One of the major themes at SXSW this year has been gender equality.
Not only was it the topic of yesterday’s keynote ‘The Elephant in the Valley’ but it’s also something that has come up time and time again in other speakers’ presentations. It’s not hard to see why – tech remains one of the industries with the lowest proportion of females in top roles.
In a lively panel this morning called ‘Dude, where’s my patriarchy?’, four prominent feminists discussed the prevalence of ‘bro culture’ in politics and the work place. They urged women not to accept this system – to question it when a male colleague gets the promotion before them, to have that awkward conversation about pay with their boss and to call it out when men talk over them or dismiss them in meetings.
It was also a talking point in an event with the cast and writers of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley‘ yesterday, as the show’s predominantly white male line-up was accused of propagating gender bias. The writers’ response was that they were unfortunately just representing the reality of start up culture in California – putting the onus on the people there in the room to start shaking things up.
And there is a sense that this is happening. Most sessions have been infused with a sense of optimism – a feeling that gender equality is heading in the right direction. Speakers have pointed out that both Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton are committed feminists who will push the necessary policy changes if the democrats win. When Obama tackled the issue in his electrifying keynote speech on Friday he pointed out the reforms that were already in place. And when Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was asked why contributors for his online encyclopaedia skewed so heavily to white males he announced plans to change the edit and contribution process. The current process requires a basic knowledge of coding – a traditionally male dominated field – but the new system will be much more open.
For now the world of tech remains a boys’ club in far too many ways. But if this year’s SXSW is anything to go by there is a generation of fierce, strong women coming through who are set on shaking things up.