My tits felt huge and I felt small: Why London Tech Week talks the talk, but the reality is very different.

When Martha Lane Fox lost her shit over Alexa, I – a lone woman in the front row – audibly cheered.

“We’re about to build a future that is very, very much not female and that is so profoundly bad for humanity. It upsets me that people shout at an Alexa in the corner of their rooms. They are shouting at a female voice, with no please and no thank you, just expecting it to deliver. We have gone back a hundred years”

A man behind me let out a huge “oh gawddd”. Others looked at their shoes, sighed or openly rolled their eyes. And I got some daggers. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Or her, as a matter of fact.

When I arrived at TechXLR8, which calls itself the “anchor event of London Tech Week”, I sent a Whatsapp to my husband:

“Just got off the DLR at Custom House. Looked around me and realised that I’m the only woman getting off at ExCel. Indeed, I am now the only woman going into ExCel.”

It was almost comedy. Ooodles of men (who had clearly all been to some pre-event styling session that I wasn’t invited to), bore laptop rucksacks and clutched non-Apple tech with the well practised nonchalance of someone who doesn’t realise that unless they live in a fucking hut in Siberia with no way of communicating with friends and family, no one gives a shit about their choice of gadget. And me. Well, I may as well have coordinated a “Steve Jobs Lives” t-shirt with my reddest lipstick seen outside of Soho. Ruby Woo, natch. Which would probably be as meaningless to them as their Huawei this and Samsung that is to me.

I did a tour of the show floor before going to the main stage and wished to god I’d worn something… a bit more serious. Despite having been writing for one of the world’s best-known tech companies for over two and a half years, I suddenly felt entirely out of place and experienced the most ludicrous and senseless bout of imposter syndrome I’ve ever had. All because I was wearing a big ole comfy jumpsuit and retro sneaks. Which is possibly the fucking stupidest reason in the world to feel awkward.

That said, do men find it the hardest thing in the world to call someone out for talking shit when they’re wearing something that’s not a suit? Yes, man in the 5g World Zone – I do actually know what the fuck I’m talking about, but you were about a foot taller than me (no heels) and had a clear view down my top (v-neck and, y’know, BOOBS). It kinda took the gravitas out of my scrutiny. Gah.

Cross-legged on a chair at the front of the main stage, I felt a bit more comfortable. Greg Williams, Editor in Chief of Wired introduced the Singaporean Government CIO, Cheow Hoe Chan, who was amazing and fascinating as he talked at length about ‘Smart Nation’ strategies. There was a fab panel discussion on London 2030 – our own, freshly launched, smart city project. Every talk referenced diversity, inclusion and tech for the benefit of all. It was easy to get wrapped up in their ideas of a tech utopia.

Then there was Martha.

Martha knew what it was like to be the only woman in the room.

“When Apple launched their Healthkit in 2015, they made a song and dance about how you can track every part of your health. Except you couldn’t track periods, pregnancy or the menopause. There wasn’t a single female developer on the team.”

It was like someone had switched the light on.

Firstly she addressed the elephant in the room – the lack of female faces in the audience. And immediately we all sought each other out, craning our necks and looking around to acknowledge each other. The men continued to look at the stage.

She talked about the challenges faced by the unemployed and the importance of access to the digital world. She was genuine and passionate in a way that is hard to believe of someone with multiple directorships who lives in a fucking huge house in Mayfair. It would be easy to make her check her privilege.

Except in that room and in that moment – where besides the few women with whom I’d shared a little solidarity moment, the only other women were the hostesses on the door – Martha was simply another woman in the tech world. Used, as we are, to the eye rolling, imposter syndrome, self-denigration and ludicrous wardrobe concerns that come with the territory, if she’s pissed off, with all her successes, then the rest of us should be incandescent.

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