June 18, 2015

Women in IT – diversity at WWDC

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Odecee expert Maria La Porta shares some observations from WWDC 2015 and what they could mean for women in technology…

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Monday June 8 – Day 1 of WWDC. We wake up around 4:30 am (thank you, jet-lag!) with a sense of urgency to get to the venue – we’d heard if the main auditorium fills up, we might get stuck watching the opening keynote from an overflow room. After flying such a long way, this was not an option! When we arrive at the Moscone Center around 5:30am, the line already stretches most of the way around the block…

As we wait to get inside, I have time to notice something interesting (albeit unsurprising): there are not many women here. Looking around I start to wonder what the ratio is. I overhear other people in the line wondering the same thing.

We finally get inside and take our seats – we’ve made it! Tim Cook steps up to the stage and opens the conference. In his introduction, he notes that 80% of attendees this year are first timers (I am one of those), and that there are 350 scholarship winners; the youngest is a 12-year-old girl from New York. “She is gonna have a fantastic future ahead,” he says.

Is this a sign of things to come?

Traditionally, the majority of presenters at the WWDC keynote have been men. In fact, since 2007 there have been only two women on the stage during the WWDC keynote in total (Jen Herman in 2010 and Stephanie Morgan in 2009).

In an interview with Mashable just before the 2015 conference, Cook was asked about the lack of women in previous WWDC keynotes, and responded, “Look tomorrow and let me know what you think. I totally agree with you. You’ll see a change tomorrow”.

And we did.

This year, two of the keynote presenters were women – Jennifer Bailey (Vice President, Apple Pay) and Susan Prescott (Vice President, Product Management and Marketing) spoke about Apple Pay and the new News app respectively. The Platforms State of the Union presentation following the keynote also included two female presenters.

This theme of ‘more women at WWDC’ seemed to continue during the whole event; I noticed quite a number of the sessions I attended throughout the week were co-presented by women.

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One particular highlight was a special mid-week lunchtime presentation by Debbie Sterling, the creator of the toy GoldieBlox, an engineering puzzle toy aimed at teaching young girls about engineering. After repeatedly being told the product would fail because “girls are not interested in engineering” and “you can’t fight nature”, Sterling eventually launched a successful Kickstarter campaign and is now selling GoldieBlox in 6000 stores worldwide. During the talk, she described her quest to “disrupt the pink aisle” and show the world women and men alike share a love of engineering and that nature isn’t the problem.

There was also a ‘Women in Technology’ get-together later that same day, where attendees could gather into informal discussion groups on topics such as leadership, innovation, and overcoming stereotypes. This Meetup was open to all, not just women.

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So what does all this mean?

In the Mashable interview, Tim Cook spoke further about gender imbalance in IT: “I think it’s our fault — ‘our’ meaning the whole tech community. I think in general we haven’t done enough to reach out and show young women that it’s cool to do it and how much fun it can be.” He also acknowledged the importance of having diverse role models: “I think mostly people look up and see, you know, I’m like that person and I see what they can do.”

It seemed to me Apple was really taking steps towards ramping up their efforts in diversity at this year’s WWDC. Increasing the visibility of the women on the stage (and not just for the sake of fulfilling a quota – the presenters I saw were all talented experts on their topics) was encouraging and inspiring. Hopefully the effect in the long run is that more women will want to get involved and – more importantly – stay involved in the industry.

I don’t know what the official ratio of women to men at WWDC 2015 was, but just from my own observations, I’d guess about 1:20. There is still a long way to go.

Personally, I really enjoyed my first WWDC. There is so much to learn and absorb in the sessions and labs, and hearing so many gold nuggets of information straight from the mouths of the engineers who wrote the code is unbeatable. I’m looking forward to going again in future, and hopefully seeing the number of women around me increase. Ultimately, I hope that one day the ratio will be 1:1.

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(For perhaps the first time in history, the line for the men’s is longer than the line for the women’s…)

 

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Categorised in: Digital, Industry

This post was written by Maria La Porta