I passionately believe that as the world we live in becomes more and more mediated by technology, then the group of people who create that technology needs to reflect the diversity of the people who will use it.
A crucial first step in this is to address the gender balance of the teams that design and build technology products. Having worked in the digital industries for the last twenty years I’ve always been aware of the lack of women but had always expected that to change over time. With a twelve year old daughter now expressing that creating digital products is “for boys” it’s become increasingly clear to me that more concerted efforts need to be made to make the contribution of women visible and show girls that there is a valid – and hugely rewarding – place for them in technology industries.
There are numerous initiatives springing up and people like Emma Mulqueeny of Young Rewired State doing fantastic work in encouraging girls to start making digital things. But there are still too many all male line-ups at digital conferences and a focus on male creators in industry journals like Wired. There is also a tendency in women to hold back from sharing their expertise through public speaking – for myriad reasons.
300 Seconds originated in London after Sharon O’Dea, Ann Kempster and Hadley Beeman became fed-up with seeing the lack of diversity typical at digital and tech events and decided to do something about it.
Standing up in front of an audience for half an hour is a daunting thought but five minutes – 300 seconds – is way more manageable. So they created a format that not only gives speakers space to practice and develop their confidence but also exposes the audience to new and diverse experience and expertise.
Having seen and been impressed by the format created by the London team I was keen to see how we could replicate their success in Brighton. With our close-knit community, and supportive network it seemed like we had the ideal environment to recruit great speakers and attract an engaged audience.
The first task was to convene a team – so along came Naomi Trickey, Alex Golsko and Becky Faith, three women with huge appetites for positive change. Together we decided to adopt the 300 Seconds format – and adapt it to suit Brighton. So we added what we call the ‘First Pancake Session’ – an opportunity for the speakers to come together the week before the event and practice their talks in front of each other and some experienced mentors.
So far we’ve held two events, one in March and one in June – both at 68 Middle Street, Clearleft’s fantastic meeting space, hosted by the lovely (and extremely supportive) Tessa Watson. Both events had eight amazing speakers, sharing a hugely diverse range of expertise with a full house of local digirati.
Now the Brighton Digital Festival has afforded us to the opportunity to hold a more ambitious event is a bigger venue. So – we hope that you’ll join us at the Sallis Benney Theatre on September 17th to celebrate the amazing diversity and expertise of women in tech, with 10 talks by 10 fantastic speakers.
And if you’re keen to share your expertise and develop your confidence as a speaker then our call for speakers is still open. By taking part you’ll gain a platform, have access to expert mentoring – and be invited to take part in a short workshop on stage craft, lead by improv expert Matt Matheson.
Hope to see you there!
Photo credit: David Packer, Sheepfilms