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"I think there is much less misogyny in Ireland"

Recent developments suggest things are on the up for diversity in the tech sector, but there is still a long way to go.

TECH HAS A DIVERSITY problem, and always had one to begin with.

With more companies releasing their own diversity reports in recent times, the demographics are skewed heavily towards men.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter  are just a few examples of where this is the case and when you’re dealing with products that are used by a large number of people from different backgrounds, it doesn’t make sense that only one demographic shapes them.

It’s not a problem that’s going to be solved overnight, instead this is a long-term problem that will see gradual solutions being introduced.

There are initiatives that are trying to address this imbalance. Organisations like WITS (women in technology and science) try to bring women into this industry and retain them, while others like InspireFest hope to help by bringing these individuals to the fore.

The latter is an event run by Silicon Republic, bringing these different groups together. It’s something its CEO Ann O’Dea and her co-founder Darren McAuliffe have been working on for years after seeing the vast majority of panels dominated by men.

After finding this to be “incredibly boring”, they started running leadership events for women six years ago before, both to highlight those in the sector and to highlight the usual excuse of panel organisers claiming they weren’t able to find women to participate.

While the main focus is women in tech, O’Dea calls it a “kaleidoscope of diversity” not only dealing with gender, but with minority groups like LGBT.

The other important element was including the arts as well, a sector that regularly overlaps with science and technology since the latter has become a major part of our day-to-day lives.

Purposely, it’s quite wide. To break down the silos of science and technology is one part because the convergence is so massive now. A lot of these events are either very web-based or they’re very academic so we’re trying to mix the academic with the futuristic with the creative because all of these people should be working together. We’re amazed at how these people haven’t met before… [even when it's] just the Irish audience.”

Ann O'Dea Silicon Republic CEO Ann O'Dea.

Although when events or initiatives like this emerge, so too do the criticisms. The obvious two are if someone is good enough for a position, they’ll be hired regardless of gender or background, or that such initiatives portray men to be the enemy.

Dealing with the latter, such issues are solved by involving everyone and it was essential that it wasn’t an event only for women. Of the 2,000 people attending, 30% are male which O’Dea finds encouraging, but while the problem is complex, the immediate answer was anything but.

“There are all sorts of societal pressures, the whole issue is so complex,” says O’Dea. “But for us, it was incredibly simple that you only change the ratio and environment. If people get used to seeing, not token women, but seeing the very capable, remarkable women at their tech events, the more it becomes normalised.”

It shouldn’t be relevant if you’re male or female, it should only be relevant if you’re remarkable.

Also, qualifications is only a part of the hiring process, and no matter how independent and logical you are, you are inevitably going to be influenced by your environment and experiences, both the positive and negative.

While it may be true that the majority of software developers are male, that perception alone can dissuade women from getting involved (If you wanted an inverse example from a different industry, most primary school teachers tend to be female which in turn can result in the same conclusion for men).

The other problem isn’t getting women or minorities into the industry, it’s keeping them there.

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Work isn’t just about having a set of skills, the culture of a workplace, people’s attitudes towards each other, and even unconscious bias, our beliefs and values that are established from our lives, play a role and can determines how certain demographics are treated on a day-to-day basis.

That’s a more difficult problem to address and one without a clear answer. For now, it’s a case where chipping away at it, and gradually breaking down the barriers that surround this is the best approach, according to O’Dea.

“They’re [women] leaving exactly at a time where we need talent, we can’t afford for any area to be leaving a sector as big as tech and science so those small things are incredibly important,” explains O’Dea.

I don’t think you can put that too much into people’s faces as they’ll clam up and they’ll forget, but if you gradually wear people down by ensuring that in their sector that it becomes unacceptable, that is the only way you’re going to make a change in my view.

Ultimately, such changes are going to be gradual and while there’s still a long way to go, there are reasons to be optimistic. The recent referendum on same-sex marriage shows that the majority of Irish people are inclusive and could also set a similar trend for the tech industry.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of being open to the idea that our definition of ‘normal’ might not be as normal as we once thought.

“In Ireland, we’re pushing an open door to some extent. I do think there is much less inequality and misogyny in Ireland and the yes vote is a really good sign that Irish people are welcoming.”

“Ireland has an opportunity to lead the way here, we could be the opposite of Silicon Valley where they have the opposite problem of misogyny and women leaving tech. Ireland can be a place where we do the opposite, I really do think so.

InspireFest is a three-day event taking place in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from 18 – 20 June.

Read: Two of Ireland’s biggest phone and internet players want to get together >

Read: Is your area FINALLY going to get super-fast broadband? >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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