Good evening. I am delighted to be with you all tonight to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations for your amazing accomplishments. Thank goodness you haven’t asked me to sing!
Tonight is a celebration of 50 exceptional women. True leaders who are discovering, creating and building great technology and companies all across the UK. We recognise the hard-fought journey it takes to get here and you are all worthy of this special recognition.
I would like to express my gratitude to the organizing team at ‘We Are Tech Women’ for creating this award and for bringing us together tonight.
Throughout my career, it was the support and recognition of my peers, primarily women that lifted me, inspired me and gave me confidence to achieve much more than I could ever have achieved on my own.
That is why it is so important that we recognise this moment—how we got here and what we need to do to ensure that all of you and the aspiring generation of women innovators you represent have the best chance to achieve your true potential and to make your mark on the world.
You would have read or heard in the media that tonight is the eve of an important anniversary for women in the UK. One hundred years ago February 6, 1918, the Representation of People Act became law and gave women the right to vote for the first time—a direct result of the sacrifices of courageous women who joined hands and stood beside each other in solidarity and fought for women’s rights in our democracy.
A century later, whilst great progress has been made, we are still marching and fighting for gender equality, equal pay and for our right to be safe from sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.
I wasn’t sure if I should raise this issue in my remarks because tonight is about celebrating progress but the uncomfortable truth means that all too often because we are women, our accomplishments are diminished, our opportunities are limited and our voices are extinguished.
There are times as leaders and as society that we have to endure the discomfort and own up to the past. This is one of those times.
Sexual harassment and assault in the workplace must stop. And, the women who have suffered the indignity, humiliation, and shame of it deserve to be heard. They also deserve to know that they and colleagues will not have to work in environments where they are at risk simply because of their gender.
Our online lives have become hostile environments as well. Many women here tonight will have been recipients of hurtful, aggressive and degrading attacks on social media platforms. Online misogyny is abhorrent. It is degrading gender equality (globally) and it must be addressed. We all have the right to air our views without being punished with mockery, harassment and the threat of harm or sexual assault. And we know from all too many tragic cases that online misogyny and hate speech can manifest in the abuse and violence against women in the real world.
I have always been a web utopian believing that connected humanity would create a better society. But whilst we fixated on all the wonderful things that the Internet would do, we never thought about the things it would undo. And we never anticipated the unintended consequences or how it would fundamentally transform our lives in just one generation.
#MeToo is a cultural watershed but we must ensure that it results in real change. We have already seen the dismantling of disgusting traditions like the Presidents Club which thanks to the efforts of a top women reporter, has finally met an ignominious end.
But a troubling account about Silicon Valley in this month’s Vanity Fair tells a very disturbing story about pervasive abuses of power, degrading sex parties and a culture that keeps women down. This kind of behavior has to become a thing of the past.
The World Health Organisation estimates 35% of all women—that’s 1 in 3 of us—will be sexually abused in our lifetimes. Whether it was complacency or complicity that got us to this point, it has to change.
I have stayed silent about my own experiences but with every story I read, each horrific account retold, anxiety and fear consume me. I can’t help but re-live the painful memories that have tortured me, made me doubt myself and made me feel ashamed. In some ways, I feel that #MeToo is poetic justice. Whilst most perpetrators will never face real justice, they now have to think about their actions and worry that the women they abused might one day tell their stories.
But we must be careful not to let anger cloud our judgment. We need to deconstruct the framework that allows this to happen across all industries, across all of society and develop a common understanding based on mutual respect and true equality.
The best way I have found to challenge pain is to channel my energy into making positive impact. In 2014 with the support of then-Prime Minister David Cameron, I founded an organisation called WeProtect. Today, supported by the UK government we have 82 countries, global law enforcement agencies, leading tech companies and NGOs all working together to eradicate the heinous crime of online child sexual abuse and exploitation.
WeProtect has become a personal life mission for me. This multi-stakeholder movement is leveraging the power of technology to rescue victims, thwart criminals and bring perpetrators to justice. And we are making great progress but we will never stop until that no child will have to experience the lifetime of pain that sexual abuse and exploitation causes.
Through #MeToo and the power and reach of social media, the world is finally hearing the voices of women but it’s what we do next that really matters.
Good things are in fact happening. Men are asking questions about how they should act. There is more awareness of both conscious and unconscious bias and more solidarity amongst women.
Mothers and fathers are having conversations with their daughters and sons about how to treat each other with dignity and respect. About what consent means and that “no” means “no.”
I still believe that technology is the great liberator and that its a vital piece of the puzzle in how we enable female empowerment. It is the means by which we communicate, learn, network, and engage with global markets. Today you can create a business and trade globally from your home office and still have time to spend with your children.
But the pressures on women in today’s society are enormous. In our jobs we are expected to be perfect mothers, carers, deliver immediate results in impossible timeframes with no margin for error. As a single parent for most of the time my son was growing up, I know just how difficult that can be.
The world we operate in has never been more complicated and we face unprecedented scrutiny of everything we do. It’s a heavy burden. Which is why it’s more important than ever that women support each other.
Luckily, I have had the privilege of working in some of the world’s most forward-thinking, creative companies and throughout that experience, I have witnessed the power of great women coming together—contributing their skills and talents to yes, delivering great returns to shareholders but equally improving the lives of others through innovation and technology development.
I was thinking about what to say in closing and the words that came to mind were “Moon Shot”. Many of you will be familiar with the term in the technology context. A moon shot is “an ambitious, exploratory and groundbreaking project undertaken without any expectation of near-term profitability and without the full investigation of the risks and benefits” but you know that you believe it. That you know your efforts will pay off.
Well, that kind of sounds like what you do every day. I think in the context of all that is going on in the world today, it’s important to remember that you are all “Moon Shots.” You are beautiful, audacious life projects full of promise. Believe in your ideas, invest in yourself, make yourself heard and don’t let anyone or any circumstance undermine your confidence. What you have achieved is remarkable. It’s yours, you have earned it and no one can take away from you.
Now it’s time to celebrate!