The “absence of women” from the people who are “making the internet” will see society go backwards in time, dot.com entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox has warned.
Describing the birth of the internet as “the industrial revolution of our time”, Baroness Lane Fox said she had thought it would prove to be an “empowering tool for women”. But this was being thwarted by sexism and an “unconscious bias” against women in the technology industry, she said.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Baroness Lane Fox, who co-founded Lastminute.com in the online boom of the early 2000s, said: “In the Sixties and Seventies there were a whole load of women in the computer industries, but something happened in the Eighties that professionalised it and a lot left and it has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am perplexed by this as I genuinely thought the internet would be an empowering tool for women.
“There is a cycle of behaviour in the venture capital community which I don’t think is overt sexism, I think there is some, but I don’t think it is the only reason but there is a lot of unconscious bias.
“If you are a venture capitalist and you are looking at risk you are less likely to invest in someone that is not like you.”
The cross-bench peer said internet industries were controlled by a “bunch of very rich white men”, almost all in California’s Silicon Valley.
“I still find that really baffling. The absence of women from the teams that are making the internet, the product designers, the coders, the engineers, the absence of women in the venture capital community,” she said. “I think it is really profoundly important because this is where the industrial revolution of our time is. If women are absent from it I think we will go back in time.”
The global technology industry has been dogged by sexism scandals for years.
In May, Asia’s biggest internet company, Alibaba, withdrew a job advert for a “programmer encouragement specialist”, which said candidates should have similar physical qualities to Japanese porn actress, Sora Aoi. Alibaba said the ad was meant to be funny, but dropped it after a backlash on social media.
The Gamergate controversy began over whether a female developer’s relationship with a male video gaming journalist had influenced coverage of her game, but became a vehicle to lash out against women in the gaming industry.
A number of women were threatened with violence and death, prompting some to leave their homes.
Online trolls have also used social media to bully and harass women, such as Caroline Criado-Perez after she campaigned to keep a woman on a British banknote.
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