Ada's List Conf 2017: The Summary

Last weekend, we wrapped our second annual Ada’s List Conference. What a day it was!

A note on the planning

We were incredibly privileged to have received nearly 70 responses to our call for proposals for the conference, and had a really tough time whittling them down to the final 7 that we invited to speak. A huge thanks to everyone who submitted, and congratulations to those selected!

We also made a real effort to make sure we had childcare facilities, as we knew from past experience that there were people who’d like to come who might not otherwise be able to attend. This conference was on a Saturday, so it was even more important, in a sense, that people could come along to spend a day with us when they had so many other things they could choose to do.

We published a Code of Conduct prior to the event, to enable anyone who felt they needed support to come to us with concerns.

The content

Shefali Roy gives the opening keynote

Shefali Roy, COO at TrueLayer, began the day with an inspiring call to be bold, be brave and take risks in her opening keynote. She spoke about her career and principles that have guided her important decisions. Some of her answers to questions that came up in the Q&A after the session were illuminating as well. She made the point that:

Great leaders are vulnerable. I’ve had some amazing managers, and some god awful ones. I’ve had just as many bad women managers, as I’ve had men. But I learnt a ton more from the bad managers, than I did from the good ones. Leaders are human. They are vulnerable. They are often scared, they have weaknesses, they don’t have all the answers. The good ones, I’ve learnt, admit this and work collaboratively with their colleagues – those they report into, and those who report into them – to solve problems. The bad ones ignore their humanness and let their egos run wild. I’ve had women managers say to me: “My career progression was made hard for me, so I’m going to make it hard for you”. Don’t be those women!

Shefali has written up the key points from her talk; here they are.

We then went on to our Ada’s List member talks. Mary McKenna, an Irish entrepreneur and angel investor, spoke about things she looks for when she is looking to fund companies. A lot of our members are looking for investment through the year and I’m sure this one was useful for many. As she said:

So, in a startup I look for a female on the founding team, a product or service I can imagine using myself, usually something I can add considerable value to by either introductions to my network or by merit of my own experience, an element of tech for good (or else there’s no point IMHO), authentic & honest founders, deep domain knowledge & understanding of the challenges they are solving and awareness of competitors & where they are in their development, the tech in house or if very early stage an ability to bring the tech in house, honesty about traction, founding team resilient & able to pivot and a founder who can front the business without being arrogant & smartass.  Finally I need to like them.  I assume we’ll be working together for 3-5 years, maybe longer, and life’s too short to do that with people you don’t like.

Mary’s summarised her experience of the day, including her talk, here.

This was followed by Ana Florescu’s talk on building diversity in problem-solving communities. Ana, who has one of the most fun job titles I think I’ve ever seen - ‘Head of Good Problems’ - was the perfect person for this talk, because she works with Science Practice who in turn work on challenges like the £10m Longitude Prize. Ana’s tips included making problems accessible (so for more than a very narrow group of people), diversifying support and incentives (so people are able to participate), and creating opportunities for collaboration (because that’s how many people work best).

Yasmine Boudiaf spoke about using virtual reality for behaviour change. She showcased an experiment she did to help people understand some of the issues women regularly face at work. She realised they fell mostly into 4 themes: hearing personal comments in a professional setting, being ignored when they spoke up, being assumed to be junior when they were in fact managers, and being undermined by colleagues.

Hessie Coleman, Head of People Operations at Starling Bank, spoke about building the right culture in a growing company. Starling has grown considerably recently, so again a proper view from the trenches.

Emily Hunt, Managing Director at 36ns and a self-confessed data geek, gave us a really entertaining talk about the growing intolerance we see online (yes, it has origins in Gamergate). She actually analysed data from the Metropolitan Police website to show how crimes have increased over time, concluding that there is a link between anger, intolerance and violence. A very insightful talk.

We had two workshops in parallel, both equally well-received. 

Janet Oganah's workshop

Janet Oganah spoke about personal brand and digital leadership. Specifically, she said it was important to close the gap between the brand you want to portray and the reputation you have online.

Rebecca Kemp spoke about being feminist at work. She spoke about a strategic approach; answer these questions before embarking on anything:

Rebecca Kemp's workshop

And also how to say No to tasks that are given to you as a woman. After all, the workplace should be an equitable atmosphere:

Debbie Wosskow gives the closing keynote

Our closing keynote, Debbie Wosskow, is an incredibly inspiring woman who has achieved so much. She founded LoveHomeSwap and sold it earlier this year to Wyndham Destination Networks for an impressive $53m. She then co-founded AllBright, which aims to make the UK the best place to be a female founder. The day after the conference, the Sunday Times published an interview with Anna Jones, her partner on AllBright, and her, about a new members club for working women they are launching in the new year. We got a sneak preview of what it is about! Debbie spoke about her journey to where she is today, a fascinating story to listen to live.

The people who made it possible

Feedback during and after the event was incredibly positive. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our sponsors:

Co-Op Digital: "The Co-op has always been a pioneering organisation – now we’re taking that spirit into digital. We’re building a team to; create new digital products, services and platforms; help our existing businesses make the most of digital; pioneer new ways to co-operate online."

Adaptive Lab: "Adaptive Lab builds products, services and Beta Businesses – that launch faster, grow quicker, and behave bolder. To do it we unite smart thinking, brave design and nimble build. Are you a product strategist, designer, developer, team builder? We’re hiring."

Twilio: "We take care of the messy telecom hardware and expose a globally available cloud API that developers can interact with to build intelligent and complex communications systems with voice, video, messaging and authentication."

ffconf: "A one day conference, run twice on 9th & 10th of November, in Brighton, UK. Join us for a full day of eight carefully curated sessions for an audience that cares about the future of the web, and who want their ideas challenged."

Our Ada’s List badges on the day were sponsored by FutureGov: "Designing public services for the digital age."

And a huge Thank You to our venue sponsor, Imperial College London: "Supporting, advising, and empowering women through the Faculty Ambassadors for Women programme."

One last word: Ada’s List Conf 2017 was made possible because of the tireless efforts of some of our volunteers: Stephanie Aslan, Gen Ashley, Sareh Heidari, Karen Lobban, Riana Patel and Emem Rita Usanga (you can read Emem’s own blog post about the day here). 

Thank you all for making it happen!

The Ada's List team and attendees at the end of an inspiring day!
October 17, 2017
Anjali Ramachandran