We interviewed Martha Lane Fox recently at the Intelligence Squared’s Digital Summit. She speaks here to the UK’s Guardian newspaper on women in tech:
The founder of Lastminute.com, Martha Lane Fox, last week told the annual Wired technology conference how an industry that promised so much hope had failed. Here is her call for Britain to set a global standard for equality in the sector
You’ll forgive me if I have to paint a bit of a picture for you. You can imagine me and my best friend aged 20, unbelievably dirty – head to toe filth – sitting on the edge of a dirt track in the middle of the Steppes, looking out across the Altai mountains as we tried to hitchhike from Ulan Bator in the middle of Mongolia to goodness knows where in the middle of Kyrgyzstan.
We were sitting on the edge of this track waiting to see if we could find another truck of people moving their yurts from one end of Mongolia to the other, to hitch a ride to cross the border. And we were fighting because we had a tiny piece of Mars bar left, and we needed it because all we had eaten for the last four months had been goats boiled in salty water and goats’ milk curdled into a sour cream.
One of the reasons that I was so keen to go to Mongolia was because I was studying ancient history. As part of our course we’d studied Herodotus, and Herodotus had written about the peoples of the Altai mountains, the backdrop to where we were, and how they had this incredible army of women, women who were so brilliant at their jobs that some of them would cut their breasts off so that they could fire arrows from horseback.
Herodotus’s evidence was flaky, so a lot of people thought that he just made it up. But unbeknown to me, although we were kind of following where these tribes had been, at exactly the same time, in 1993, that we were sitting on the edge of this track fighting about a Mars bar, an amazing woman called Natalia Polosmak had discovered some graves that had been frozen in ice and therefore had this extraordinary treasure trove of remains and artefacts, going right back to those nomadic people that Herodotus had written about.
At the same time, another amazing professor called Leonid Jablonsky, from the University of Archaeology in Moscow, had also found a huge number of graves for the people who roamed the Steppes from the Ukraine into the middle of Mongolia. And what they found was wonderful. These bones that they were digging up – with more and more technology to look at the bone density and work out the shape and form of the people they belonged to – were, to a considerable degree, those of women – women had been buried, not with gems and the traditional burial accoutrements of ladies but with tools and weapons, bows and arrows. So at exactly the moment that Helena and I were fighting over a Mars, as I had romanticised about Herodotus’s vision of women charging across the plains, they were discovering that it was true.
Now what has this got to do with the internet? Well, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, because I think we need to take some inspiration from these nomadic peoples, and we need to create a new army of women, of warrior women, and we need to do it giving them the digital tools of today. Because I would argue that even though we don’t have wars to fight in the same way as those nomadic peoples had wars to fight, we are facing some pretty profound and difficult challenges – chronic disease, inequality, climate change. And the solutions to those problems will to a large degree be organised around the internet, around digital developments and solutions, and we need as many people as possible to be thinking about those answers.
Read the full story here.
Tech Champion, Martha Lane Fox speaks to Jeremy Katz, Editor-in-Chief of ogilvydo on the need for proper internet infrastructure, building digital skills and addressing gender imbalance in the tech sector. She is an internet optimist who believes that if we play our cards right, we will facilitate an incredible future, not a dark one.