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At ninth Web Summit, women in tech call for equal treatment

At one of the tech sector's largest global conferences, women leaders said more needed to be done to promote equality in an industry riddled with sexism. Last week, thousands of Google employees walked out to protest discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Ted Warren/AP
Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job on Nov. 1, 2018, in a protest against what they said is the tech company's mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives.

Women leaders in technology called at one of the sector's largest global conferences for more to be done to drive equality in the male-dominated industry now hit by the #MeToo debate.

The ninth Web Summit comes amid growing concerns about sexism in the tech world with thousands of Google employees walking out last week to protest the company's response to sexual misconduct and workplace inequality.

A poll of 1,000 women in tech by the Web Summit, given exclusively to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, showed nearly half, or 47 percent, said the gender ratio in leadership had not improved in the past year. Only 17 percent said it was better.

Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president for environment, policy, and social initiatives, said it was crucial to have more women in the sector.

"We can't accomplish what we need if women [aren't involved] in tech," Ms. Jackson, who was part of former President Barack Obama's administration, told the Web Summit in Lisbon.

About 70,000 people from 170 nations were at the conference where the number of women attendees has risen to about 45 percent from 25 percent in 2013, helped by discounting tickets, according to organizers. They did not have earlier figures.

"This year a lot of the talks on our stages are touching on the [number of women in the sector]," Anna O'Hare, head of content at Web Summit, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"But rather than women just talking about this, they are talking about the areas in which they are experts in tech."

The tech sector has long come under scrutiny for inequality and its "bro-gamer" type of culture, referring to men who play video games.

Lacking in leadership

Global organizations, including the United Nations and the European Commission, have spoken out about under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM).

A 2016 report by the global consultancy McKinsey found women made up 37 percent of entry-level roles in technology but only 25 percent reached senior management roles and 15 percent made executive level.

The poll of women at the Web Summit found 8 of every 10 women felt confident and respected in their roles, but they were divided when asked if treated the same as men, with 60 percent saying they were under more pressure to prove themselves.

About a third, or 37 percent, worried women were only offered leadership roles to fill quotas.

While half of the women polled said their companies were doing enough to ensure equality, nearly 60 percent said governments were not active enough to address the imbalance.

Several tech company representatives have told the Web Summit of attempts to boost equality, with moves such as training staff in unconscious bias, deleting gender from CVs, all shortlists having women, and better maternity rights.

Gillian Tans, chief executive at the online travel agent Booking.com, said it had been proven that companies with "more women in management positions actually perform better."

This comes after organizers of the Google protest and other staff said the company's executives, like leaders at dozens of companies affected by the #MeToo movement, were slow to address structural issues such as unchecked power of male bosses.

Google's head of philanthropy, Jacquelline Fuller, said she joined the walkout last week, admitting more needs to be done.

"We need to do a better job at creating a safe and inclusive workplace," she said. "We need more women in tech." 

This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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