Bristol Technology Festival 2021 – The Antonia Forster keynote

Written by Sophie John

Bristol, 11th October 2021Antonia Forster delivered the keynote event of the Bristol Technology Festival in Bristol’s famous EngineShed to a sellout crowd, followed by a showcase covering some of the region’s best creative technologies.

Marty Reid, Head of Engine Shed and part of the organising group for the Festival, introduced the event stating that Antonia’s keynote supported the Festival’s aim to “taking a step to help the tech sector go beyond the individuals that are already participating in it and trying to take on the challenges of making it more accessible, more inclusive and feeling more equitable for everyone”. Thanks was given to headline sponsor Softcat and the community partners, who contributed funding to allow the not for profit festival to provide many of the events free of charge. Finally, through technology developed by local scaleup MoneyHub Enterprise, donations were encouraged to the Festival’s charity partner DigiLocal. DigiLocal provides programmes and activities for digital inclusion within Bristol and played a particularly critical role in the COVID-19 pandemic by distributing digital hardware to disadvantaged households to allow individuals to work from home and children to continue their education with limited disruption. 

The keynote event was ‘Closing the Gender Gap in Tech’ by Antonia Forster, Senior XR Technical Specialist at Unity Technologies. Antonia first established the problems relating to gender in the tech industry and the mechanisms by which implicit gender bias is transmitted and reinforced. Whilst drawing on personal experience of discrimination based on her own identity, Anontia’s keynote was very much driven by scientifically backed evidence. For example, the UK average wage gap is 18%, whilst within the technology industry this rises to women earning on average 25% less than their male counterparts. 

However it’s not all doom and gloom as Antonia presented solutions for making the recruitment process more inclusive. In particular, she encouraged reflection on how and where you find your new hires, asking:

“How do you source your candidates? If you rely on elite universities, word of mouth or maybe poaching from other tech companies, you’re going to select from a privileged subset of particular people, and referrals in particular reinforce the status quo. 64% of people recommend candidates who are the same gender as them and 72% of people recommend candidates with the same race or ethnicity as them”. Antonia recommended seeking diverse sources when recruiting and ensuring that inclusive language is used, such as emphasising “teamwork and collaboration, rather than competition”, and thinking carefully about what qualifications are listed as necessary, adding “does the candidate need a computer science degree or could they maybe learn on the job?” 

Antonia also provided solutions to gender bias in the industry outside of recruitment. She stressed the importance of cultivating a growth mindset and raising awareness of processes and procedures, such as the process of filing a patent to ensure equal opportunity. Antonia argued “make a document, make a committee, make the process for promotion and growth within the company transparent, and that will give everyone opportunities to access”. Finally, she stressed the importance of having both mentors, “someone in a senior position who helps someone in a more junior position navigate the unwritten rules of the company” and a sponsor, who puts individuals forward for promotion. 

The session closed with Antonia taking questions from the floor, which furthered the discussion surrounding gender bias in the industry to include why the language we use is crucial to combat the social misunderstanding of what engineering and technology jobs entail. Antonia then engaged in individual conversation with those that wanted to ask questions in private or to share their own stories. 

As a young woman aiming to pursue a career in the tech industry, I found this event to be particularly inspiring. Antonia identified a very significant problem women face, both across the UK but one that is particularly astute within the tech industry, and provided multiple solutions that can be implemented at all levels of expertise and seniority within the industry. From simply changing the language we use to be more inclusive to others and assigning tasks fairly to implementing large-scale changes in the recruitment process. Additionally, through drawing on her own personal experiences, it is inspiring to know that despite the many obstacles that women face within the industry, there are incredibly successful women who are positively changing the face of the tech industry for future generations. 

The keynote was followed by Bristol CreaTech Ones to Watch showcase, hosted by Mark Leaver, Creative Industries Strategy and Development Consultant. This event focused on the creative technology industry within Bristol and the reasons why the city generates such a productive crossover between creativity and technology. The CIC Createch Ones to Watch 2021 highlights 100 inspiring examples of companies to what and engage with from all around the UK which bring together creative skills from industries with innovative uses of technologies. This year 20% of the 2021 Createch Ones to Watch come from Bristol and the South West. 

The panel consisted of four speakers: Kate Dimbleby, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Stornaway.io; Tom Buttery, Founder and Creative Director of Limbic Cinema; Emma Powell, Director and Co-Founder of Air Giants; and Kaye Dunning, Founder and Creative Director of Lost Horizon. Each panellist introduced their work, which ranged from using photogrammetry and volumetric video capture to place virtual bands in accessible places to hosting a 24 hour virtual musical festival featuring over 400 bands and DJs after the cancellation of Glastonbury Music Festival during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Q&A session opened up discussions surrounding the reasons for the growth of the tech industry within Bristol, how this scene has changed over the last ten years and how the creative industry in Bristol is very much “motivated by experimentation” (Tom). 

The session ended with Oscar De Mello, Operations Director at MyWorld and Katie Hudson, Innovation Partner (Manager) at Digital Catapult, introducing the large scale creative technology R&D programme in Bristol, MyWorld. MyWorld is a creative hub project led by the University of Bristol with a focus for screen-based media. The project has been awarded £30 million by the UKRI Strength in Places fund, which contributes to the overall £46 million programme, and aims to have its core operations open in Q1 2023. 

For me personally, the key takeaway from the panel was that Bristol has a tech industry that is flourishing and that is largely down to the unbounded creativity and desire to experiment by those who call Bristol home. Bristol’s vibrant music scene, cultural diversity and a strong academic presence, provides ample inspiration for continual experimentation. Additionally, following on from the keynote event with Antonia it was inspiring to see three women on the panel, who are all pushing to boundaries of what can be achieved by technology, and obtaining national recognition as ones to watch within the creative technology industry. It was also exciting to hear from Oscar and Katie about the new technology developments that will be taking place in Bristol through the MyWorld R&D programme. In particular, the prospect of Bristol producing more academic research through MyWorld’s experimental productions and research in partnership with local Universities is exciting and will further cement Bristol’s position as a key player in the technology industry at both an international and national scale. 

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Finally, a big thank you to the launch team Ben Shorrock, Marty Reid, Karin Rudolph, Marina Traversari, David Henderson and Nick Rutherford for their hard work in putting together such a fantastic series of events. 

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