Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist

Anjali:

I agree with all of this, makes a lot of sense and captures key points as a checklist really well. So now you know what to do.

Originally posted on this is not a pattern:

A friend of mine posted this on Twitter:

I really respect the amount of self-awareness it takes to ask that question! It’s easy to disavow the trolls sending rape and death threats, but it takes much more courage to acknowledge that you might be perpetuating harmful attitudes in less-obvious ways.

[Author's Note: I felt like it was important to establish some context, but you can also skip the 101-level discussion and jump right to the list.]

This question hints at two important concepts: implicit biases and microaggressions.

We have all internalized harmful stereotypes about women — it’s part of growing up in a culture that inculcates gender roles from a very early age. Our culture has deeply-embedded patriarchal power structures (ditto racist and classist and ableist and transphobic and homophobic…

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How to write a memorable line

From the Guardian:

First, “lexical directiveness”: memorable quotes are built from simple sentences, constructed in the normal way (or with “common syntactic patterns” as the linguists call it). But, the memorable phrases that we use are unexpected in those unsurprising sentence constructions.

Their second finding was that memorable quotes tend to be more generally applicable, and aren’t tied to the particular area in which they were first developed. Even better, they found strong evidence that these principles apply to non-movie lines, such as advertising slogans and brand language.

I love @transferwise. I even said it on broadcast media.

Some of you may know that I think Transferwise is a great service: simple to use, great UX, disrupting the fintech landscape. I’ve even blogged about it before. So when they were looking for people to back them up in ad they were making to reach an Indian/Asian audience here, I thought I might give it a go. Never been in one, so something else to add to my list of life experiences, so to speak.

Feature in a telly ad: check.

Now go get on Transferwise!

My talk for @GGMUK’s conference last weekend

I spoke at the Geek Girl Meetup conference last weekend. It was more of a general riffing along the lines of ‘pay more attention to how and why you use technology’.

What is technology? We’ve always had it and we know how it changes, and with it how we progress as human beings.

When I was asked to speak at today’s conference, the work of one of my favourite writers came to mind. Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine and the former publisher of the Whole Earth Review spoke in his most recent book What Technology Wants about the technium –  ‘a word to designate the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us’. It’s a brilliant book that traces the history of technology, of us as people and how we’ve interacted with various kinds of technology. He says we create our own problems because of our interaction with some form of technology – going back to the wheel (think cars, then accidents, the awareness technology to alert us and so on). So we have a choice between the two and as humans, we tend to go with solutions which tip the overall balance in favour of progress over time. I tend to agree with this.

In as much as there are people who complain about attention deficit disorder and the like, and yes that, and trolls, are real problems, I’m confident that we’ll rise above it in the long run. 4chan probably isn’t going to be shut down any time soon, even if the Emma Watson story was a hoax, but the sheer number of people – men, women, media outlets even – who are rising up against people who troll talented women writers, gamers, celebrities is rising – that’s why I’m optimistic.

I think it is incumbent upon us all now more than ever to be mindful of technology even as we use it. It is very easy to get lost in the flow of doing things – of checking email, stalking people on Facebook, announcing things on Twitter, communicating with your team on Slack. It’s important to stop and take stock every now and then about the relationship we have with technology and what it is doing for us that makes us better. Because that is the ultimate goal, right? It can be small things. When I realised that having my mobile phone next to my pillow was affecting my quality of sleep, I created a self-imposed rule to never bring it in to the bedroom at night. It’s been 2 years now and it’s working pretty well. Of course I wish I had that level of control in other areas of my life, but – small steps, as I said!

DO YOU NEED THIS?

Ask yourselves this, when you get excited by that latest piece of gadgetry: DO YOU NEED THIS?

Do you really need that connected watch? The Apple Watch has surprised many people’s expectations of the technology that can be packed in to a watch. I’m not enamoured by it at all, even if it is a really good piece of design. I got the Pebble, I got a Nooka, I have a Fuelband – they’re all great in different ways but none have lasted a few months of use because all I really need is a very basic device to tell the time! In short, it isn’t for me.

And do YOU need this is very different from do THEY need this, they being an alternate group of people who in all likelihood live very different lives from you. This is where technology can make a tremendous impact on the lives of people who do not have the same access to resources that you might. Project Mudra is a great example of this: it is a Braille dicta-teacher built using Raspberry Pi and Arduino by a couple of Indian students. Existing resources apparently assume previous knowledge of Braille, and this teaches Braille by voice, thereby bridging a gap that was previously unaddressed.

DO YOU NEED THIS, HERE?

The next thing I think is important for us to consider is what technology means to us in our specific situation. Do we need our washing machines to message us when the laundry is done? Consider Cloudwash, a prototype for a connected washing machine which is pretty amazing from a tech POV. I can see some use, personally, for it in some parts of the world – in New York when I lived in a building where the laundry room was in the basement I could have certainly used that for example. But in London most flats and houses have their own washing machines, so I don’t see the value here.

Do we need fire alarms to be more sensible (Nest), for a way of going through the barriers that doesn’t involve rummaging in a bag for a wallet that has your Oyster card (Fin)? Yes, I can see uses for all those things, as a Londoner.

And of course one basic thing that still hasn’t been sorted yet: for self-service machines in the supermarket to be more intelligent (unidentified item in the baggage area)!

But in a different context, these pretty cool things are probably not much use at all.

But every time I go back to India to visit family, I realise how pointless all those developments would be in that environment. No tube barriers, no fire alarms in the house. Connectivity isn‘t as robust on average so that’s a priority instead. So no market for Nests and Fins – not a viable one yet anyway. But people have mobiles. Everyone does, pretty much – people in rural areas have mobiles where they might not have a TV or the internet. So mobiles are sorting out problems – from cutting out middlemen (M-Farm, Sokotext) to providing solar energy where electricity doesn’t exist (M-Kopa Solar) to allowing refugees to text back their needs to the WFP (Geopoll) to even monitoring foetal heart beats in local hospitals (Winsenga).

Scanadu is making diagnosis of diseases almost magical, if you ask me – when I first show this video to people they laugh – but if you think about it, holding something up against parts of your body to figure out what’s wrong with you is quite a natural behaviour (holding your hand against your forehead to check for fever, holding thermometer in mouth and so on) so holding a device against, say, an arm rash isn’t that strange from a behavioural point of view. Still, there’s something about making people perform the role usually performed by doctors and nurses that makes them laugh – uncomfortably, it would be seem. So it isn’t going to be mainstream soon – and it is going to rub up against regulations, so those problems will have to be sorted out. Are the inventors going to be held liable if something goes terribly wrong when someone uses it wrongly, for example? There are societal constraints that need to be considered even if technology itself – the ability to actually build this – is not a problem at all. That’s where a lot of innovation stalls, actually. It stalls because people don’t correctly pinpoint what kind of constraint they’re up against, and therefore what they need to overcome.

DO YOU NEED THIS, HERE, NOW?

And some things will probably never really have a role to play – let’s be honest!

I will leave you with a few thoughts on what I think is one of the most important ways technology has certainly changed my life over the last few years. Over a decade ago I did my Master’s dissertation on social capital, the benefits that derive from interaction and cooperation with and between groups. Things have changed vastly since the 1970’s when Robert Putnam wrote his seminal Bowling Alone. He claimed that technology and mass media were passive entertainment channels that encouraged the creation of narrow focus groups that never branch out.

But subsequent research proves that ubiquitous technology brokered by the internet is actually good for social interaction. Technology has supercharged the creation of social capital today like never before. And it makes it easier to tap into skills, get advice, feel part of a community even if you don’t have one physically near where you work or live.

Ada’s List, where over 700 women in tech now participate online sharing thoughts all the time, asking questions, helping other women get jobs, learn about new projects and tools and getting more visibility for all of us, is one such community and it is amazing to see the different nodes of this network grow stronger by being a part of it. I invite all of you women in tech to join in.

Find your community, and grow.

Bits and pieces from #canandwill @5x15stories

Sir Ranulph Fiennes speaking at 5x15, picture via 5x15

Sir Ranulph Fiennes speaking at 5×15, picture via 5×15

I went to the 5×15 stories event this week. It was the most inspiring evening I’ve been to in a long time.

Karren Brady, former MD of Birmingham Football Club and current Vice-Chairperson of West Ham spoke about leadership. She spoke about being a woman in a man’s world, and turning around a business (Birmingham) that went from debt to being sold for £82 million in a little over 10 years. The six characteristics of leadership she mentioned are worth remembering: leadership (which is about inspiring people and shouldn’t be confused with management), ambition (a personal desire to do your best all the time), determination, attitude (‘if you can, change it. If you can’t, change your attitude), direction (everyone needs to understand what is expected of them) and being positive (hanging on when everyone has let go). She quoted Martin Luther King:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

I was very excited to see Mick Ebeling because I think Project Daniel is brilliant. He spoke about that of course but also about the idea of impossible. He mentioned Roger Bannister and the 4-minute mile, saying that it had never been broken till he did, and then after that, it was broken multiple times in a very short span of time. So,

Impossible isn’t about impossible, it’s about permission.

Pam Warhurst spoke about Incredible Edible Todmorden, and

Believing in the power of small actions

Mike Goody, a former RAF soldier who lost a leg in Afghanistan and is an incredible sportsman nevertheless, spoke about his journeys, his mental strength and the Invictus Games. He quoted the poem ‘Invictus‘ by William Ernest Henley. It’s a moving poem, but I will always remember the last two lines that Mike read out:

I am the master of my fate

I am the captain of my soul

Hearing Ranulph Fiennes speak is knowing you are in the presence of a legend. He is the only man alive to have ever travelled the earth’s circumpolar circumference, and his expeditions and adventures are truly jaw-dropping. Videos of him on the North Face of the Eiger (as someone who has fears heights) and sailing from South to North Pole at a time when there was no modern gadgetry: GPS, phones, etc. were as inspiring as they were nerve-racking.

So, yes, after all that if I can’t and won’t do anything, I have only myself to blame.

Well said @hondanhon – being ‘awkwardly specialised’ *is* a thing

Dan Hon hits the spot:

One thing that I’ve noticed is a sort of awkward specialisation for a bunch of people in their thirties who’ve grown up with the internet and worked in the industry. It seems like there’s not that great a title for people who’ve “done internet stuff” but who weren’t firmly in one camp or another. In other words, the mythical Design/Developer unicorn. Instead, there’s a whole bunch of people who sit firmly in that Venn diagram intersection who are *very good* at getting along with designers and developers, and are able to bridge that gap, and yet precisely because they *don’t* fit into one camp or the other are eminently unemployable. Because you’d much rather hire a unicorn, a designer/developer, than a translator, right?

Here is the thing about those people in the middle. Those people in the middle see systems and like to solve problems. They still see the power of the internet in helping to solve those problems, and to make things better. But they’re not specialists. They’re not designers and they’re not writers, they’re not developers and they’re not ops or sysadmins. Perhaps one way of looking at them is saying that they’re Product Managers (but not Project Managers). But they’re the people who help figure out what it is that you want to do, and help you do it. Regardless of the *title*, there’s still a need for the people who can keep it all in their head. Who understand enough about all the little bits – but who might not be able to implement them – that they have respect and trust to lead. Maybe that’s a thing.

On @GNLamp and #iotboost – spread the word

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Alex has finally been able to launch the Good Night Lamp, open for pre-orders now. The first 100 made out of walnut are limited edition so if you’re keen on connected products then this is your chance to get a beautiful one (tip: there are only 38 sets left at the moment!). I’ve seen early prototypes and they’re truly magical. It’s taken her 10 years to get this far. The internet of things might be a buzzword and everything but actually getting funding for a company in the sphere, building a team, liaising with factories, manufacturing them, getting them to market – not easy at all. I know this from conversations with her, and I admire her for getting this far. I look forward to seeing Good Night Lamp grow.

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On a related note, I also feel it is important to help internet of things startups get the leg up they need early on. Much of what I do with the Omnicom Innovation Group is about this. The Connected Digital Economy Catapult is a platform to help the best digital ideas built by UK startups go the distance. They’re holding the Internet of Things Boost event on October 3rd in Liverpool where experts from manufacturing, wireless connectivity, use research, big data, finance and marketing will be on hand to provide advice to these startups on their business problems one-on-one. I’ll be the marketing person on the team that will be holding clinics. If you are, or you know anyone, working with connected consumer products or industrial hardware, please ask them to come along (it’s free to attend) and spread the word amongst your networks.