Ann O’Dea: 'If you copy other events you end up with 90 per cent male panellists'

The Silicon Republic and Inspirefest founder wants to disrupt the ‘male pale’ tech conference calendar

 

“We don’t want to shut out the guys. The small percentage of misogynists in the sector aren’t going to come to Inspirefest because we’re 75 per cent women on stage,” says founder Ann O’Dea.

The idea for Inspirefest - billed as a festival of technology, science, design and the arts - was borne out of the Silicon Republic founder’s frustration with attending tech conferences that had 90 per cent male panellists on stage.

“It was really only as I got older and I kind of started looking back and going, hang on there are all these really great young women coming up behind me and they’re not on stage and they’re not being featured in the newspapers around technology and things like that, or even on the tech websites. And I was going, actually there is a problem. There’s no doubt about it,” she told the Róisín Meets podcast.

The first annual Inspirefest was held in Dublin last year with the stated aim of turning around the 9:1 male to female ratio at tech conferences. O’Dea says it’s about inclusion and diversity, giving both women and men stage time.

“It’s diversity of thought, if you end up with a diversity of background. It just so happens that men and women tend to have quite different backgrounds but it’s the same thing with people of different ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, you name it. Often their circles are a little bit different and you just end up with a conversation that’s a little bit richer,” she said.

O’Dea also rubbished the argument that great female experts just aren’t out there, saying, “Can I please call bullshit on that? It is not that hard to find the women out there, but you do have to look. What you can’t do is copy other events because if you copy other events you’ll end up with 90 per cent blokes.”

Things are changing for the better though, according to O’Dea. More young women are choosing to pursue STEM careers with greater encouragement at school and through movements like CoderDojo. O’Dea also believes that most men in the tech and science sectors want to see greater female representation too, but many of them do not know how to go about exacting that change and just need a nudge in the right direction through things like Inspirefest.

“I’m a born optimist”, she says, “I wouldn’t be running Inspirefest otherwise.”

Inspirefest is at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin June 30th - July 1st. Inspirefest Fringe at Merrion Square, Dublin will have arts, music and fun for all the family 30th June - July 2nd. Go to inspirefest.com for more.

To listen to Ann O’Dea in conversation with Róisín Ingle or other episodes of the Róisín Meets podcast, go to Soundcloud, iTunes, Stitcher or irishtimes.com

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