A Sanguine Neurastheniac

Entries categorized as ‘Gender tech and’

Inclusion Is More Critical Than Uptime: Warming up the Occupy Philly Tech Tent

October 12, 2011 · 2 Comments

I support the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Together movement.  The wealth gap is a whole ‘nother macro thing, but this post is focused on my (admittedly limited) efforts to help the Occupy Philly tech crew boost their inclusiveness.  Last night I did a little canvassing then talked to the tech crew on-site at City Hall.  Before I left, I formed and discussed the recommendations below with the people I caught up with, and they liked the ideas.  The folks I talked to at the tent were very busy but took time out of fighting fires and the General Assembly to talk about the issues.  They were interested and receptive and I thank them for taking the time to reflect on their work process with me.  The first suggestion came directly from the media working group, so I can’t take credit.  Here’s an email I sent to the tech organizing list this morning.

Subject: [Occupy-Tech List] Tech inclusiveness–good first steps!

Hi all, a quick then not-quick summary of some tech inclusiveness work I did last
night. Just a first pass, but could be helpful right away. Also, a medic gave
tech a thumbs up and no complaints, so congrats!! You all are rock stars, thanks
for all the work you’re doing!

tldr: The tech tent team is overworked and underappreciated, and the occupation
is alienated from tech infrastructure. I talked to people last night and came up
with 6 initial recommendations to reduce workload by increasing inclusiveness.
They are:

1) Ask the Art working group for help making a FAQ poster to put on the front of
the tent. This could cut down on spurious requests.
2) Recruit a tech tent greeter to field questions and triage tech support
requests. Preferably a woman or person of color. Minimal tech background
needed. This person could also update the irc channel and tech mailing list as
to current tech needs that people can bring from outside.
3) Ask for a bigger tent (heh, pun unintended but appropriate). The tent is
cramped and there’s no room for:

Categories: Gender tech and · Uncategorized
Tagged: , , , , ,

Gender, Technology, and the Desk Job

April 22, 2011 · 2 Comments

I’m inspired by the speakers at Textile Messages earlier tonight, an event about e-textiles organized by Yasmin Kafai at UPenn.  One of the speakers, Leah Buechley, developer of the Lilypad Arduino, is also speaking tomorrow at a UArts/Hive76 event that I wish I could make it to.  The Lilypad took the Arduino idea and put it in a sewable form that gave e-textiles a big kick in the pants.  E-textiles or soft circuits are exciting for a lot a reasons that deserve their own exploration, but suffice it to say that what gets me gesticulating excitedly is the idea of mashing up different audiences with fluency in different technologies.  Putting electronics in crafts/clothing/sewing gives it a new accessibility, and gives it access to new creative thinkers.  By clearing a path for crafters and sewers to start thinking about conductivity and sensors, soft circuits make space for electronics (especially sensors) in the minds of people with different expertise.  Soft circuits (and play dough circuits and slime circuits) give electronics a new physical vocabulary.

As a result, conductivity and computing are undergoing an invigorating re-think.  Crafters don’t think about circuits the same way electrical engineers do, and they are free to ask new and compelling questions and demand innovative solutions.

Anyway, that’s a whole ‘nother thing but one undeniable outcome of the e-textile movement is that it has massively increased womens’ use of microcontrollers.  According to Leah’s dissertation, makers of high-visibility projects with Arduino are about 86% male and 2% female, while Lilypad user are 25% male and 65% female.  (The genders of the rest of the users couldn’t be determined.)  You can read more of Leah and Benjamin Mako Hill’s work over here.

So it got me thinking again about gender and tech, which is coming up a lot this year.  There’s some big stuff in the works.  I’ve been meaning to post my notes from the UN panel that I spoke on in March, and now’s a good time to start. The talk is split into 3 sections about the professional, volunteer, and leadership positions I’ve been in.  Here, I’ll start with the professional bit.

But first, please enjoy this awesome NSF-funded study called “Stemming the Tide:  Why Women Leave Engineering” and the author’s great summary.  A hat-tip to Tracey Welson-Rossman from TechGirlz who hipped me to the study:

As noted in our research, it’s a myth that women undertake rigorous educational training and join the workforce only to quit their jobs for ‘lifestyle reasons.’ Most cannot afford to or even want to quit. Stymied by long-standing institutional and structural barriers and entrenched gender stereotypes at work, many women professionals often alter their career trajectories and seek to satisfy their career ambitions in workplaces that respect, promote, and leverage their skills and talents. Again, not very different from what men do.

Ok.  Now on to my 2 cents about it as a woman and sysadmin.


Categories: Gender tech and
Tagged: , , ,

Gender, Technology and UN Pants

March 1, 2011 · 1 Comment

Photo courtesy of FatBusinessMan

It took a minute, but I found decent pants to wear to the UN. Yeah, that UN. This Thursday, March 3, 2011, I’m part of a panel about “Women in Technology: The Past, Present, and Strategies for the Future”, which will happen alongside the United Nations 55th Committee on the Status of Women Annual Conference. The topic of the big conference is access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. This event is organized by the Foundation for the Support of the United Nations (FSUN) and co-sponsored by United Nations Association, New York (UNA-NY); World Diversity Leadership Summit (WDLS) and Hitachi Data Systems. More info from the UN Association and the Foundation for the Support of the UN. It’s open to the public, so stop by if you like! Registration is requested but not required, and you can do so by emailing jcs.fsun [@] gmail.com. It happens at 2pm at the Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission, 221 East 52nd St., New York, NY, and is followed by another interesting panel on “Diversity and Inclusion: Strengthening Partnerships Between the Business Sector and NGOs”.

I’m going to give a little lightening talk about my experiences as an IT professional, a volunteer teaching basic tech, and an elected leader of a hackerspace addressing its diversity gaps. I’ll touch on how I feel I’ve been received in those situations, and what it’s like to increase women’s engagement with technology, and what’s going on in the background of those very different contexts.

The panel is really interesting. One of them is Christina Dunbar-Hester, about whom I effervesced in a previous post. There’s Tracey Welson-Rossman, founder of TechGirlz, a young Philly org that aims to get 6th to 8th grade girls excited about technology because that seems to be the age when their interest, and therefore aptitude, falls off. The wonderful LeAnn Erickson will be talking about her feature-length documentary about the Top Secret Rosies of WWII, and the women who programmed ENIAC. Leslie Chapman will bring her perspective as a software developer with a background in AI, and Lisa Dearborn joins us from Hitachi where she works as a Vice President of Diversity, College Programs, and Communications. There might be one more last minute addition that’s a secret, but here’s a hint: media critique and puppets.

Categories: Gender tech and
Tagged: , , ,

“I’d Rather Be A Cyborg Than A Goddess”: Getting a PhD in Geek

February 15, 2011 · Leave a Comment

My dear friend Christina is as humble as she is brilliant, which makes it easy to overlook things like this. Dr. Christina Dunbar-Hester’s Ph.D level syllabus on technology and media at the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers was profiled in The Atlantic back in September and I only just found out about it by poking around her Rutgers bio.

Her comments start by saying that basically, everybody likes to talk about how technology drives political and social change, but it’s important to look at how culture shows up in technology itself. Her dissertation, “Propagating Technology, Propagating Community?” dealt in part with how geeks, particularly political geeks, form their identities. For example, how do you form a geek hobby group with gender equity when the people who show up and WANT that gender equity, are mostly men? Bonus: a friend of a friend called it the only funny dissertation they’d ever read.

In her syllabus, she talks about all sorts of juicy aspects of technology and cultural context. She covers the Cyborg Manifesto, geek politics, technological determinism, how technology designers imagine their users, who gets left out of technology, and how ex-hippies, influenced by Cold War-era information flows, gave us both the Whole Earth Catalog and Wired magazine.

Obviously, there’s plenty for a thinkin’ person to sink hir teeth into, but there’s so much here for the rest of us plebes as well. As someone who has spent a lot of time and energy helping people get more engaged with technology, I can tell you that questions of how to form community, how people come to technology with history, baggage, and sometimes fear, and how to talk about cultural assumptions to people who think that technology is neutral, well, that’s pure gold. Or titanium. Or tantalum. Whatever.

Here are a couple more quotes to warm up your critique centers:

“What are the consequences of linking the notion of human ‘progress’ with its moral overtones, to technology?”

“How did computers transform in our collective imagination from dehumanizing machines of command and control into tools for self-expression, shared consciousness, and a new frontier of digital utopia?”

“SCOT was developed to avoid the conclusion that a given design that “won out” did so because it was simply the “best” design–rather, SCOT asks what “best” is understood to mean, and according to whom, and why…”

“The fact that our MP3 players are designed for holding a lot of music that we play back at a relatively low resolution, and whether we can record, reconfigure, or remix on these devices (even the simple matter of whether they possess or lack a “record” button) are not arbitrary matters–in fact, the recording industry, media activists, users, and designers all have had different things to say about … how we should be able to use them…”

Go read the rest!

Categories: Gender tech and
Tagged: , , , ,