Why I took part in Ada Lovelace Day

Last month’s Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology, was based on the insight that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones. I was pleased to help meet that need in a very small way, with a short post about 18th Century venture capitalist Elizabeth Montagu.

At the time I tried to keep my personal pontification to a minimum. It’s hard for men to address this topic without sounding patronising. Anyway, on the day itself many others were making the case for higher visibility of women in technology far more eloquently than I ever can.

But this post from Paul Walsh, trailing a Techcrunch Europe panel on the subject of women and start-ups, prompted me to speak up more directly. In Paul’s opinion:

… the books of males vs females doesn’t need to be balanced in favour of more females. Why? Well, because there are plenty of females in tech and those that aren’t, don’t want to be. Ok, so there might be a small percent who would like to be in tech, but don’t make it. But can’t the same be said for any industry?

Are we trying to balance the books to encourage more males to become nurses?

To which I reply the following (originally posted as a comment on Paul’s blog):

Of course there are some very talented and successful women in our industry. That’s not in doubt. It’s not so much that there are too few women in the tech sectors as that there are too many men! Look around you at most tech conferences and you’ll see mainly male audiences listening mainly to other men.

This is not just bad because women are missing out on opportunities (though I believe some are) but also because, in the words of David Ogilvy, “diversity is the mother of invention.” We are all missing out on the creativity and customer-centricity that a more diverse culture would engender. Think, for example, of how long the games industry remained stuck on the demands of a small power user niche while the needs of the much bigger casual user segments went unmet. What other business opportunities might be there for the taking right now?

The nursing analogy is an interesting one. Why not doctors, one might ask, and how much by nature, how much by nurture? (And yes, I do think men should be encouraged to consider nursing as a career!) Either way, if, as I think [Paul is] suggesting, there are deeply engrained differences between men and women then there’s a clear imperative for us to capitalise on those differences.

That means taking active steps such as ensuring that girls can see strong female role models in our industry, as it seems they might in medicine. It means making work more compatible with family life (from which men also stand to benefit). It means changing our business culture so women’s voices can be heard, and their contributions recognised and rewarded equally with those of men.

The conversation will be more profitable as a result.

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mattedgar

Product strategy and design leadership in web and mobile media. Before that I was a newspaper journalist and history student

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