How a More Gender-Balanced Tech Industry Might Look

  • 11th October 2016

BBC News reporter Zoe Kleinman asked a group of women working within STEM fields how the world might be different if more women worked in these typically male industries.

A common theme identified in these interviews was that women see technology as treating women like an afterthought, or as subordinates.

Women as subordinates or afterthoughts
“Early voice recognition software didn’t always recognise female voices, because none of the developers had been female and no-one thought to test out the technology on women (Car safety failed to take into account female anatomy – female-sized crash test dummies were only enforced in the US in 2011).”
“If there were more women in tech, health apps wouldn’t forget that women have periods and period tracking apps wouldn’t focus almost exclusively on planning for pregnancy.
“New laptops and phones aimed at women would focus on technical specifications and features rather than on being pink, and DSLR cameras would have smaller, lighter bodies with buttons positioned for smaller hands.”
“There would be more of a gender mix in AI voices – dutiful personal assistants wouldn’t be largely female (Siri at launch, Cortana, Alexa) and advanced humanoid robots wouldn’t be mostly male (SoftBank’s robot companion NAO and, going more retro, R2D2 and Hal 9000).”

Qualities women can bring to tech
“As women we tend to have natural multi-tasking and negotiating skills that come with other aspects of life, particularly when it comes to balancing work and home life or caring for a family.”
“Women are inquisitive and stay calm under pressure. They tend to look at problems from different angles and come up with creative solutions that may not have been thought of before.”
“With more women participating in the tech industry, I think we would (and I hope we will) see more products that focus on increasing the quality of life for the individual.”

What might be new
“Some of the technology developments under a women-only tech workforce might surround cars, which would be less of a status symbol and include more simple woman-friendly aspects such as extra storage, different body size assumptions and different features highlighted on the displays.”
“It could be as simple as extending a fitness tracker to monitor our reproductive health or prompt us to seek medical treatment. Relatively simple innovations like these could democratise healthcare globally.”
“We would also see healthcare technology aimed at specifically female aspects of physiology. Gone would be the days of vast numbers of women having appalling, quality-of-life-affecting health issues and being told it’s ‘one of those things’!”
“They would no longer have to battle stereotype threats and constantly have to feel the need to justify their presence as astrophysicists. I like to imagine how much extra energy all those women would have to get on with understanding the universe.”
“If there were more women in tech, there would be more role models to inspire young girls to pursue a career in tech.”

A more balanced perspective
“It’s not a question of women or men dominating the technology industry. What makes a big difference is creating an organisation that is ‘inclusive’ for all. An organisation where all can bring their ‘whole self’ to work and their intellect and passion are appreciated and channelled effectively.”

The women interviewed are:
Kriti Sharma, Director, Bots and AI, Sage
Suw Charman-Anderson, Founder, Ada Lovelace Day
Naomi Climer, Outgoing President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology
Deborah Clark, Senior Director, Neustar
Becky Plummer, Senior Software Engineer, Bloomberg
Sophie Vandebroek, Chief Technology Officer, Xerox
Dr Karen Masters, Astrophysicist, Portsmouth University
Gen Ashley, Director, Women Who Code London

Read the full BBC article.

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