career&entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship
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In Wake of the Stockholm Tech Fest, Part I: Diversity

(c) Image courtesy of Klarna

Week 36 in Stockholm the tech scene was in full swing! It was highlighted by a Swedish- based company known as Klarna – who arranged the event which was devoted exclusively to tech-creative women. The “Women Create Tech” theme gathered over a 1000 women at Klarna’s headquarters to talk about their role in the hottest investment field in the country – IT.

Women gathering for the Women Create Tech Event. (c) Image courtesy Klarna

Women gathering for the Women Create Tech Event. (c) Image courtesy Klarna

According to official statistics  in 2013, investments in the Technology field increased by 60%.

Following the Klarna event, the “Stockholm Tech Fest” took place, attracting over 2000 participants – the largest ever in Sweden.

At the conclusion of “Tech Week” in Stockholm, Life as an Investment ran the “Wild Women Do” workshop organized by Marie Milligan, Pyladies Stockholm and sponsored by Lifesum.

When the three-day marathon was over Merenlin and I sat down in a café trying to sort out the “reality” of what just took place. The STHLM Tech Fest raised a wave of discussions on in the media about diversity in the tech industry. Some of the comments and posts had a lot of exclamation points, so you could feel the level of concern by the audience.


The event at Klarna actually blew my mind. I have never seen so many women at an event regarding technology before. It was a diverse crowd too. I love to see all the different styles, nationalities, backgrounds, and ages – a diverse crowd means fresh ideas. I was excited to know more about these women and meet them. But the moment when the next day I walked in the big hall of startups at the Stockholm Waterfront Congress, I realised the fairytale was over. I felt a bit awkward and out of place…and regretted the decision to wear a dress and heels.

Women Create Tech (c) Image courtesy Klarna

Women Create Tech
(c) Image courtesy Klarna

But what can you do – I’ve been studying and working in the tech industry for almost 10 years now and to some extent I got very used to it – although it was exciting to learn more about new startups, and listen to amazing performances by some of the pitchers.The panel discussions were interesting too. But it did make me a bit angry to see that the ONLY panel with women was a discussion about diversity and culture?

(UPD: To be fair, it isn’t actually true, there was at least one woman in every panel) 

at the Stockholm Tech Fest, “It’s a man’s world!”


I see it makes you angry – I was also surprised. But here’s two possible explanations:

First of all, the women we saw yesterday were not really “tech women.” And from all the hashtags used that night on Instagram, only four of 162 belonged to women who actually work in technology and development. All the others were coming from marketing and sales people, students, and friends of a friend. And second of all, there were some pretty strong drinks being served. Maybe some women didn’t come because they couldn’t? The STHLM Tech Fest was held on a Friday…and that’s a work day!

   And by the way, what can Tyler Crowley do? How can he fill up a panel with women in Tech if there are no women in Tech?

Norda and Merenlin at the Stockholm Tech Fest


First, I do not think that alcohol was a problem. The “Women in Tech” meeting was over at 9:30 pm and there were very few women left at the party – and they were hardly a drunk gang.

Speaking about women in Tech, I get that it’s difficult to find women to pitch on stage – or even find successful women CEO’s to be on the panel. So it has to become one of these women in Sweden. I think there are a lot of reasons to be on stage, and it would be interesting to hear opinions from other influential people in the community like developers, marketers, growth hackers, CFOs, and designers. A successful venture isn’t just one person giving presentations, it’s a TEAM effort. This way, we get a diverse crowd on stage appealing  to a diverse crowd in the audience. 


Of course it’s a team effort! Nobody denies that! But can each person on the team give a speech on a stage? Just have a look. Who are these men on the panel – are they tech guys? Only 30% of the people on the panel had an IT/Tech/ Engineering education. All the others were business people – except Ulla Hamilton, who holds a degree in law. And actually the question about why women are not building a career in Tech, or even not going to the tech colleges or universities can be addressed to her….as a Stockholm City representative.

Obviously we can draw two conclusions from the panel heros: there were more male company representatives than females, and there were more business people than Tech people – That’s all! These two conclusions don’t give us any picture of how it really is behind the scenes. In fact, we’re being too subjective and cliche – and it only affects the positiveness of the event.


Well, first of all I would argue that some of the business people that were on stage could not give a good speech or presentation. There are plenty of people without the letter “C” in front of their titles that can communicate their ideas clearly to startups. And true that this in general can ruin the reputation of the event….a little bit. I know that previous Sthlm Tech Fest’s put-off many great people, both male and female who decided to never come back.


I also have some questions about the format. Why couldn’t we ask questions? I can understand that it might be difficult for a person holding a microphone, trying to cover the entire hall – but its a tech conference! Why not use “technology”?


I agree one hundred percent. There is very little engagement with the public and very little involvement for non-founders and non-VC people. A lot of techies and designers in the startup community are women, but many don’t see the point in attending these events. It seems like the goal is for the founders to get together and brag about their achievements, and not for the community as a whole to get together and explore new innovations and discuss and shape of our culture etc…If this event is purely designed for VC’s and startups to connect, fair enough, then promote it that way – not like “THE EVENT” for everyone to be at….and a conference for “EVERYONE” in the startup community.  

Merenlin at the Sthlm Tech Meetup in November, 2013, representing PyLadies along with representatives of Geek Girl Meetup & Faces Of Tech

Merenlin at the Sthlm Tech Meetup in November, 2013, representing PyLadies along with the representatives of Geek Girl Meetup & Faces Of Tech


Ok, so it looks like you have certain expectation as a woman in Tech and how this event should be formatted. What would you change if you were in charge? Who would you invite?


I would increase diversity among the VCs and founders, so it might be required to invite international speakers. I think “Women 2.0” did a great job assembling speakers (example).

I guess there’s more to be done. It’s important to reach out to female and minority entrepreneurs within Scandinavia. For example, Paulina Söderlund (@pausling) has just assembled a list of 60 female-only entrepreneurs within the Tech industry inside Sweden. Some of them are still looking for funding.

There’s been multiple suggestions and offers to get an active woman like Paulina to reach out to potential speakers. Stockholm Tech can learn a lot from PyCon….and its annual event. They actually put together a “diversity committee” that discovers women worldwide. They encourage them to submit to a “talk” and provide public speaking support. – And it works!

Percent of PyCon talks by women: 1% (2011) 7% (2012) 15% (2013) 33% (2014) 

Having women and minorities on the organising committee, as well as on the speakers list, will organically attract more of the same demographic we’re looking for. And as I said before – changing the format of the events to include other influences will definitely help with the diversity issue. Here, the organisers need to make up their minds about who this event is for.

There are, of course, alternative events coming out of Sweden. I heard great things about “Hackaway” and it’s such a pity I won’t be able to attend. Have a look at these experiences. Also, here’s another great inspiring post on how to organise  inclusive events.


I see your point. There are a lot of possibilities.  But let’s look at the positive side of the event. We did meet some interesting tech companies that are worth talking about, right?

(to be continued )


  1. Pingback: In Wake of the Stockholm Tech Fest, Part I: Diversity | Life as an Investment

  2. Pingback: In Wake of the Stockholm Tech Fest, Part II: Startups

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