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Do More to Create Equality: Women Leaders In Tech During Web Summit

Google's head of philanthropy, Jacquelline Fuller, said she joined the walkout last week, admitting more needs to be done.

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The center stage at Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech conference, in Lisbon, Portugal. VOA
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Women leaders in technology called at one of the sector’s largest global conferences, Web Summit for more to be done to drive equality in the male-dominated industry now hit by the #MeToo debate.

The ninth Web Summit comes amid growing concerns about sexism in the tech world, with thousands of Google employees walking out last week to protest the company’s response to sexual misconduct and workplace inequality.

In a poll of 1,000 women leaders in tech by the Web Summit, given exclusively to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, 47 percent said the gender ratio in leadership had not improved in the past year. Only 17 percent said it was better.

Stephen Hawking, web summit
FILE- Cosmologist Stephen Hawking delivers a video message during the inauguration of Web Summit, Europe’s biggest tech conference, in Lisbon, Portugal, Nov. 6, 2017. (VOA)

 

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, said it was crucial to have more women in the sector.

“We can’t accomplish what we need if women [aren’t involved] in tech,” Jackson, who was part of President Barack Obama’s administration, told the Web Summit in Lisbon.

About 70,000 people from 170 nations were at the conference, where the number of women attendees has risen to about 45 percent from 25 percent in 2013, helped by discounting tickets, according to organizers. They did not have earlier figures.

Talking about expertise

“This year a lot of the talks on our stages are touching on the [number of women in the sector],” Anna O’Hare, head of content at Web Summit, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But rather than women just talking about this, they are talking about the areas in which they are experts in tech.”

The tech sector has long come under scrutiny for inequality and its “bro-gamer” type of culture, referring to men who play video games.

Global organizations, including the United Nations and the European Commission, have spoken out about under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Facebook, Web Summit
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media on Capitol Hill. VOA

A 2016 report by the global consultancy McKinsey found women made up 37 percent of entry-level roles in technology but only 25 percent reached senior management roles and 15 percent made executive level.

The poll of women at the Web Summit found eight of every 10 women felt confident and respected in their roles, but they were divided when asked if they were treated the same as men, with 60 percent saying they were under more pressure to prove themselves.

Thirty-seven percent worried that women were offered leadership roles only to fill quotas.

While half of the women polled said their companies were doing enough to ensure equality, nearly 60 percent said governments were not active enough to address the imbalance.

Several tech company representatives have told the Web Summit of attempts to boost equality, with moves such as training staff in unconscious bias, deleting gender from CVs, ensuring that all short lists have women and improving maternity rights.

Google, Web summit
Google employees fill Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building during a walkout, Nov. 1, 2018, in San Francisco. Hundreds of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

Better results

Gillian Tans, chief executive at the online travel agent Booking.com, said it had been proven that companies with “more women in management positions actually perform better.”

Also Read: Silicon Valley, Google Walk Off To Protest Against Mishandling Of Sexual Harassment Cases

This comes after organizers of the Google protest and other staff said the company’s executives, like leaders at dozens of companies affected by the #MeToo movement, were slow to address structural issues such as unchecked power of male bosses.

Google’s head of philanthropy, Jacquelline Fuller, said she joined the walkout last week, admitting more needs to be done.

“We need to do a better job at creating a safe and inclusive workplace,” she said. “We need more women in tech.” (VOA)

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Women In India Turn To Technology To Stay Safe From Harassment

Police in many Indian cities are also encouraging women to use apps to register complaints

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Women, Harassment
Women stand at a crowded place in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, Oct. 9, 2006. Safety is the biggest concern for women using public and private transport, according to a survey Thursday. VOA

New web and phone apps in India are helping women stay safe in public spaces by making it easier for them to report harassment and get help, developers say.

Women are increasingly turning to technology to stay safe in public spaces, which in turn helps the police to map “harassment prone” spots — from dimly lit roads to bus routes and street corners.

Safety is the biggest concern for women using public and private transport, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey released Thursday, as improving city access for women becomes a major focus globally.

“Women always strategize on how to access public spaces, from how to dress to what mode of transport to take, timings and whether they should travel alone or in a group,” said Sameera Khan, columnist and co-author of “Why Loiter? Women And Risk On Mumbai Streets.”

#MeToo, Victim, Harassment
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician M.J. Akbar takes the oath during the swearing-in ceremony of new ministers, July 5, 2017, at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi. The Indian minister and veteran newspaper editor announced his resignation, Oct. 17, 2018, while still insisting that the accusations of sexual harassment are false. VOA

Reported crimes up 80 percent

Indian government data shows reported cases of crime against women rose by more than 80 percent between 2007 and 2016.

The fatal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012 put the spotlight on the dangers women face in India’s public spaces.

The incident spurred Supreet Singh of charity Red Dot Foundation to create the SafeCity app that encourages women across 11 Indian cities to report harassment and flag hotspots.

“We want to bridge the gap between the ground reality of harassment in public spaces and what is actually being reported,” said Singh, a speaker at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference on Thursday.

India, Harassment
Students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University participate in a protest demanding suspension of a professor accused of sexual harassment, in New Delhi. VOA

The aim is to take the spotlight off the victim and focus on the areas where crimes are committed so action can be taken.

Dimly lit lanes, crowded public transport, paths leading to community toilets, basements, parking lots and parks are places where Indian women feel most vulnerable, campaigners say.

Stigma attached to sexual harassment and an insensitive police reporting mechanism result in many cases going unreported, rights campaigners say.

Apps are promising

But apps like SafeCity, My Safetipin and Himmat (courage) promise anonymity to women reporting crimes and share data collected through the app with government agencies such as the police, municipal corporations and the transport department.

Students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University participate in a protest demanding suspension of a professor accused of sexual harassment, in New Delhi
People hold placards at a rally condemning the rapes of two girls, aged 8 and 11, in Ahmedabad, India. VOA

“The data has helped in many small ways,” said Singh of the Red Dot Foundation. “From getting the police to increase patrolling in an area prone to ‘eve-teasing’ to getting authorities to increase street lighting in dark alleys, the app is bringing change.”

Also Read: Women And Girls In Poor Countries Are Using Contraceptives More: Report

Police in many Indian cities, including New Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh, are also encouraging women to use apps to register complaints, promising prompt action.

“Safety apps are another such strategy that could be applied by women but I worry that by giving these apps, everyone else, most importantly the state, should not abdicate its responsibility towards public safety,” Khan said. (VOA)