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Interview with Sue Black – Tech evangelist and keynote speaker at Apps World 2015 Article

This week we have a real exclusive interview with our keynote speaker Sue Black.

Sue shares her thoughts about Women in Tech and the industry, how she has championed women in tech and now inspires many others plus let us know who is inspiring her today.

Join Sue @ our Disrupt Keynote Arena this forthcoming November 18 as she interviews her good friend Martha Lane Black in a candid interview session. Book your free expo pass here.

Read this exclusive interview below


Apps World: Hi Sue. You’re speaking on ‘Women in Tech’ at Apps World 2015 in November. What’s your experience of the conference scene been like, going back?

Dr Sue Black: My PHD was technical, and the conferences I went to then were about 95% male, and it was, for me, as a young, not very confident woman, quite alienating, in that I was scared to talk to anybody. That’s one of the reasons actually that I set up the BCSWomen online network, so that there were lots of other women I could chat to online – even if I didn’t meet many other women at conferences.

At the first conference I went to, actually, my PHD supervisor had told me I should talk to people, and I was a bit scared but I did it. A guy gave a really interesting and fun presentation so I thought he’d be down to earth. I went over and chatted to him, and we had a nice chat but afterwards and for the rest of the conference he kept staring at me all the time and I couldn’t really work out why. I thought I’d done something wrong but it only occurred to me about ten years later that he probably thought I was chatting him up – and he was looking at me because of that! I had no sense of that at all, and it didn’t dawn on me for several years.

No way!  I recently attended Cloud South East Asia in Kuala Lumpur, and was struck by the fact that there was about a 50/50 split in male and female attendees. Why are conferences in the UK – and tech in general – so predominantly male?                                       

Well that reminds me that I saw a presentation of a research paper maybe about ten years ago now, where they had done some investigation into working out the factors why are there so fewer women in tech in the UK (and also looked Germany and New Zealand) than Malaysia. And they weren’t very happy with the results, which showed that basically the women in Malaysia had help at home, so basically housekeepers or live-in housekeepers. Basically that women in Malaysia, if they wanted to work, didn’t have to do any domestic work or look after the children.

Yes someone did say over there how much more affordable domestic help is…

Yes and I guess there’s more of a two tier society I suppose, where more people work ‘in service’.

Not necessarily such a good thing!

Exactly – it’s such a depressing thing.

But it also does underscore the importance of child care.

Absolutely, and for everyone to share the domestic work equally.

Arguably, though, surely for a woman getting started in tech, the question of childcare etc. isn’t relevant for most? There has to be cultural reasons behind the disparity …

Yeah I’m sure that’s part of it too. It’s like if you ask any school kids or anybody to think of a scientist – even me, and I know so many female scientists, and I’ve been a campaigner for women in tech for twenty years, if you say the word ‘scientist,’ in my head is a man in a white coat. It’s there whether I  like it or not.

It’s how we’ve been brought up, and the culture around us, which really colours the way we see everything. When I was talking about women in tech ten or fifteen years ago, I’d get quite a few people very resistant to even thinking it was something worth thinking about – women as well as men. And I think people saw it as ‘men against women’ which I don‘t think it is at all. It’s more ‘us versus our entrenched culture.’ We can’t even see what we’re doing half the time.

Things have obviously changed a great deal in that period however – at the very least the debate is a lot more widespread. What role has technology itself played in this, would you say?

I think, people are talking about how all of this works and what’s happening and where we’ve moving to so much more and I think social media has made a massive difference. It’s enabled us to see just different people’s opinions that we couldn’t see before, but also to see what’s happening on a larger scale. I don’t know if you know the everyday sexism project, a young woman called Laura Bates who got harassed on the street three times in one day, and was fed up with it.  She wanted to know if other people are experiencing it too, so she set up a website and used the hashtag #everydaysexism and invited everyone to contribute their stories of the same kind of things to see how much this was happening, and was just completely deluged with stories and people talking about it. That couldn’t have happened twenty years ago. And instead of all these things and stories happening to individuals and staying with them, they’re now able to see they’re happening on a massive scale to so many women.

Finally, in terms of apps in general, what’s inspiring you at the moment – and what do you think is the key to successful mobile innovation?

I love anything which is disrupting industries and what I like about it is not just that it puts the customer in touch with service provider and gets rid of the middleman – it’s that it also streamlines things. I really like that streamlining feeling where, now you don’t have to have several people in the middle of whatever service your providing or paying for, you can just contact directly with the other partner.

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