“We can’t all be Sheryl f****** Sandberg” - highlights from Leeds International Festival’s tech headliner

Conventional wisdom dictates that you cannot be what you cannot see. With many of us tired of the stereotype of technology as a bespectacled boys club, it is more important than ever that we empower diverse voices in fields that are lacking in parity.

Making up 67% of speakers on the digital strand of Leeds International Festival, Tech is an area where women are making their voices heard. And there’s plenty waiting to listen - women of all ages, ethnicities and professions (plus a few men peppered through) piled into the new dock for the ‘Empowering Women With Tech’ conference.

The atmosphere was instantly collaborative – lone attendees bonding together to chat, large groups clambering into the photobooths, all manner of business cards and Twitter handle exchanges filling the room. With so much wisdom in the air, we noted down some of the best advice and exciting new things we learnt across the highly inspiring day.

Pick terrible role models – after all, if they manage to get by, why can’t we?

Get ready for the internet of things

Founder of Stemettes, Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE opened the conference with a fascinating and well-humoured talk about the importance of encouraging young girls to consider careers in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Mathematic) fields.

The highlight of her talk was her explanation of the internet of things, which promptly sent us in a Google rabbit hole during the break. Brace yourself for machines that reward retweets with sweets, self-driving cars and digital content creators that fill new websites with killer articles and make the tea (we can but dream).

170502 Empowering Women Anne Marie Imafidon By Luke Hannaford
Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE Luke Hannaford

Your fandom can be an asset

A self-confessed Kylie Minogue addict from the age of five, VP of Digital at Warner Records Emmy Lovell pinches herself regularly that she gets to work with so many huge artists, Miss Minogue included.

While many of us suppress our most fannish tendencies for fear of humiliation, Lovell’s talk reminded us of the power of enthusiasm when channelled professionally, reiterating that true success is only possible when you really love what you do. Despite what vinyl snobs will tell you, she’s pretty convinced that the digital future of music is in safe hands and noted the influence of youth markets – “Young people know no boundaries and we work really hard to keep up and make their dreams a reality.”

170502 Empowering Women Emmy Lovell By David Lindsey
Emmy Lovell David Lindsey

Don’t wait to be an expert – just get going!

Aside from serving us serious dress and shoe envy (we wouldn’t expect anything less from one of the world’s best fashion bloggers), Susie Bubble’s down-to-earth chat about all things fashion and content creation was a fascinating insight into the many hats one has to wear when carving out a personal brand.

Despite achieving dizzying heights of popularity that many bedroom bloggers could only dream of, she encouraged her audience to simply get going – whether you have 15 followers or 50,000, Susie believes the digital landscape has room for everybody’s voices and great content will always rise to the top.

But what about life after Instagram? Susie reckons the next big tech innovation will include a platform that returns to more longform reads – ideal for those bored of scrolling through endless selfies and photos of avo toast.

170502 Empowering Women Susie Bubble By Luke Hannaford
Susie Bubble Luke Hannaford

It’s time to join the sharing economy

A serial entrepreneur born and bred in our very own Leeds, Debbie Wosskow OBE is the definition of #careergoals and graft – rising each morning at 5.20am anyone? While her sleep routine isn’t for everyone, her highly pragmatic business advice had everybody in the room frantically taking notes.

If you’re been thinking about going it alone, 2017 is the year for self-employment in the ‘sharing economies’ – building flexible careers around ‘selling’ platforms such as Etsy, AirBnB or eBay just got that little bit easier thanks to Debbie’s successful lobbying for tax breaks for people in these industries. Go forth and girlboss!

170502 Empowering Women Debbie Woskow By David Lindsay
Debbie Wosskow OBE David Lindsay

If you empower mothers, you empower everybody

Thanks to Whitney, we all know that children are the future - but through her inspirational project #techmums, Dr Sue Black OBE has found that it’s important for mums to keep learning too.

Having discovered that a Mother's level of education and the stability of a home learning environment are the two most important factors in a primary-school-child’s development, her project works on the principle that engaging mothers in skills of coding, e-commerce and create software will empower social change. Now might be the time to finally accept your Mum’s friend request…

170502 Empowering Women Dr Sue Black By David Lindsay
Dr Sue Black OBE David Lindsay

Pick bad role models, and raise up your local voices

It’s hard to know where to start on condensing the wisdom of Lauren Laverne – like any good radio host, her friendly talk was full of valuable soundbites from her experiences of working in radio and co-founding The Pool, a lifestyle website for those short on time.

Insistent that women are terrible at holding themselves to impossible standards (“We can’t all be Sheryl f******* Sandberg”, she raised a laugh by suggesting that we all pick terrible role models instead – after all, if they manage to get by, why can’t we? She was also keen to stress that London isn’t everything – with Leeds racking up the third-most popular readership on The Pool, your voice is just as powerful no matter where it’s based. Rounding off a stellar day of contributions, the North is looking just fine to us.

170502 Empowering Women Lauren Laverne By David Lindsay
Lauren Laverne David Lindsay

To explore more options for Women in Tech, explore classes and event space at FutureLabs here