A SXSW Reflection

My name is Julia Maltby and I’m the Director of Campaigns here at Plum Alley. Thursday I set off to Austin, Texas for five incredible days at South by Southwest, or SXSW.  For anyone who is not familiar, SXSW is a yearly technology festival, notorious for outstanding tech-related panels and events.  Having returned from my trip and spent some time reflecting, here is a short recap of my time in Austin.

One of the most amazing aspects of SXSW was its impressive spread of female-led panels and discussions.  Of all those I was able to attend, the one that stuck with me the most was “She’s a C Word: Lessons from Tech’s C-Suite Women,” which featured Lyft’s CMO Kira Wampler, Pandora’s CSO Sara Clemens, and BlogHer’s CEO Lisa Stone.  My biggest takeaway from this panel was that if women want to advance in their careers – especially within the tech space – they have to start asking more of their families outside of work.  If women continue to do more than 50% of the work at home, they’re doing their careers, and accordingly themselves, a disservice.  One of the suggestions proposed by the panel to help alleviate this issue is for men holding prominent positions within companies to make a point of leaving the office “on time” to take care of familial obligations.  This action will set a standard that it is okay to have commitments outside of work, and may encourage other fathers and husbands within the company to do the same.

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Considering many of the panels I attended at SXSW were around female entrepreneurship, the audiences were generally filled almost exclusively with woman.  However, the more time I spent at SXSW, and the more panels I attended around topics not specifically pertaining to women, the more I noticed female-led panels provided a highly unrealistic sample set of SXSW’s gender breakdown.  Based on my observations, there seemed to be at least two or three men to every woman in the overall crowd at SXSW.  Again, this breakdown varied somewhat depending on panel content.  But for the most part, unless the topic of a panel was specifically centered around women, you could count on two hands how many females were in the audience.

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Another gender-related issue I noticed at SXSW was the responses to questions asked by women, versus those asked by men, during the Q&A portions of panel discussions led by men.  I want to preface this observation by stating that SXSW offers thousands of events and panels, of which I only attended a small subset.  That being said, at several of those I was able to attend, when a woman asked a tech-related question it was answered in way that seemed slightly high-and-mighty or belittling.  One male panelist even answered a woman’s completely informed and appropriate question with a dismissive, “Let’s stay on topic, please.”

My last critique of SXSW, which I somewhat already alluded to, was the lack of men in attendance at female panels, or at panels where gender-related issues were the topics of conversation.  If gender equality and representation are going to improve in the tech space, men have to be willing to be a part of the conversation.  A big thank you to all the male allies that did attend female led panels or panels around gender equality.  But, to all the others, please consider taking a more active role in joining in on these critical conversations.

Overall, SXSW was unquestionably an eye opening experience.  Although many of my reflections were unfavorable, the good news is that Plum Alley is living the solution.  We encourage female entrepreneurs to come forward and launch a campaign, as well as women and men capable of supporting female entrepreneurs to step up and fund projects on Plum Alley.

Julia Maltby

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