In November 2019, which now looks like an aeon ago, I blogged about an interesting correlation I had actually come across. It was that the authors of the most informative reviews of digital innovation as released by the tech companies were ladies. I noted 20 of them and included that I made no claims for the analytical representativeness of my sample. It may just have actually been the result of confirmation bias– I learn more tech commentary than benefits anyone and it could be that the stuff that sticks in my memory happens to resonate with my views.
Sixteen months later, I find that my list of powerful female tech critics has extended. It now includes (in alphabetical order): Janet Abbate, Lilian Edwards, Maria Farrell, Timnit Gebru, Wendy Hall, Mar Hicks, Kashmir Hill, Lina Khan, Pratyusha Kalluri, Rebecca Mackinnon, Margaret Mitchell, Safiya Noble, Kavita Philip, Mitali Thakor, Corinna Schlombs, Dina Srinivasan and Carissa Véliz. If any of these are unknown to you then any excellent search engine will point you to them and to their work. Again, the normal caveats apply. I’m not declaring analytical representativeness, simply that as someone whose numerous day tasks include checking out a lot of tech critiques, these are the thinkers who stand out.
What does this interesting connection inform us? Quite a lot, as it occurs. The first conclusion is that the market that is reshaping our societies and weakening our democracies is overwhelmingly dominated by males. Yet– with a few honourable exceptions– male critics seem fairly untroubled by, or phlegmatic about, this specific element of the industry; they seem to see it as unavoidable and pass on to more ostensibly immediate concerns.
The persistent absence of gender variety in tech has been well known for ages and current years have actually seen many of the business confessing to the issue and vowing to do better. However progress has been mighty slow. It’s hard to prevent the conclusion that they still see it, like they see, say, hate speech, as a PR problem to be managed instead of as a structural issue that needs radical reform.
Alienating half your customers is not a smart method of doing business
My hunch is that nevertheless much the industry whines about gender diversity, it does not genuinely see it as a real problem. Male-dominated firms still get more than 80% of venture-capital financing and the cash often goes to business owners assuring to create product and services that allegedly deal with consumers’ genuine requirements. The difficulty is that male creators, specifically engineers, are not famous for understanding the issues that females experience, which is how we got absurdities such as Apple initially stopping working to include menstrual-cycle tracking in its smartwatch or in the iPhone’s Health app. Wow! Ladies have periods! Who knew?
The odd thing is how illogical this type of tech-bro gender-blindness is from a commercial point of view. After all, as the Economic expert puts it, alienating half your consumers is not a clever method of operating. Tailors and dressmakers determined a long period of time ago that males and females were various shapes and sizes. The news, however, doesn’t seem to have actually yet reached Palo Alto or Mountain View, where they are hectic creating virtual-reality headsets that make more females than men feel sick, possibly due to the fact that 90% of females have students that are better together than the typical headset’s default setting. Exact same chooses mobile phones that are too big to fit easily into the typical woman’s hand.
So we now have a networked world dominated by a market that exudes tech-bro arrogance and abundance combined with a profound lack of knowledge of what life resembles for the majority of people. The tech elites who develop the products and services are unlikely to have experienced social exemption, racism, misogyny, hardship or physical abuse. And in particular they have little idea of what life is like for females, although, offered the scandals about sexual harassment in tech companies, you ‘d have believed they ‘d have some concept by now. In those scenarios, it’s barely unexpected that the people who are likely to be the market’s most observant critics would be smart and well-read ladies.
Then there’s bigotry, a subject hardly ever talked about in respectful tech circles. Many of the most trenchant critics of the innovation and its release by Silicon Valley are women of colour. That’s no mishap, because they in specific are naturally attentive to the ways in which, for example, artificial intelligence and facial acknowledgment technology embody the prejudices embedded in the datasets that trained them. Silicon Valley is busy making– and profiting from– makers that will monitor and control individuals. But the engineers constructing the things have little understanding of, or contact with, the neighborhoods that have actually borne the brunt of machine-learning monitoring, frequently ladies, individuals who are black, native, LGBT+, poor or with impairments. And they never ever consult them prior to such systems are set up. Democracies need clever, informed, vital viewpoints on the asymmetries of power implicit in such violent technologies. Fortunately about my list of scholars is that they are clearly approximately the task.