The experience of being a woman at a tech conf – a WebSummit 2023 recap
Attending this year's WebSummit catapulted me out of my bubble. My bubble was comfortable. I liked it there. But, WebSummit showed me that much more needs to be done to integrate women into the digital space. But let's start at the beginning.
The WebSummit in a nutshell
Along with 70,000 other attendees, I had the opportunity to attend the WebSummit in Lisbon thanks to a Women in Tech ticket. It is much cheaper than regular tickets and comes in a package of two. So I took one of my best friends with me on a trip to Lisbon.
Let's face it, attending such a big conference is an experience. Lots of people, lots of queues, lots of things happening simultaneously (e.g. talks, pitches, events). I met some wonderful people and witnessed some great ideas, but the overall experience was not that great.
As Florian Bauer summarised in his recap, several high-profile companies, including Amazon, Google and Meta, pulled out of the event due to a political statement made by the ex-CEO of the WebSummit. This was especially unfortunate for all attendees. Most people can't afford to cancel their entire trip two weeks before the event. The lack of well-known speakers and companies meant the talks were less varied. Especially for me as a developer, there were not many intriguing discussions on stage that I could learn from. Most topics just scratched the surface, and many talks seemed to repeat themselves: "AI is the new big thing that can make you rich, but (maybe) we should consider ethics." How, you might ask? I don't know either.
We need more women in tech
Aside from the uninspiring conference programme at the Websummit, there are a few other things I would like to point out. I wouldn't say these are problems with the Websummit per se, but with the technology space in general. As I said, at home, I am in my comfortable bubble of women empowering each other and men respecting you for your abilities. Attending this conference showed me how much work still needs to be done. Why?
1. It's often a sausage party
I know I shouldn't be surprised. But I am a bit. Walking around the Websummit and talking to startups, many were built by and for men. And it shows. I would like to see more diverse teams thinking about the needs of women and minorities.
2. WhY iS tHiS fOr WoMeN oNlY?
My Women in Tech ticket gave me access to the Women in Tech lounge at the conference. When I got there, I was surprised by the number of men in the lounge. When I later expressed my surprise in a group setting, I was interrupted by a man who said, "Well, I like the fact that everyone can access the lounge. It's stupid that only women can go in." I asked why. (Hold your Prosecco, please) "Because when only women get together as a group, they create such a scary dynamic. I don't like it." Well, if it isn't fragile masculinity.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not angry that men were in the lounge. I'm just a little disappointed. Being at a male-dominated conference for three days straight is exhausting, and I would have liked to have had a space to withdraw for a moment and spend time with like-minded people.
3. Sexism in the workplace
I wasn't prepared for some of the unhinged comments I received when networking in a business context. "You can code? You give me more of a project manager vibe." or "Oh, I love your glasses, you look like a sexy nerd.". Like everyone else, I was there to meet new people, make connections and expand my network. Not to deal with unprofessional sexist comments.
In summary, I'll definitely be reconsidering my attendance next year. As it was mostly an exhausting experience, I would like to spend my time on conferences I really value (like beyond tellerrand). But I also hope to make a difference by sharing my experiences here. If you are a man and reading this, maybe I made you aware of what is still happening in our shared space. We need more allies to make change happen. Please take a minute to think about how you can help empower and include people in tech to create a more diverse community. Any help and small step in the right direction will be greatly appreciated.
Now, I'm going offline for a few days to recharge my social batteries.
Much love, Daniela