Tech Industry Sexism is Exhausting: The Importance of Showcasing High-Profile Female Innovators

Written by Tammy Lynn Gilmore | September 18, 2013

Esther Dyson was one of many high-profile female speakers at SXSW 2013

Tired. That's how I felt when I saw the recent headlines about sexism at TechCrunch Disrupt, Penny Arcade Expo and Business Insider. After clicking through and gobbling up the lurid reports as eagerly as anyone else, I had an overwhelming feeling of fatigue. I'm tired of the stereotypes in the tech industry.

As a tech event organizer, I despair to watch sexism take center stage when there are so many people with extraordinary ideas who deserve the attention. I say this sincerely and wholly without schadenfreude, as my colleagues and I have tangled with bad publicity ourselves more than once. We have not always lived up to our own standards of diversity as much as we could have. I know the pressure of deadlines and the scramble to get things done when you're putting on a big event. I know the feeling of rejection and failure when the same community you've grown to love – that you anticipated would spark enlightening and engaging discourse – lets you down or calls you out.

I am tired of having to deal with the sexism that is one aspect of tech culture. I'm reminded that actively seeking out talented women in the tech community is a small, but important step toward change. It's a bitter reality that no matter how hard we work to take one step forward for women in tech, a few incidents can instantly catapult us backward. It tells me that it's not enough for roughly 30% of the speakers at the SXSW Interactive Festival to be women. It's obvious that though we had speakers like Anne-Marie Slaughter, Julie Uhrman, Esther Dyson, Ping Fu, Ariel Waldman, Tina Roth Eisenberg, Susan O'Connor, Jane Pratt, Randi Zuckerberg, Paula Kerger and Brenda Brathwaite Romero among many others at this year's event, we can't kick back and congratulate ourselves just yet. We have to keep pushing to get more women involved because it won't happen by itself in the current climate. 

But I have hope. I hope that the backlash and the sheer number and vehemence of people speaking out against a culture of sexism will prove that we aren't at all happy with the status quo, that we want change. I hope that nine-year-old hackathon competitor Alexandra Jordan will take what she learned about public speaking and grow up into one of the accomplished women we one day invite to speak at our event. I hope that soon the news will not revolve around fighting the many faces of sexism, but rather on many and varied contributions of women past and present. I hope that next time I click a headline about a woman in tech, my fatigue is forgotten and instead I get the chills that come from knowing I've stumbled upon the next big thing. 

So what exactly is SXSW Interactive doing to showcase the many contributions of females in the tech industry at our March 2014 event? Stay tuned to this website on Monday, October 14 when we announce the bulk of programming content for next spring.

Esther Dyson at SXSW 2013. Photo by Tammy Camp.