Women In Tech Through The Lens of LeWeb

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Collaborative Econo-me

3DPrinter

What’s next?

This question plagues business people at every level, particularly due to the swiftly changing technological landscape that has characterized the market over the past few years. The power of prediction is a valuable tool in a marketer’s pocket, and it can mean the difference between being the number one recognized brand in an industry, and bankruptcy. The stakes are high in this “age of the customer,” as Forrester’s George Colony calls it, with customers demanding more transparency from the agencies that supply their products while entrepreneurs constantly rewrite what is expected of a company to provide to their consumers.

Jeremiah O_0

There is one trend that stands out among the rest, as evidenced by being a running theme throughout the presentations given at LeWeb Paris this year. This trend was categorized by Jeremiah Owyang, Chief Catalyst & Founder of the brand new Crowd Companies with idea of a collaborative economy.

This concept describes a marketplace in which consumers directly influence the products they purchase and the companies they patronize. Companies like U-haul and GE are recognizing the power of the consumer in the marketplace by giving individuals investment power and using the crowd to creative innovation.

The collaborative economy also includes the concept that more and more consumers are relying on themselves and their community to get the things they want, through means such as 3D printing and services like Etsy.com. This trend was born out of the Maker Movement, a cultural innovation that has given consumers freedom from manufacturing through personal fabrication.

Brit Morin

This DIY mentality is sweeping the marketplace, with platforms like Pinterest perpetuating the know-how for everyone to create the things they want and events like Maker Faire empowering users to cultivate a more hands-on approach to the products they use. This mentality has surpassed the individual level and seeped into the corporate world, establishing an expectation among consumers that companies will respond to the changes people want in their products, as vocalized through the many social media platforms available today.

Ultimately this trend allows people to rely on themselves to get the things they need, creating a personalized Econo-Me for anyone who is interested. With access to information and sharing becoming a cultural necessity, it is no surprise that people are quickly learning how to literally make the products that are important to them rather than relying on commercial manufacturing. As this consumer landscape shifts, the corporate landscape must shift as well: the organizations that recognize this and make the crowd part of their business models will end up being successful, and everyone will be better off for it.

Why I Want To Be BFFs With Guy Kawasaki

Maybe it’s because he said he doesn’t want any new friends. Maybe it’s because his last name is the name of a motorcycle company. Maybe it’s because we share a hobby of not speaking to people we’re seated next to on airplanes. Or maybe it’s because everything he says completely resonates with my perspective on the tech world right now. No matter the reason, I want to be best friends with Guy Kawasaki.

BFFs

Guy Kawasaki is a Silicon Valley author, investor, business advisor, former Chief Evangelist at Apple, and future best friend of yours truly. He was one of the first speakers at LeWeb Paris, and started by proclaiming, “If you look at the past, it’s impossible to predict the future” as the perfect antithesis to the theme of the conference. During his half hour conversation with LeWeb founder Loic Le Meur, Kawasaki used this framework to describe the future of entrepreneurialism, social media, and general technology.

He is the kind of guy who just “gets it.” He is certainly not the kind of person who entertains bullshit, cutting straight to the point when advising entrepreneurs to focus on developing a kickass prototype instead of trying to waste everyone’s time with Powerpoint pitches that are based more on fancy guesswork than reality. When it comes to tech culture he has a refreshing eye-roll attitude, even quizzing the audience about how many would realistically want to walk around wearing a Google Glass on their face. The result was pretty low.

During his time on stage we learned that he is a believer in the power of great content as a vehicle for brand propagation, following the NPR model of only asking for something after providing an amazing, unique experience to consumers. This deviates from the oh-so-standard norm of companies demanding evangelism up front only to fall flat on the promises they’ve made to the marketplace. He views social media as a means to an end, not a platform for accumulating superficial meta-friendships that distract from what’s meaningful in life.

Guy KawasakiHe’s like the prettiest girl at the prom

What ultimately resonated most with me was his response to a question asked about his position on women in the tech world. In an industry full of men and dominated by males, his answer was deeply refreshing:

“If you limit yourself to men only you make it so much harder. Why would you set up artificial barriers for your company? It’s stupid to me. I don’t care what gender, religion, orientation you are. Just show me a great frickin’ prototype.”

So even though Guy Kawasaki isn’t in the market for new social acquaintances, I am happy enough to have his message as a template to follow when it comes to identifying what’s important in the development of a company. Perhaps one day we will be seated next to each other on a plane, and our friendship will develop when we both say nothing.