What Nashville’s tech community can learn from SXSW

What Nashville’s tech community can learn from SXSW

In its 22nd year as an incubator of technology and digital creativity, Austin’s wildly popular South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival hit a chord that reverberated well beyond its more than 50,000 attendees: It’s time to level the playing field for more women in tech.

Aside from more than a few conference sessions that obviously put the topic on the table at face value, such as “End to Brogramming: How Women Are Shaping Tech,” the conference, which fosters collaboration and innovation of all kinds, put a strong emphasis on encouraging diversity across the spectrum.
In fact, this obvious enthusiasm behind empowering women leaders can teach us all in the tech industry how we can create a more inclusive, diverse and creative technology environment.

Encourage event organizers to include women

SXSW Interactive organizers clearly made it a point to include women in every aspect of the conference. Women represented three of the five keynote speakers at the conference, and made up a significant portion of its panelists and speakers — shedding light on anything from the Internet of Things to talking cars and social robots.

Acknowledging women’s leadership roles and sheer talent in this field is a step in the right direction. As our own tech conferences and events are planned in Nashville, it’s important for event organizers to make a conscious effort to make keynote speakers and panel participants diverse.

Address women’s issues

More than just representation, SXSW also didn’t shy away from discussing topics important to women in the tech industry. In fact, there were several panel discussions and core conversations on everything from “Boardroom or Baby” to “Get a Seat in the C-Suite: Fostering Women Leaders.”

Starting this kind of dialogue allows women to address issues and concerns within the industry and, in return, receive some guidance on best practices from those who have gone before them. The issues are out there — so why ignore them?

Learn from your peers

Being underrepresented in the industry can foster a natural feeling of alienation that can easily translate into industry burnout. To counter this, SXSW hosted the Ipsos Girls’ Lounge, offering pro-female programming and perks, to foster such networking among women and encourage industry conversations.

It’s helpful to have a trusted environment where peer discussion can happen without intimidation. Plus, being in a room full of inspiring women lends itself to more inspiration — along with key networking opportunities. While a “girls only” club is probably not necessary at every event, the Girls’ Lounge does speak to the value of carving out time to engage with other women within the industry.

Make your voice heard
It didn’t take long for social media to explode after Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt began interrupting his co-panelist, U.S. Chief Technology Officer and former Google executive Megan Smith, during a SXSW panel discussion as the dialogue turned toward diversity issues.

When an audience member called Schmidt’s actions into question during a Q&A session, he remained silent while Smith acknowledged workplace inequality. Many applauded this audience member for her boldness in addressing unconscious bias. After all, it will take a lot more work for gender gaps to close as long as we remain tight-lipped.

Close the gap for everyone

While women need more opportunities in the tech industry, we’re not alone in under-representation — and SWSX made a point to remind everyone about this. Diversity of all kinds, including gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background and more in our field translates into more perspectives, better collaboration and ultimately improved results.

Not only were many SXSW sessions deliberate in setting up a multi-perspective discussion on a micro level — such as when men also participated in many of the female focused discussions — but the conference actively sought out participants who: are not regular speakers on the tech circuit; have differing opinions on tech-related matters; are diverse in gender, ethnicity and background; and are from outside of the United States.


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