/ Insights / Web Summit 2016: ‘Women in tech have to help other women’

Web Summit 2016: ‘Women in tech have to help other women’

Last week one of the biggest tech gatherings of the world took place in Lisbon. Web Summit 2016 was special in many ways. A record breaking 53.000 people attended the event, 900 thought leaders spoke about the future of tech and more than 1500 startups participated. It was also the year after the announcement to ‘commit to change’ the number of women participating in the Web Summit.

As a part of a larger initiative the Web Summit decided to give away 10.000 complimentary tickets to women to participate in all its events in the tech industry across the world. StartupJuncture spoke about this initiative with a number of Dutch female founders that attended the event. We inquired if the participation of women in tech is still an issue in the Netherlands and what we can do about it to make it better. We also spoke to Elonar MeGrath of the Web Summit about their plans for 2017 and the deputy Dutch ambassador for Lisbon Christianne Bleijenbergh-Schneiders about government initiatives.

The interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Cecile van der Waal, co-founder Printr

What do you think about women in tech at Web Summit?
It’s a really great initiative. I think I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I met a lot of great people, fellow entrepreneurs and I really liked the talks. They had a women in tech lounge. The women there, where only women were allowed, had mixed feelings, because of the special treatment they got. I didn’t necessarily agree with that. I think it’s definitely interesting to meet other women. When you’re a women in tech you don’t meet very often other women, so I think this was great. The Web Summit could improve on the number of speakers. Of the 900 there were only 90 speakers. In terms of the talks they could also have mixed the panels more.

What is your opinion about women in tech in The Netherlands?
Of course there is a difference between how men and women are treated. But I try not see it as a negative thing and not play the victim role. I don’t believe that brings any good. Initiatives like The Next Women are trying to make an effort and inspiring young women to be ambitious and not to believe people that tell them otherwise.

My personal experience as a woman in tech is that in the beginning I felt not taken seriously. I have heard from other female tech founders who are close friends that some male investors sad things like: ‘where is your male co-founder’ or ‘is it just you?’ So it does happen that prejudice takes hold, but I also experienced that after 2,5 years, after you have established yourself, it becomes less.

How can we improve the participation of women in tech?

Inspire young girls to believe that they can do whatever they want. Teach boys and girls that they are equal.

Felice van der Sandt – co-founder Rosa + Nine

What do you think about women in tech at Web Summit?
We make luxury bags for the working women that have a technological edge. So for me it made a lot of sense to visit this event and I have to say it was absolutely great. I really liked the fact that I didn’t feel outnumbered as a woman.

I think that the women lounge was really great. The investor lounge is the other way around. It’s all guys and you feel like a piece of meat when you walk in. 80 to 90% of investors are male. As a women you never know if they like you or your company. A point of improvement for the Web Summit might be to connect female founders with female investors that are also keen to coach.

What is your opinion about women in tech in The Netherlands?
I am amazed by how many company’s are being set up by women. This can even increase if women stick together and if men open up towards women as entrepreneurs. Ideally men and women should work together. My personal experience with gender inequality is that I have for instance received a text messages of investors an hour after our meeting, saying: ‘It was really nice meeting you, what are you doing tonight, do you want to go for a drink?’ I always think: ‘If I would have been a guy, would he have done the same.’

How can we improve the participation of women in tech?
I think women should help each other more by investing in each other and coaching each other. I think initiatives like The Next Women and leaders like Neelie Kroes really help and inspire us to do so.

Joni Smeenk – founder vatfree.com

What do you think about women in tech at Web Summit?
I think it was a good initiative, because most women are thinking about going to the event and this was just the last push they needed to give the event a try. The participation of women at the Web Summit had really influenced the dynamics this year seen in the diversity of startups that presented themselves. There was for instance more going on in the health and beauty section as well as in the animal section. The total atmosphere was very pleasant, because I as a women could connect more easily with a mixed group of men and women. I hope they follow through in the coming years, because more incentives are required to increase female participation. The Web Summit could do an even greater job by facilitating the flow of knowledge and know-how of established female founders or executives to female entrepreneurs just starting. For instance by organising master classes and coaching on upscaling and skill sets required to grow. They should also make it even more easy for these women to connect with each other.

What is your opinion about Women in Tech in The Netherlands?
I always thought there isn’t a gender issue in The Netherlands. But now in retrospect, having been 8 years in business, I discovered that I was discriminated at a couple of occasions because I am a women. It shocked me actually that I didn’t have the same opportunities as a white man. I could see for instance at netwerk events that I was actually rejected and seen as a person not to be taken as seriously, because I am women and coloured. The most striking example of this was a potential business partner I had set a meeting with and who canceled the meeting after sounding very interested. Later on I heard that this person was infamous for not wanting to do business with women. Another occasion is that people would respond more easier and talk about business chances with a friend of mine who has the looks of a hotshot Silicon Valley white male entrepreneur. More in general, women talk about issues such as being paid less, having less opportunities between the age of 25 and 35 years and being tested more often. The mindset ‘you’re a girl, you wouldn’t know’, still holds sway.

How can we improve the participation of women in tech?
I think that awareness is critical. For instance transparency about the wages of people in the same situation. They should be supported in that it’s okay that they can ask for transparency and same wages. Another very important thing is that women have to help other women. I think that doesn’t happen enough and I don’t know why. I think that specially women that are on the top of the food chain, they feel that they don’t have to provide positive discrimination and a result discriminate more.

Call for feedback

We also talked to Elenor McGrath of the Web Summit and the Dutch Deputy Ambassador in Lisbon Christianne Bleijenbergh-Schneiders about the change initiative and what could be done more to increase the participation of women in tech.

I think that the change initiative of the Web Summit is a great initiative said Bleijenbergh-Schneiders who had organized a side-event a pitch contest at the embassy. “It was a great succes with the co-founder of TomTom Corinne Vigreux as one of the jury members. But I have to say it’s still quite difficult to increase the participation of women. All the startup founders pitching were men. It’s a sector that is still dominated by men”, Bleijenbergh-Schneiders said. Adding: “Research shows that reaching a balance is good for business. That’s why the Dutch government in general is taking a range of initiatives to increase the participation of women in entrepreneurship. Trade missions is just one example.”

McGrath stated that 42 % of the total number of attendees of the Web Summit was women this year, up from 22 % last year. “I believe on good judgement that is the biggest gathering of female attendees at a tech event ever”, she said. McGrath wants to get that number even higher next year and calls on everybody to provide feedback. “Feedback is exactly what we want, so I would suggest everyone to get in touch and let us know what they think so we can make the event better and stronger next year.”

Image: Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

Samir Saberi

Entrepreneur | Co-founder @StartupsAnoniem, @StartupJuncture | Partner @StartupDelta | Node1| Tech Blogger| Samir is interested in and loves to work with crazy, dissident, rebel startups that challenge the status quo to make things better. Drop him a line at samir[at]startupjuncture[.]com

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