On Thursday we were lucky enough to attend Women of Silicon Roundabout at King’s Place, a Maddox Events conference that started in 2016 with the mission statement to inspire and connect women working in technology.
The event is composed of talks, deep-dive workshops, and networking opportunities to give women and men a safe and positive arena in which to talk about the challenges facing women working in technology, bridging the gender gap, and how we can work together to inspire future generations.
The event is only in its second year, but it’s indicative of the need for these kinds of events that Women of Silicon Roundabout is already at such a massive scale. The conference has big-hitting sponsors and keynote speakers from companies such as Google, Facebook, ITV, Amazon – arguably, the biggest tech companies. We at Tilt were lucky enough to attend just a few of the amazing talks on offer – sadly, we couldn’t be everywhere at once!
The day was split in two parts, the first of which consisted of seven mandatory talks by some incredible speakers. The first talk was led by the Global lead of Google Suzanne Timmons and Engineering Director Bjorn Bringert, focusing on Women, Growth and Leadership in Technology. Bjorn and Suzanne had a chat about their own careers and what Google does to promote inclusivity and diversity, but the most important aspect of the talk was perhaps Suzanne talking about how not only being a woman impacted her career path and the confidence she has in herself, but how being gay did. The talk was the first of many that discussed unconscious bias: the ideas that we have and the prejudices that we hold subconsciously without realising, but that impact our professional and personal decisions. The talk also highlighted the importance of the presence of men at an event such as this: Bjorn was there to listen and talk about how Google are working to improve hiring women in positions of leadership. Bjorn and Suzanne also addressed how difficult it is for women to prove their worth – that mediocre men are often much more capable of being hired into leadership positions than exceptional women are.
“We should lower the bar so it’s as low for women as it is for men.”
The next talk was by Naomi Smit of Digital McKinsey, who brought in the facts and figures for those who might still dispute that there is an imbalance for women working in technology. The most shocking of these (or maybe not!) was that there are more CEOs named David or Peter than there are female CEOs in total. Many of us know the figures but it’s still important to hear them in black and white and understand that the issue isn’t a lack of talent – it’s often in retaining talent, as far fewer women stay in technology or achieve leadership positions than come in on the bottom floor.
The perhaps most charismatic and relatable speaker was Faz Aftab with ITV, who was talking about the more personal side of women in technology with The Truth About Women at Work. Faz addressed working motherhood and reassured the audience that it’s okay to drop balls – that we just have to make sure they aren’t the fragile ones. She discussed her own life with a candour that was reassuring to even the members of audience that maybe weren’t parents – it’s good to know that you can be imperfect! Faz addressed confidence in women at work, a topic that came up throughout the event and is important to consider – that sometimes women are unlikely to put themselves forward for positions and promotions. Faz’s talk was dynamic and accompanied by a video of all the wonderful women who work for ITV talking about their roles honestly – what they like, what they hate, what they need more of from ITV.
A talk from Amazon then focused on the importance of diversity and how it’s actually good for business, as well as being important for people. It’s worth talking about the fact that diverse businesses can deliver solutions that suit the biggest range of customers, and it’s something that’s often written off by people who think that the ‘default’ can speak for everyone.
Melissa Di Donato was another standout speaker of the morning. She was clearly an incredibly driven woman who is not only a leader in her field but a great single mother, and she spoke to us about how we can inspire the next generation of women to work in technology. It’s important to consider that we might not be able to make everything perfect for ourselves right now, but that everything we do – no matter how hopeless it may feel – will work to make tomorrow brighter for our daughters. Angela also touched on imperfection and not having everything together all of the time, confiding in us that she completed her presentation at 2am on Monday; but that her maybe not being perfect and not always being there for her children will ensure that they have an easier time than she did.
The final talk of the morning came from Don Price at Atlassian, speaking about building a culture of innovation. Dom was funny and dynamic and spoke at length about how he motivates his staff to be more innovative, while remaining brutally aware of his privilege. Hearing a male voice speak on their own place in hiring, keeping, and motivating women in technology was refreshing and necessary – it has the risk of becoming an echo chamber if we all just chat about it amongst ourselves. However, it was clear that a positive outlook and good intentions don’t actually mean that much in the way of results – as a member of the audience asked Dom why, if he was so keen on diversity, the Atlassian team includes zero women in leadership positions and only two on the board. He fumbled through an apology that amounted to very little – or at least, just that they were making an effort to hire interns and junior staff that are female, and giving them the opportunity to rise through the ranks. After everything we had heard that day, this wasn’t a great excuse.
After a beautiful hot lunch with a huge range of options (including Google popcorn) followed by a few minutes in the Expedia chill out area, we headed over to one of the smaller rooms for a more tech-intensive talk from Fernanda Weiden at Facebook. She spoke to us about the challenges of maintaining a website on such a huge scale, and how they manage it. The talk gave us just a teeny idea of just how much goes into making sure we can all keep the world updated. The technical parts of the day were especially insightful and relevant as while diversity and inclusion are huge topics, it’s worth remembering that the attendees are all first and foremost interested in technology.
Next, we decided to attend a talk by Clare Sudbery of Laterooms on “How Do You Know What You’re Doing?”. Clare touched again on the idea of the lack of confidence in women, especially in technology, in their own skills. She also let us in on a secret – that after seventeen years in software development, she still doesn’t know that she knows what she’s doing.
We were hoping to attend a deep-dive workshop by ITV on The Impact Factor, but there was a mix-up with our registration so we were a little disappointed! Instead, we went to a panel on Non-Technical Women in Tech hosted by the platform lead at ASOS, discussing the challenges that women working in technology in non-technical roles also face. Despite a day of healthy debates and conversation this one proved the most controversial, as some technical women in tech felt as if their toes were being stepped on by the project managers, organisers and talent hunters hosting the panel. The point of the panel was that as technology becomes more a part of our daily lives and of the way that companies function, we will need to start considering roles in IT that we might not have previously – and that elitism surrounding these less technical roles is rampant. In fact, there is less and less differentiation between tech and non-tech roles – however, that ruffled the feathers of some specialists in the audience.
The talks came to an end at around 5:30, but the fun was by no means over! We went to networking drinks in the lovely Battlebridge Room where we were treated to prosecco, wine, and tons of snacks. Afterwards Google were hosting an invite-only party at The Parcel Yard which we had signed up for previously. The event boasted a ton of great food and drink, and provided more of an opportunity to further network and chat to new people.
Women of Silicon Roundabout provided a great place to meet other women in the industry, emphasising the fact that even if it feels super lonely at times, there are more of us out there. Not only that, but it was a highly informative day packed full of amazing talks by inspirational women who have all been there and grafted their way to the top. The smattering of male speakers and attendees was necessary and heartwarming – it’s positive to know that men care about women in the industry, and it’s a great space for them to learn how to improve their own practices. Topics such as confidence and unconscious bias are universal not only to women in technology but to all of us, and Women of Silicon Roundabout was a great, safe place to explore our own biases and soak up a ton of inspiration. All in all, it was an immense success – and we hope to attend next year.