When Salwa Toko was looking for funding for WiFilles, a startup education programme in France with a mission to teach teenage girls how to code, she faced some opposition.
“When I started to talk about [my programme], and try to raise money from companies and institutions, all the male comments were [along the lines of]: ‘Girls are not interested in computer science,’” said Toko.
What became of the first class that graduated her programme?
“50% of them are now in computer science studies,” she proudly explained.
Toko is just one of thousands of women entrepreneurs and tech leaders who recently gathered at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal – demonstrating why the event has quickly earned a reputation as a leader in gender equality in a male-dominated tech world.
“I am really happy that every year in Web Summit they bring in more and more women,” Vaida Greiciute, CEO at Corner Case Tech told ITU News.
As part of their Women in Tech initiative, the Web Summit made a conscious effort to boost gender equality in tech by giving away 14,000 free tickets to women interested in attending the 2017 event – from startup founders, to those looking to transition into the sector.
The move was an incredible success; one of the biggest technology events in the world is now also one of the most gender balanced, with women representing 42% of the attendees and 35% of the 1,200 speakers at this year’s event, which ran from 6 – 9 November.
“I’ve been here three times, and I see that the Women in Tech representation is growing,” said Greiciute.
Why does this matter?
Beyond the numbers, attending large-scale international events such as Web Summit allows women to gain industry insights from world-class speakers, network with like-minded individuals, and shift perspectives – a key element for empowering women in tech, according to an informal survey conducted at the event.
“I believe this is a good support for women to represent themselves.” Ruslana Tytechko, Business Development Manager at Selecto, told ITU News.
In addition, female attendees were able to find key opportunities to find investment for their businesses.
“My impression over the last three days is that about 60% of the visitors to our booth have been women,” Steve Rogers, Deputy Head of Unit in the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation, told ITU News. “They are looking for money to take their companies to the next stage, and I am very happy to say that we are in a position to help them.”
The event’s first Women in Tech track mentoring programme, sponsored by Booking.com, also gave women the opportunity to hear from inspiring women and gain career advice from industry leaders.
“I think it is very good that now we have a shift when we see so many ladies in tech who are doing great things, who are launching their own products, who inspired each other, who have a great support of each other. So, I am really glad to be a part of this great movement.” Kristina Bigus, CEO at Pjmood, told ITU News.
“I think that, at the end of the day, we want the best talent to be doing the best jobs, and to be generating the best work. And it seems like, by all accounts, a more inclusive environment in terms of men and women, and in terms of ethnic diversity too, yields the best results,” Mattie Kahn, Staff Editor at ELLE.com, said. “So, I am looking forward to everyone here carrying this great advice out with them, and next year, getting as close to 50/50 as possible.”
Still, despite the Web Summit’s success, there’s a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the tech sector more broadly.
“We’ve been talking about this stuff for way too long,” Erin Griffith, Senior Writer at Wired exclaimed during a Web Summit 2017 talk, ‘Sexism in the valley’. “When are we going to stop talking about it on conference panel stages and see some real change?”
This article first appeared in ITU News.