Women figure heavily into the tech humanist story. So for International Women’s Day — and to kick off our new season, Season 3! — we’re celebrating with an episode highlighting just a few of the brilliant women tech and futurist thinkers who’ve been guests on our show: Vanessa Mason, Dr. Safiya Noble, Giselle Mota, and Dr. Oluwakemi Olurinola. They’ve all made significant contributions to the conversation around women and technology.
The Tech Humanist Show is a multi-media-format program exploring how data and technology shape the human experience. Hosted by Kate O’Neill.
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Kate O’Neill 0:04
International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8, and it’s a day of commemoration for the many social, economic, cultural and political achievements and contributions of women around the globe. It’s also a rallying cry for accelerating women’s equality in issues like pay equity, education, access, health care and reproductive rights, and a host of other topics. Today we’re celebrating International Women’s Day by discussing the impact of technology on women and girls, feminist issues, gender inequities, and biases directed at women. Women figure heavily into the tech humanist story. As a veteran of the tech space and a woman myself, I want to highlight the importance of acknowledging and addressing the ways in which emerging technology can perpetuate existing inequalities and biases. By bringing awareness to these issues, we can work towards a more equitable future for all. So in the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’ll hear from a few women tech humanists you should be following. They include Vanessa Mason, Dr. Safiya Noble, Giselle Mota, and Dr. Oluwakemi Olurinola, all of whom have made significant contributions to the conversation around women in technology.
So let’s dive in. First, let’s talk about the ways in which technology can impact women and girls. From the gender gap in STEM fields to the rise of cyber bullying and online harassment. Women and girls face unique challenges in the tech world. The lack of diversity in the tech industry, and the perpetuation of gender stereotypes in AI and other technologies can have serious consequences for women and marginalized communities. As tech humanists, it’s our responsibility to advocate for more inclusive and ethical practices in the development and implementation of emerging technologies.
Vanessa Mason is a futurist and expert in belonging, and works to ensure that emerging technologies are inclusive of women’s experiences. We talked about belonging, and how the push for data-fication behind algorithmic experiences, which very often are designed and developed largely by men, overlook women’s experiences, whether or not they are measurable, or don’t attempt to understand or measure them.
Vanessa Mason 2:33
When I think about gender, and what can be quantified some of it is you know that there are experiences of women that just aren’t measured, because like they aren’t considered, there are some experiences being a woman that aren’t easily measured. So I think every woman can relate to you’re walking down a dark street at night, the fear that you feel that someone either might pop out in front of you, or suddenly run after you or something is something that is real, it’s a real experience. But you can’t really, there aren’t necessarily ways to fully designed for how you either account for that, or how you sort of design around that like that has a felt sense of built experience, but by millions of women all over the world. But nonetheless, every time I’ve ever taken an Uber or Lyft no one ever accounts for that, you know, to make sure for example, that maybe the car always stops under a streetlight that the car always has its flashers on, for example. So you know, you’re getting in the right vehicle, like some of these are just protocols that would account for that experience that aren’t accounted for.
Kate O’Neill 3:31
It’s true. Remember, for example, when Apple’s health app included things like tracking blood alcohol level, but forgot to include any kind of period tracker. Many of these experiences that are commonplace for women are not taken into consideration in design, simply because tech design, development and leadership has been historically dominated by men, white men specifically. And that brings up another issue.
Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble 3:58
That’s really it. And you’re also creating social structure through those categories. And what we know is that those categories have always existed, at least in a western context, as hierarchical.
Kate O’Neill 4:12
Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble is the author of algorithms of oppression, and a scholar who has done extensive research on how algorithms misrepresent black people and women, and further the oppression of marginalized groups. During our conversation, she pointed out that society is ordered in many ways around hierarchy, which affects issues of race as well as gender. So if your categorization system puts, you know, it has you have a racial classification system, like we have the United States and many other parts of the world where white is the highest valued and most resourced and most powerful and black is the antithesis of that and the binary and everything in between is vying for its relationship to power or powerlessness.
Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble 5:01
that those systems become real. So the question is, you know, how do we create systems that aren’t hierarchical, and where power is not distributed along those lines of classification or categorization. And we have not solved that. Instead, we are reinforcing those systems of power over and over and over again.
Kate O’Neill 5:23
During our conversation, which you can listen to in full at season one, episode five, she talks about how she gets students to really witness the impact of the oppression she’s written about.
Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble 5:35
On a basic level around search, I’ll often have my students do their own searches on Google and you know, other large commercial search engines. And I’ll ask them to look for identities that matter to them that are kind of like either their own identities or identities they care about. And it’s interesting to see the kinds of searches they do. So though I say, you know, go do these searches. Come back. Next class session, we’re going to discuss everybody’s going to get a chance to talk about what they found and what it means to them. And, you know, for some people, they you know, I’ll never forget what I was teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, I had just like a disproportionately high number of white women in predominantly white sororities. And I think almost all of them had done a search on sorority girl, and we’re pissed. So we’re, I don’t think like, necessarily, that like searches on black girls and Latina girls and Asian girls that would surface porn at the, in those years, meant that much to them, or they could think that they were sympathetic but not empathic. When they looked for their own identity, they were disgusted. So you know, often it’s just those kinds of experiences that are really helpful to help students feel the impact.
Kate O’Neill 7:00
The thing is, technology has the potential to both exacerbate and alleviate gender inequities. From the gender pay gap to the lack of access and technology in developing countries. There’s plenty of work to be done to ensure that women have equal opportunities and access to the benefits of technology. But a fair few of these gender inequities might be alleviated by a more meaningful representation and visibility of women already in these fields, at least as far as young girls are concerned when they’re weighing their future career options. Dr. Oluwakemi Olurinola is an educator in Nigeria who is passionate about getting girls interested in stem the acronym in case you’re not familiar for science, technology, engineering and math, as she discussed with me in the first episode of season two, a brighter future for education. The problem so often is simply helping girls to recognize that they can pursue careers in engineering and other science and tech fields.
Dr. Oluwakemi Olurinola 8:00
And you walk into those science classes, and then you ask for their career paths. And you have like 98% of them wanting to be medical doctors or nurses or pharmacists. And I realized that basically, it’s isn’t that they loved science, but they didn’t know what other career options were available to them. So you have the problem of awareness, apart from gender stereotyping. And so I remember that a particular time I ran a program during the girls in science and I invited girls from science classes, I had almost 70 girls in the hall. And I asked how many of them wanted to be medical doctors and he had everybody’s hands up, I had only one person in that room of almost 70 girls who was considering a career in engineering.
Kate O’Neill 8:42
Giselle Mota is a futurist who brings simplicity, humanity and an innovative perspective to the sometimes abstract and complex topic of all things future of work. And she maintains an emphasis on inclusion.
Giselle Mota 8:58
We really need to think about being more inclusive of all right, I read a recent article that was talking about gender equity. So we talked a lot about pay equity, but sometimes we forget about gender equity. And we forget that, for example, what if you don’t identify as a man or a woman, for example? And what about your pay equity? Right? Isn’t that we don’t often talk about that we talk about like, men versus women’s pay. And we talk about like minorities and race and ethnicity but we forget about like other groups of people who What about their pay and their representation? And what about their leadership opportunities and things like that promotion? So there’s that and then there’s like men who also are are at home and their caregiving and therefore they’re taking care of the children. And like we forget about them. So it’s like there’s there’s so much that we often overlook because we we hyper focus on what we think inclusion means. We forget that it’s about all and I’m all about an inclusive future of work. And that means taking everybody with us, everyone.
Kate O’Neill 9:58
More inclusive of all indeed. In fact, as we discuss technology and gender issues, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge the growing recognition that gender is not binary. And many people’s experiences of technology are made worse because they don’t conform to the idea of that binary. There’s work to do here as well.
These women are just a few of the many voices working to create a more equitable and inclusive tech world. By amplifying their voices and following their work, we can help ensure that women and girls are better represented and valued in the tech industry.
That’s all we have time for today. But I hope this conversation has inspired you to think critically about the impact of technology on women and girls. Remember, as tech humanists, we have the power to shape the future of technology in a way that is equitable, inclusive and beneficial. And what was that Giselle?
Giselle Mota 10:52
And that means taking everybody with us, everyone.
Kate O’Neill 10:56
Thank you for listening to the tech humanist show. This episode was produced with help from our extended team, including research by Ashley Robinson and Erin Daughtery at Interrobang.
You can find more information about the show’s guests and links to their projects at thetechhumanist.com where you can also find more episodes, or you can subscribe at iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Special thanks to all of our guests for lending their voices and ideas to help make the future a brighter place.
I’m Kate O’Neill and you’ve been listening to the Tech Humanist Show from KO Insights.