As strides are being made in other aspects of society, a controversial and often debated topic is the gender equality, or lack thereof, in the American workforce. Most frequently cited is the shortage of women in science and technology fields, or STEM. Luckily, the presence of women at SXSW this year was a giant step in the right direction for total support and fairness of both genders in the IT world.
SXSW, otherwise known as South by Southwest, is a 10-day conference held annually in Austin, Texas. What was originally created as a music festival in the 1980s has since transformed into an exciting and innovative atmosphere where industry leaders come together to showcase music, film, and technology ideas.
VIPs including celebrities and investors attend the event to experience the latest and greatest entertainment, including live music and movie screenings, however there is also a strong presence of young adults, specifically college students.
The following of younger generations combined with the collaborative and educational environment has made SXSW a widely covered event, both formally through media interviews, press conferences, and news reports, but also on social media by keeping up with the hashtag #SXSW. Last year, of the 540,000 tweets associated with the #SXSW hashtag, only 10 percent originated in Austin, according to Entrepreneur.com.
SxSW exerts a massive influence of ideas talked about around the country. As a result, there has been positive feedback circulating around the web regarding SXSW’s commitment to highlighting the achievements and efforts of women tech leaders.
Focus on women
This year, more women attended, spoke at panels or events, and were keynote speakers than ever before. Jessica Alba, who is most commonly known as an actress and fashion icon to the media, stepped out as co-founder of The Honest Company, an organization that creates non-toxic baby products, to address female power. Despite underrepresentation, Alba stated that “the Millennial generation is very powerful when it comes to women, and I think what we want goes.”
“Boardroom or Baby? The Choices Women Have in Tech”, “Confident Women: Ditch the Bitch Stigma”, and “She’s a C-Word! Lessons From Tech’s C-Suite Women” are 3 of the more than 30 scheduled events targeted specifically at women, or at those interested in learning about women, mostly in technology industries.
SXSW’s efforts to create an inclusive environment certainly encouraged women to come out to the event and feel comfortable participating just the same as their male counterparts. With the support of massive organizations such as SXSW Inc., the taboo surrounding women leaders in tech can slowly eradicate and such prevalent gender disparities in the field can start to diminish.
Progress to come
Unfortunately, though it wasn’t a blatant attack, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt unconsciously interrupted US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, ironically during a panel titled “How Innovation Happens” that aimed to discuss the benefits seen from diversity in the tech sphere.
Various articles emerged on the web condemning this behavior. It supports the idea of unconscious bias and how men have a tendency to unintentionally deem their female counterparts’ ideas as less credible, therefore leading them to cut them off or wrongfully appropriate credit to themselves.
An audience member publically addressed Schmidt’s actions by asking him if he was aware that he was interrupting the woman. The anonymous inquirer was acknowledged with audience-wise applause, later to be identified as Google’s very own Judith Williams, Global Diversity and Talent Programs manager. She encourages a “culture where employees are comfortable with — and held accountable for — calling out prejudice, both blatant and subtle.”
Despite Schmidt’s error, Williams commitment to bringing it to light is something that many organizations can benefit from. In order to make progress, the first step is recognizing the current situation and acknowledging that change needs to be made.
Furthermore, issues arose with a women’s lounge created by Ipsos to attract women at SXSW. In the booth, free manicures, makeup and hair were offered, which heavily offended many.
It was perceived as promoting the exact opposite of an gender-inclusive culture as it follows a sexist theme that women are fixated on beauty and physical appearance. However, Ipsos only intended to create a space where “where women feel comfortable, where real conversations happen and you have time to spend together.”
I see the initiative to drive women together, however this only appeals to those that exemplify traditional and sometimes antiquated feminine ideals. Therefore, the attempt could have been made without the inclusion of so-called beauty services.
As the conference comes to a close this year, do you feel that #SXSW adequately fostered an encouraging place for women in technology? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet me at @meganminier!