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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

‘This is a Man’s World but it would be nothing, NOTHING without a woman or a girl’ - James Brown

Guest blogger, Twain Liu on the e-G8 Summit

Let’s start with some inspiring facts before we talk about the e-G8 technology forum which is preceding the main G8 summit this week. Ada Lovelace’s partnership with Charles Babbage in the 1840s led to the invention of the world’s first computer, the Difference Engine. Adele Goldberg’s collaboration with Alan Kay in the 1970s produced a programming language, smalltalk-80, which evolved into Objective-C. This language is what now runs 180+ million of Apple's innovations such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad; innovations that contribute to Apple's bottom line success and make it the world's #1 most valued brand. Meanwhile, Dame Wendy Hall’s contributions to the original WWW as well as its latest form, the Semantic Web, over the last 20 years alongside Sir Tim Berners-Lee and others is what enables technologies to be increasingly intelligent, open and democratic for global society.

These are some examples of what’s achievable when both genders put their minds together and their hands to work in the tech sphere.

The importance of diversity, inclusion and collaboration to foster innovation, informed decision-making and economic opportunity is never more pertinent than today when technologists and political leaders from G8 countries are gathering for a two-day forum in the Tuileries Gardens of Paris, France. Under discussion will be a range of policy issues concerning the Web and mobile spaces, including: innovation, education, intellectual property, privacy and economic growth. The French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, and the advertising group, Publicis SA, are co-hosting the event, which promises to produce agenda items for the main G8 summit happening in Deauville on May 26 and 27.

What’s notable about the list of speakers and panelists at the first ever e-G8 is the sub-optimal ratio of male:female speakers and panelists (approximately 12:1) as well as the absence of representation by consumer groups and banking technologists. The latter’s omission is surprising because it would seem G8 leaders aren’t exploring ways in which technology and better quality data can be leveraged to reduce the likelihood of another global financial crisis:
Therefore, it would seem that e-G8 organizers are missing opportunities to gain more diverse perspectives as well as to tackle genuine challenges that affect ordinary citizens who use the Web and mobile Web. Moreover, women constitute a sizeable percentage of the $ spent online and the e-G8 is about economics. According to Comscore's 2010 report: "In the U.S., women make up slightly less than half the internet users but make up for it by spending 58% of the commerce dollars." Meanwhile, Nielsens reported that US mobile consumer behavior in Q4 2010 shows in an average month, women send and receive 717 SMS text messages, 30% more than the 552 sent and received by men. More information about women's purchasing power online can be read in this TechCrunch article by guest writer, Aileen Lee, Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Interestingly, regarding the under-representation of women on the e-G8 panels, French parliamentarians passed a law on 13 January 2011 to increase the number of female board directors to 20% within the next three years and 40% within six years thereafter:
It would have been commendable and encouraging if the French e-G8 hosts had led the way in the implementation of this law and invited more leading women in the technology and policy sectors to contribute to the panels and propose agenda items for discussion. A number of key organizations, including Astia, Women2.org, Catalyst and Arianna Huffington’s WIE (Women Inspiration Enterprise), could have directed the e-G8 organizers towards these women and enabled them to “sit at the big table” --- in the way that Sheryl Sandberg described in her December 2010 TEDTalk:

There are women who aren't "leaving before we leave" and are available for consideration and invitation to participate on policy panels, operational boards and media interviews about the future of technology and global society. It's the responsibility of conference hosts and organisers such as e-G8 as much as of CEO executive search professionals to show initiative and seek those talented women out.

Interestingly, there’s an emerging wealth of research which shows that when women are involved at the board level they boost the diversity of decision-making, companies excel and outperform at the bottom line. For example, Catalyst Research report from 2008 shows Fortune500 companies with 3 or more female board members produced these results:

+ 73% return on sales
+ 83% return on equity
+ 112% return on invested capital
Obviously, the onus is also on female technologists to be proud of our achievements, to make others aware of our progress and to have the vision, initiative, drive and execution to earn those seats at the “big table”. It’s worth observing that, of the female panelists at the e-G8, Sheryl Sandberg is a rarity in that she has direct high-level operational experience at a technology company. More of her type is needed and should be fostered.

It’s vital that this and future generations of women are encouraged to pursue careers at the heart of business operations and where it impacts bottom line revenues: coding applications not only designing and marketing them; being responsible for P+L and not only in a supporting role; and, most importantly of all perhaps, making strategic revenue decisions as CEOs. In this way, when Web 3.0 happens journalists will be able to interview more female tech CEOs than they could in 2010:
For inspiration, please listen to this recent NYTimes podcast and appreciate some more how women have been at the forefront of technological innovations that have increased economic opportunities and growth for all. Whilst we're at it, let's admire the women at IBM, where they recently built the IBM Watson machine that won 'Jeopardy' and showed us the possibilities of more intelligent machines to filter through all the world's online data:
Clearly, female engagement is what makes the difference between innovation and economic potential versus stagnation and economic impasses.

James Brown’s 1966 soul standard does tell us a truth that’s worth bearing in mind as we take a moment to reflect on how far women have progressed and how much further we still have to go. Outstanding women including Oprah, Madonna and Arianna have walked those paths to show us that women are just as capable of becoming successful media and publishing titans as the Turners, the Rolling Stones and the Murdochs.

Yet there are still opportunities and “giant leaps” to be made, particularly in the technology and policy orbits and in light of the e-G8 forum. For 2012, a key mission statement should be that the ratio of male:female panelists at the “big table” of the e-G8 should be 50:50.

As a technologist, I’d like to close with this picture.

It shows how vision and innovation are what happen when both sides of our brains (50:50) work in synch.

We become.....Conscious!

‘It’s a Man’s World, but it would be nothing, NOTHING without a woman or a girl.’


Twain Liu is the founder of a mobile applications company. Her technology interests include: data structures, artificial intelligence and making sense (context) of content. Her career experiences include: technology consultancy; corporate finance; Strategic Investments (TMT) and corporate strategy, CEO-Chairman’s Office, Tier 1 bank; and Zephyr.com which was acquired by Bureau van Dijk.


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