By Cheryl and Terry Boyd
For a first-time event, the Fe+male Tech Heroes Awards Show set a new standard for glitz and glamour in a tech ecosystem that can be rather sedate. It also had full participation from foundational partners with representatives from the largest companies, including ASML, TNO, and TU Eindhoven.
Winners of the four award categories were announced at the sold-out event:
But more than anything, the awards show had authentic emotion, with the raucous audience of 300-plus momentarily hushed by the winners’ candid retellings of their journeys, then breaking into prolonged standing ovations.
The fan clubs from start-ups and companies who’d come to support nominated colleagues were bolstering the sell-out crowd. At one point, nominee Alex Tavassoli’s supporters chanted, “He gets it! He gets it!”
The event was the culmination of five years of building Fe+male Tech Heroes, the High Tech Camps Eindhoven-supported initiative dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion in tech organizations and recognizing and encouraging women in tech and the men who support them.
Fe+male Tech Heroes founders Ingelou Stol & Hilde de Vocht
The High Tech Campus Conference Center was transformed from a very cool corporate meeting space to “gala night,” with videos, a walk of fame with stars for each of the Fe+male Tech Heroes nominees, balloons, champagne, and, of course, a red carpet.
The evening’s emcee, comedian Katie Nixon from Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, got the crowd singing to Shania Twain’s slightly reworked hit “Man! I Feel Like a Woman in Tech!”
Then, the two founders of Fe+male Tech Heroes, Hilde de Vocht and Ingelou Stol, took the stage to welcome the crowd and kick off the awards, to celebrate a community that’s grown to 4,000 members, and to talk about the future.
Hilde de Vocht, Marketing and Communications Director for HTCE, said Thursday night’s event was to celebrate a community that’s grown to more than 4,000 members. “We’ve existed five years, and… we’ve grown tremendously. We need to take the next step.”
That includes events that highlight role models within companies. So, Fe+male Tech Heroes “is looking for a big group of partners that support our goals – an effort that just started a few months ago.”
Fe+male Tech Heroes was about recognizing “a woman who would never nominate herself, the guy who really gets it, the corporate that doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk,” said Ingelou Stol, Director, Marketing Communications for Salvia BioElectronics.
The jury of the Fe+male Tech Heroes Awards Show 2023
Judges had their work cut out for them, scoring 10 finalists from more than 230 nominations. The jury included Maarten Steinbuch (TU/e), Moyra McManus (ASML), Clara Otero Perez (NXP), Brigit van Dijk (BOM), Judith Heikoop (Entrepreneur), Monika Hoekstra (NXTGEN HIGHTECH) and John Bell (HighTechXL).
The first of the four awards was the Hidden Gem award, with Brigit van Dijk presenting.
The 10 finalists represented Eindhoven’s signature institutions, including ASML, TU Eindhoven and Philips.
Hidden Gem Award: Amrita Singh
The winner was Amrita Singh, Cluster Lead/ R&D Process and Integration Team, at SMART Photonics.
From the jury report: “Amrita was born in a poor village in India where girls were not allowed to go to school. Being the rebel she was, she gave her parents such a hard time they allowed her to go to school. Today, she still visits her home village to inspire girls, telling them they can become tech heroes one day, too.”
“This is for all the fathers who believe in their daughters,” Amrita said.
She described her village as a place where “our destiny was fixed.” Her mother married at 9, her sister 16. “One person who believed in me … my father. I had to escape that destiny that was already decided.”
You could hear a pin drop. And then came thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
Male Ally Award: Alex Tavassoli
Next was the Male Ally award for “guys who get it, with Monika Hoekstra from NXTGEN HighTech presenting.
From the jury report: “Alex Tavassoli, an Iranian refugee, arrived in the Netherlands when he was 8 years old. He experienced domestic violence as a child. He used his experience in game development to develop Don’t Forget Me, a virtual reality empathy training program. Using VR, the program puts users in the victim’s shoes and increases awareness of destructive behavior’s emotional and mental impact. Since Enliven’s launch, Alex and his team have developed other VR-enhanced Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion empathy training programs, including Gender Bias. The programs allow users to experience and feel workplace inequality through a woman’s eyes.”
“I really didn’t expect this,” Tavassoli said. He thanked his wife for “the person I’ve become.”
Tavassoli said he found his ambition in preventing children “from what I went through. I want to be a voice for empathy … to make sure everyone is heard and equal in the workplace and the classroom. To be treated like humans. To make sure at every step to put ourselves in the shoes of others. To treat everyone as we want to be treated.
“I guess we have a lot of work to do there.”
More thunderous applause. Another standing ovation.
Corporate Inclusion Award: LUMO Labs
The third award, Corporate Inclusion, was presented by HighTechXL CEO John Bell.
And the winner was … LUMO Labs, an investment fund and venture builder based at High Tech Campus.
From the jury report: “LUMO Labs is an investment fund and venture builder that believes in diversity, equity, and inclusion in their own team and their portfolio companies. Seven of the 15 portfolio companies include female founders. They fully understand the highest-performing teams are diverse teams. At LUMO Labs, females make up 1/3 of the LUMO Labs team, and two women are on their Scientific and Industry Advisory Board.”
Founding Partners Andy Lürling and Sven Bakkes used the moment to announce a new investment fund, where the leadership team will consist of three females and three males. And they invited Alex Tavassoli, whose Enliven is a LUMO Labs start-up, on stage for a round of hugs, applause, and more photos.
The climax of the evening was the Fe+male Tech Hero Award, with Ingelou and Hilde making the presentation.
Female Tech Hero of the Year Award: Christine Brown
The winner was Christine Brown, Sr Director, Development & Engineering Performance & Integration at ASML:
From her jury report: “Christine is a die-hard techy woman by nature, very knowledgeable on loads of technical topics and an engineer by heart. At the same time, she has the most beautiful softer side and is a true wizard with her soft skills. She is not afraid to speak her mind, both on technical topics and on non-technical topics. She is a frontrunner in design and integration at ASML and a source of inspiration for many of us at ASML. She is not the type to step into the limelight but she does deserve it. She knows her tech stuff and cares for you, a true role model and hero, an inspiration to us all.”
Christine said she didn’t think she was going to win, but her husband James, whom she called her “chief encouragement officer,” told her she better write a speech just in case.
“My first reaction was, ‘Do I deserve this?’ I’m deeply honored and grateful for people who recognized me and me.”
She recognized ASML and her late father, “my role model for leadership from when I was a child.”
Christine cited author Bréne Brown as another influence for a woman navigating the world of tech, quoting Brown’s advice to “stop looking for confirmation you don’t belong. You’ll always find it.”
The truth about who we are lives in our hearts, Christine said.
“No one belongs here more than you.”
Boom Chicago host Katie Nixon and the Fe+male Tech Heroes crew
The evening concluded with finalists, award winners, jury members, and the Fe+male Tech Heroes teams on stage, followed by a serious party – food, drinks, and dancing – that closed down the Campus. The final consensus was the attendees had been part of a women-in-tech movement that is about to get much bigger.
Or as Alex Tavassoli noted, “Who wouldn’t want to be part of this great organization?”