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17 May 2015
TNC15 highlights importance of women in ICT
Members of the ‘Women in ICT’ panel and audience at TNC15 on Monday 15 June.

A number of sessions at this year’s networking conference, TNC15, have shone a spotlight on the under-representation and role of women in our research and education networking community and in the technology sector in general; areas in which men still predominate. On Monday, a panel discussion and a lightning talk brought attention to some personal experiences and issues, and on Wednesday Avis Yates Rivers addressed the matter during her plenary speech ‘Unconscious Biases: Addressing Stealth Barriers to Innovation & Productivity’.

A quick show of hands in Monday’s lightning talk confirmed the ‘Dave rule’ was true among its audience: the number of men with a common name such as Dave exceeded the number of women present in the room. Ann Harding (SWITCH), who presented the talk, described how the idea that girls are less well equipped for technical subjects is rooted in early experiences in which “a boy simply makes mistakes as an individual but a girl makes mistakes on behalf of her gender”. And as adults, she said, the dominant image of women at technical events is often not as contributors or experts but as accessories and their participation as mere adornments is “bordering on soft-porn in some of the more consumer-oriented events”.

Monday's 'Women in ICT' panel was chaired by Nicole Harris (GÉANT) and included Ingrid Melve (UNINETT), Avis Yates Rivers (Technology Concepts Group), Ana Hunsinger (Internet2) and Cathrin Stöver (GÉANT). Ana and Ingrid both attributed their success in reaching senior roles in part, to being fortunate in their employers and Ana also highlighted that women often have to work twice as hard. Cathrin said that a man would not put his success down to such factors, but say "I am successful because I am me". She warned that women also have their own unconscious bias and blind spots, and added that we - as a community of professionals - need to have awareness and enable young girls and women to have opportunities and recognition. Ingrid also advised: "if your boss is unsupportive, move on quickly; and never underestimate the power of paternity leave".

In the panel discussion, Avis said that unconsious bias is the biggest obstacle preventing women and people of colour from progressing in technology roles, and we are bombarded from an early age with messages supporting stereotypes and negative views. During her plenary speech Avis showed how workplace diversity improves innovation and corporate success. She explained a range of ways in which gender biases can intersect with biases regarding factors such as race, religion and sexuality, as well as institutional barriers such as biased recruitment.

What can we do?

Avis provided several tips on what individuals and companies can do to counter unconscious biases. She said it is important for men to stand up as advocates and she gave ten examples of how to do this.

In her lightning talk Ann Harding called for an 'equality true' approach, explaining that to be fair is not necessarily to treat men and women the same, but to recognise any bias or undercurrent and that sometimes we need to behave differently or make other changes in order to ensure the same opportunities are available for all.

To develop these themes further and find a positive way forward, Cathrin and Ann called an informal Birds-of-a-Feather meeting on Wednesday lunchtime for all interested TNC15 participants.

Further information

There is more information on the TNC15 website about Ann Harding's lightning talk and Avis Yates Rivers’ plenary presentation.

GÉANT operates a TNC Code of Conduct to ensure a harassment-free conference experience for all participants, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.

About TNC

TNC is the largest and most prestigious research networking conference, regularly attracting over 650 participants, including decision makers, networking specialists and managers from all major European NRENs, universities, sister institutions and industry. Through keynote speeches by renowned specialists and many other sessions, TNC presents an overview of the latest developments, both technical and in the areas of application and management.

TNC15 is organised by GÉANT and hosted by FCT|FCCN, Portugal's unit for the operation of the National Research and Education Network within the funding agency for science and research in Portugal. The conference is being held on 15-18 June 2015 in Porto. All information, including the full conference schedule can be found on the TNC15 website.