Conferences are an enormous amount of work to organize, easy to criticize and difficult to appreciate. It’s a bit like having a wedding for a few 100 brides. I’ve made a concerted effort to attend as many conferences this year as part of my own commitment to learning and I can’t tell you what a treat it is to sit in the audience and take notes for a change rather than feeling responsible for the success or failure of an event where so much can go wrong. So before I criticize I want to appreciate the 2nd Annual Tech4Africa conference last week
By all accounts #T4A was a resounding success and everyone applauded organizer Gareth Knight @oneafrikan for a fine accomplishment that many described as world-class: Good speakers overall with a few inspiring stars, good food, good vibes, good turn-out, good networking. There was however a glaring omission. A conspicuous absence of women from the line-up.
I tweeted my disapproval and so did a handful of other women delegates. We were referred to a comment on the official blog about how they didn’t want to dilute quality with quotas. When asked in the plenary in a response to a tweet by @katewolters asking the same question, @oneafrikan reaffirmed that he tried to contact 30 women. Some were unavailable, others didn’t get back to him. This I think from personal experience is one of the hazards of the job and not particularly gender specific. You just need to try harder if it’s important enough to reflect a diverse and accurate picture of any community.
“It’s notoriously difficult to get women speakers in technology” tweeted speaker @adamd. Not so. Our inaugural #wiredwomen event in September had a star-studded cast. Some less high-profile than others but that’s what research is all about.
More inspiration if we’re looking to international shores can be found by looking at the line-up for The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women Computing in Portland Oregon next week. There’s a panel representing Africa next week that I was on (but sadly can’t attend) with the rather poignant title: “what if there were more women in technology in Africa”
There’s also the #GirlGeekDinners which started off in London, have been so popular in CT and are now coming to JHB.
There’s been a flurry of articles recently about how important it is for women to play a role in the alleviation of poverty in Africa by becoming more high profile in entrepreneurship and in the digital economy. There’s increasing attention too as to how important it is for girls to do Science and Maths at school.
So I’d like to suggest that it’s not about a quota system that might dilute an otherwise interesting line-up. It’s not about appeasing some strident feminists in the audience who might detract from the otherwise positive and appreciative tweets. It’s about the role that half the population can play in using technology to change the world