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Ada Fest shows female tech high fliers

A little green person landing from Mars at the 2017 Ada Lovelace Festival would be astonished to learn that, here on Earth, technology is very much a man’s world…

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Taking its inspiration from the inventor of computer programming Ada Lovelace  the annual festival celebrates the achievements of women in technology and encourages more female participation in what the Brits call STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) or STEAM if you add Art for a bit of creativity. The Germans, who hosted this year’s #ada17 festival in their capital city Berlin, refer to it as MINT Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaft, Technologie).

TechUK’s president Jacqueline de Rojas set the tone in her keynote, describing the tools that the UK needs in order to become a world-leading nation in digital technologies:

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from or what resources you have access to; tech rebalances all of that and presents an immense opportunity to reduce barriers to entry in both the world of work and at home. Imaginations can run wild and boundaries no longer exist.”

(Jacqueline de Rojas in Interview with Future Intelligence at Ada Fest 2017. Discussing Brexit’s future with technology, Alexa’s female persona and adding AI into the everyday). 

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Diversity and inclusion are watchwords at SAP, according to their Diversity Chief Anka Wittenberg. Their Indian subsidiary is actively recruiting autistic software developers and in an interview with Future intelligence she commented that they have created virtual diversity training courses so that all staff everywhere in the global company can access them at any time.  Wittenberg claims SAP’s success in meeting its 2017 diversity target of 25% female employees is proof that the systems work. She says they are even using technology to spot and change the words that the company uses to describe job vacancies:

“We have, for example, a success-factor product that shows the whole HR cycle and here specifically in our job postings we are using it to show where we have gender-biased language and it helps us to understand where it is and how to change it.”

Not only gender, but age, religion and physical disability are factors that SAP considers when recruiting its diverse teams for the traditional technology enterprise company and for the Accelerator where small startups create innovative uses for the Internet of Things – such as using drones or other devices to improve public services.

However, the rest of the German technology industry is less pro-active, and that is what prompted the new initiative launched in the city of Bremen to find and fund a new generation of female explorers. It’s the brainchild of a highly-successful business leader, Claudia Kessler, who supplies the space industry.

Claudia Kessler and team. Photo: dieastronautin.de

Her work inspired Claudia Kessler to launch “Die Astronautin” (the female astronaut). It’s a crowdfunding project to recruit and train the first German woman in space. She will perform scientific experiments on the International Space Station. Kessler predicts that data collected in space ( e.g for weather forecast, Earth observation, navigation) will be available for lower prices, better accessible for everyone and will improve the quality of life on Earth in many areas. Of course, the first German in space, Sigmund Kahn flew with the Soviet Soyuz 2 as a cosmonaut with Russian colleagues in 1978. And the first Briton in space was a woman, Helen Sharman OBE.  She joined the Mir Space Station in 1991 when she was only 27 years old and is now the Operations Manager at the Chemistry Department in London’s Imperial College.

Crowd-funded research to find out what living in space does to the female body

(Claudia Kessler in interview with Future Intelligence at Ada Fest 2017. Discussing female health in space, crowdfunding the next trip to the stars, and what this can teach us about life on earth). 
It may disappoint our extra-terrestrial visitor to learn that Ms Sharman was not a career scientist. She was selected in a competition to find the first British astronaut. At the time she was working in a factory in Berkshire where the name Mars was only associated with its best-selling product, the chocolate Mars bar. Further disappointment is in store: in UK engineering the gender pay gap has now grown to £10,000 a year and the proportion of female staff in all tech jobs (STEM) has dropped since 2015 to 21%, according to the campaign group WISE. Still the Ada Lovelace Festival does not discriminate on any grounds and makes both genders welcome, with men making up around ten percent of the speakers and participants. So being small, green, male and Martian would not matter – as long as he can accept that “women are from Venus!”

Andra Keay of Silicone Valley Robotics ©EUROFORUM Deutschland