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Greece passes landmark austerity budget

The country now waits on its creditors to save it from imminent bankruptcy.

After days of fierce parliamentary debate, Greek lawmakers pushed through the country’s 2013 austerity budget early on Monday; an essential move to unlock the vital bailout funds needed for Greece to avert imminent bankruptcy.

The budget – approved by a 167-128 vote – includes €9.4bn worth of austerity measures, including tax hikes and across-the-board cuts to pensions, public salaries and social benefits. The retirement age will increase by two years to 67.

The net effect on Greek debt will see the annual budget deficit tapering to 5.2 per cent of GDP, down from this year’s figure of 6.6 per cent. The budget follows the news that Greece is currently on target to reduce its budget shortfall, with the deficit narrowing by an impressive 42 per cent so far this year.  

Nevertheless, Greece’s mountain of debt is forecast to hit a whopping 189 per cent of GDP in 2013 (€346bn), a figure far beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) “sustainable” rate of 120 per cent of GDP.

Despite the austerity budget passing through Parliament relatively successfully, the government faces more hurdles before it has access to the €31.5bn rescue package.

Disbursement of the next tranche is subject to a “progress report” from the so-called troika – the European Commission, the IMF, and the European Central Bank.

After eurozone financial ministers met in Brussels today to discuss the next installment, Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker revealed that there had been “no definitive decision” over the funds, despite positive signs.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called for Greece's creditors to uphold their end of the bargain.

Just four days ago, we voted the most sweeping reforms ever in Greece. Greece has done what was asked of it … and now it is time for creditors to do what they have promised.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras emphasised the importance of speedy disbursement, as Greece fast approaches the €5bn worth of treasury bill repayments on Friday that will likely plunge the country into immediate bankruptcy. He added:

Without the help of the European Central Bank, the refunding of these treasury bills from the banking system will lead the private sector to complete suffocation.

Even if Greece receives the payment, the economy will still face profound challenges. The newly announced austerity package – which was preceded by a separate raft of tax hikes and spending cuts earlier in the week – could further paralyse the economy. Greece is headed for a GDP contraction of 4.5 per cent next year, which would be in sixth year of recession.

Currently, more than a quarter of Greeks are unemployed, with 60 per cent of under 24-year-olds unable to find work – both record highs. The latest austerity measures, which will slash 10,000 public sector jobs in 2013, will no doubt contribute to the widespread malaise and uncertainty that have stultified potential recovery.

The gloomy economic outlook has no doubt been compounded by a rising tide of social unrest in the country, with violence engulfing Athens last week as 80,000 demonstrators battled with riot police after anti-austerity protests turned ugly.

Whilst the 15,000 protesters that gathered outside Parliament on Sunday were largely peaceful, they were no less opposed to the latest measures. In an opinion poll published in Greek newspaper To Vima, 66 per cent of the population opposed the latest budget.

These social reverberations have had a far-reaching effects on Greece’s shifting political landscape as well. A recent To Vima poll revealed that Greece’s leftist party – Syriza – which opposes the bailout, has recently become the nation’s most popular party. If elections were held today, 23.1 per cent of respondents would back Syriza, whilst the incumbent New Democracy party would only garner 20.4 per cent of the vote. 

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.