Manifesto lets loose in Lisbon for Web Summit 2019

Web Summit event photograph

Compared to other professional events and conferences, Web Summit offers quite a different experience. For one week in November, the sunny beautiful city of Lisbon becomes even more exciting. People from across the world come together to explore the city, attend parties, sample local cuisine and engage in happy conversation (sometimes fuelled by a few glasses of local wine).


Web Summit is known for its impressive speakers, who talk on a wide variety of issues and keep things fresh and engaging. The organisers and speakers clearly communicate that  technology and innovation exist in all shapes and forms, from politics and finance to gender politics, health, education, and even sex.

The headliners didn’t disappoint: Michel Barnier, European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK, talked about the difficulty of delivering Brexit. Alongside well-trodden territories, like the Northern Ireland border, finance consequences and changes in the political map, Barnier also talked about patent registration, technology trade, and a very hot topic at the moment: data sharing between the EU and the UK, and how to overcome those gaps in the Brexit plan. 

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair took part in two discussions over two days during “Brexit: the never ending story”, he talked about similar issues, fleshing out technological and global effects Brexit will have on both the UK and the EU.

But it wasn’t just the headliners who were great speakers, some of the smaller chats were pure gems. As a woman in tech, I’m particularly interested in the gender gap. The talk “How to overcome the gender gap?” stepped away from the (justifiable) anger and explored real-life solutions to the problem. 

Four outstanding women: Paige VanZant (UFC fighter) Sue Allchurch (Chief Outreach & Engagement, UN Global Compact programme), Michelle Fang (Chief legal officer at Turo) and Dima Khatib (Managing director at Al Jazeera) offered their personal experiences and described their everyday fight in a man-led world. What did I take from it? Start small, don’t give up, don’t take no for an answer. More importantly, know exactly what you’re worth.

On the same note, Web Summit celebrated last summer’s women’s world cup.  Director of sports at the BBC, Barbara Slater, described her battles to broadcast the WWC games on primetime TV, on the main channels. The BBC made a conscious decision to celebrate the WWC as their main event, allocating the money and resources that this type of event truly deserves. There’s no doubt how different the 2019 WWC coverage was from previous years, and it led a real change in the public opinion. The journey might still be long, but it was a huge start.

Other remarkable talks included the creator of GIPHY (thank you for changing my life), the creator of baby shark (thank you from changing my daughter’s life), whistleblowing from the Buzzfeed offices, storytelling and brands from the New York Times, and Samsung innovation office’s talk on how our smart houses are going to look in 2025 (black-mirroring my future and really freaking me out).

But as much as the talks were inspiring, there are some points worth mentioning: the queues at the cafeteria were long and the choice of food was limited. And while priority seating was available for disabled people, there didn’t appear to be any seats reserved for pregnant people. 

While it’s clear the conference (and the wider industry) is dominated by white, middle-aged men, I hope that one day those conferences will be diverse, and more family and child-friendly. This will say a lot about the maturity of an industry that wants to change the world for the better. I am not asking for a creche or Nando’s at the food court (actually – why not?) but maybe an option for buggies and more spacious eating areas. I think they’ll be surprised how many Mum-entrapreneurs can benefit and contribute.

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