General view of the Web Summit 2018 venue Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal on November 5, 2018. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ NUR PHOTO/ PEDRO FIUZA
General view of the Web Summit 2018 venue Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal on November 5, 2018. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ NUR PHOTO/ PEDRO FIUZA

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

The ninth Web Summit, taking place in Lisbon, comes amid mounting  concern about sexism in the tech world with thousands of Google employees walking out last week to protest against 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 47% said the gender ratio in leadership had not improved in the past year. Only 17% 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,” Jackson, who was part of former US president Barack Obama’s administration, said at the summit.

About 70,000 people from 170 nations were at the conference where the number of women attendees has risen to about 45% from 25% in 2013, helped by discounting tickets, according to organisers. 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 organisations, including the UN and the European Commission, have spoken out about under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

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

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

About 37% worried that 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% said governments were not doing enough to tackle the imbalance.

Several tech company representatives told at 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, CEO at online travel agent, said it had been proved that companies with “more women in management positions actually perform better”.

This comes after organisers 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 tackle 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 needed 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.”