Published on 08 Mar 2017

Leading the way, ladies first

Hillary Clinton may not have succeeded in becoming the USA’s first female president, but the list of recent women achievers, elected to high office not because they happen to be women but because they have all shown their suitability to lead, still includes illustrious names like Merkel, May, Gide and Sarilar. Women being at the top is indicative of a century of change – in education, culture, society, technology. Indeed, change is a central theme in the tête-à-tête with Laila Gide and Zeynep Sarilar, the respective President of ARTEMIS-IA and Chairwoman of ITEA, as they consider their new roles and the successor of the Co-summit, the forthcoming Digital Innovation Forum in Amsterdam in May next year.

 

Leading the way, ladies first

 

Laila Gide was elected to succeed Heinrich Daembkes as President of ARTEMIS-IA in October, while her ITEA colleague was afforded the same honour earlier on this year. They have, therefore, both been charged with good housekeeping, in the best sense of the word! Zeynep feels both proud and honoured to be filling her role as Chairwoman of ITEA at a time of real change, especially in terms of the dissolution of borders and reaching out to a truly global community. “It is a great feeling to be able to champion the ITEA community. And, of course, a great responsibility. But I’m fortunate in getting good advice and guidance from the people within the community. Because although the organisation is in pretty good shape, there is still much to do, with the companies and the public authorities in a growing community. So as we go forward, I realise how important it is to advance as a team.”

 

Not a male or female thing but aptitude

Laila echoes these sentiments and adds, importantly, that “being a woman had no influence on being elected to this position. It is a question of being the right person for the role. But the fact that a woman should be leading ARTEMIS-IA is more a statement of the trends we have witnessed in the past twenty or so years, especially in education where more and more women have been making their mark on the world of technology. Firstly, in terms of engineering and technology studies, and then increasingly taking jobs in industry that had previously been very male dominated. The division of roles is no longer as clear-cut as in the past. At Thales we see many more girls joining the company in the software engineering area and it is no longer a surprise to see women heading up technology companies or projects.”

 

Zeynep agrees and adds that “it is not a question of being male or female, but it is more a matter of aptitude – being able to find a solution. The prowess is not physical, it is mental. And so the old divisions of labour, particularly in modern technology, which is dominated by software, have well and truly disintegrated. And in terms of being a role model, it is not something I try to actively be, but I am certainly aware of it. I realise that my achievement, if you wish to call it that, can serve as an encouragement to women to pursue their goals and know that gender should not stand in their way.” Laila admits that while she received congratulations from both men and women, a few of the female contingent did express their pleasure in her becoming President. For both, the role is not only an important one, but also a demanding and energy-essential role. Neither woman underestimates the challenges that lie ahead, but both are committed to creating the conditions for the organisations to flourish. “I think people might be expecting more from us,” Laila concedes. “I do not know if that will actually be the case, but being a ‘novelty’ tends to create expectations.”

 

Stronger collaboration

“I certainly look forward to improving the level of collaboration between the two organisations,” Zeynep says of her own expectations. “And increase the value of our two communities to the European software industry. So if we are to achieve this, our strong collaboration is a necessity.” Laila subscribes to this notion in full. And one of the key developments, especially in terms of the collaboration that has always been a characteristic feature in the past, is the new Digital Innovation Forum in May. “We felt that the time was right,” Zeynep says, “to take a different approach. To go beyond what we had done in the past and create an environment for discussion and ideas, and to broaden the scope to a more global participation.” Indeed, the new name represents the new approach very well. “Digital – that is the clear focus we both have as organisations,” Laila explains, “and Innovation underlines the fact that we want to look beyond research at all the aspects that make up this vital component of our industry. Forum – it is a place where people come and meet and share knowledge and ideas. Also, with the new name, we are, as Zeynep suggests, looking to widen the scope beyond our two initiatives.”

 

Ecosystem

So, it is quite evident that the DIF is not simply a renaming of the familiar Co-summit – it will be an event that takes the collaboration to a different and more expansive level, one in which the appeal will spread to more explicitly include SMEs and start-ups and embrace a wider geographical focus. After all, the digital world is not one that is bound by borders. “We want this event in Amsterdam to be all-inclusive,” Zeynep emphasises. “So we want to invite not only the industrials, SMEs and public authorities, but also venture capitalists and start-ups.” Laila adds that ‘ecosystem’ is the key concept here. “The ecosystem is central to our ambitions. For the very dynamic and innovative start-ups to be able to play a full and fulfilling role, they need to become part of an ecosystem that also offers the capital and human resources they need. So this forum will provide a context for exploring how the ecosystem can support the actors involved and how they can help strengthen it. You know, it is always the first few steps that are the hardest ones to take. Not only for the start-ups, but also for the big groups that have to move towards the start-ups. We aim to achieve more over two days than would normally be achieved in several weeks.”