At the risk of not being invited back to LeWeb, something has to be said. I hate to be critical because overall the conference has hosted some truly inspirational speakers and sessions, and I have learned a lot at what is undoubtedly the best tech conference I’ve attended, but on behalf of women everywhere a critique must be made.
There is a serious lack of females at this conference, which is one of the largest tech events in the world, let alone Europe. This phenomenon is not exclusive to LeWeb, but this conference is exemplifying the issue. The audience at LeWeb is populated by men. The speaker list is noticeably lacking in estrogen with only 9 out of 85 total speakers (10.5%) being female. The few women who have been given the opportunity to present are typically representative of stereotypically female industries, such as fashion.
Not that there’s anything wrong with fashion – it’s that the selection of women speakers predominantly from these industries is an incorrect and misleading sample of the landscape. I can think of hundreds of women that work in Straight Up Tech, engineering hardware and software, leading strategy initiatives, that could have been asked to join.
But most of them were not asked. LeWeb hosted a small group of female speakers, including a roundtable on female digital influencers that ended up being a disgrace, but also brought the entire gender issue to a head. When this handful of women – albeit amazing women (dare I say, people?) – were given their time to shine, they were all immediately reduced to their looks by the male hosts.
So when women were given the chance to speak, it was made very clear to the audience that what they said would be unimportant – at most secondary – relative to their physical appearances. And it was similarly made clear that it was important those physical appearances were satisfactory at a conventional level. God forbid any of these ladies be unacceptable looking – would they not have been asked to join if they were “ugly”?
When I vocalized to my fellow conference attendees that I felt a disproportionate male presence at LeWeb, I was met with, “Well, it’s the tech industry.” As if that’s some kind of an excuse? As if that’s a reason to not challenge the what is apparently the norm? And we all know there are plenty of perfectly qualified women that would make great additions to the event, making their collective absence even more noteworthy.
The good news is eventually people will have to recognize that amazing and innovative products are being created, and they won’t be able to ignore the fact that they have been made by women.
As a very smart person I know said, “You know you’re doing it wrong when the most interesting part about you is that you’re a woman.” The conversation shouldn’t even be about gender. It should be about tech, because that’s what we’re here for. I look forward to the day when that becomes a reality.
Ultimately I have to ask: is it really so insane that *women* should be acknowledged for the intelligence, ingenuity, and merit that men have? I challenge LeWeb to look far and wide to find speakers that exhibit these characteristics, which make this conference so inspiring, and ignore the differences in chromosomes. Be the front line for treating women with dignity. Implore your audience to revere femininity the same way we revere masculinity. Lead the tech industry in recognizing that women are valuable because we too are people who are innovating.
LeWeb, you have been amazing, and I can’t wait to see how you will lead the charge in granting women the respect we deserve.