle culture is unhealthy and quite frankly that is off putting for a lot of people, but especially women.
Alice Heiman, Madeleine Majenburg and Annika Bäckström all talked about different dimensions of AI. The digital humans which seem to be the next step in chatbots seemed slightly creepy to me as their facial movements didn’t seem quite right but there’s definitely a lot of potential for new types of media and there’s no doubt that AI is becoming more and more prominent in everyday life.
The only man on the stage that day was the Minister for Education in Sweden, Mats Persson. It was great to hear him talk about the need to get more girls interested in tech at an early age and he seemed keen to find ways to help do that.
The final talk of the day was given by Azra Osmancevic and she asked us to contemplate these 6 questions:
- Are you reconnecting with your passion and purpose?
- Are you supporting life-long learning?
- Do you balance humanity and technology?
- Are you flippin’ the hierarchy upside down?
- Are you unleashing your inner Yoda?
- Can you do serious things without taking yourself too seriously?
So, what am I taking away from the conference?
If women are not part of tech then we’re also not part of shaping the future. The gap needs closing and that’s going to take a lot of different actions in order to achieve, such as education and training, addressing toxic workplace cultures, providing role models and mentors to the younger generations and a lot of advocacy and outreach work.
For me, it’s not just about unequal numbers of women vs men in the industry, this is also about diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility for all underrepresented groups. I also don’t think we can achieve this by creating women’s only groups. We can’t reach equality by siloing ourselves. We need to create forums where everyone can meet in safe spaces and create solutions together. We need to advocate for ourselves and each other.
Although Women in Tech is a fantastic initiative and I had a blast at the conference wouldn’t it be awesome if conferences like this were no longer needed?