There is a problem of unconscious bias in tech.
We all know that digital technologies and their transformational potential can improve people’s financial, health and social engagement. Yet, challenges still remain regarding women’s participation in and access to said technologies.
Is this an outcome by design? Or one that has occurred as an anomaly or by-product?
A study by Pitchbook in 2022 suggested that women’s health issues ‘only received 4% of healthcare research and development funding worldwide’. Considering that the global population is 49% female, that is a worrying statistic.
And these facts and figures aren’t restricted to healthcare… In the world of pensions, the median amount contributed and held in a private pension between the ages of 45 & 54 is 28% higher for men than it is for women, with women being more likely to reduce or remove contributions to later life savings, especially post-pandemic.
The stats go on and on.
Whether it is about financial inclusion, healthcare focus or employment flexibility, we need to readdress the balance and a great place to start is by ensuring that the digital products we build serve everyone, not just your most visible customers. A focus on inclusion is a must.
This International Women’s Day we have taken a look at the trailblazers who are driving the agenda forward and ask the question “Are women underserved by digital innovation?”.
According to Technation, around 6% of the UK’s adult population works in the Tech industry. However, the gender split within those 3 million working adults is 26%-74%.
With women only representing just over a quarter of the workforce in tech companies, is it a by-product of unconscious bias that women seem to be underserved by the digital technologies that are developed?
Diversity and inclusion are vitally important in all environments, and the more representative environments are of the wider community and culture, the better the outputs. Whether you are building a physical product, a service or a digital solution, the breadth of people who are scoping, spec’ing, planning & prioritising really matter.
Take this example from the wonderful Tina Fey (creator of 30 Rock, Mean Girls, and the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). She was asked about what it was like to be one of a few women who populated the Saturday Night Live writer’s rooms in the late 90s and early 2000s and reflected on it like this:
“Bias isn’t purposeful. It isn’t institutional. But if there isn’t a person in the room who gets it (the perspective of the joke). Then it inevitably perpetuates itself.”
When she was then asked how things changed when diversity in television writing rooms became a priority, she reflected on the outputs:
“What you noticed was… as things started to improve was that the chemistry of that room started to change and other things played better.”
What this illustrates is that you don’t know you have a problem until you make moves to see if a problem rears its head.
If a recruiter comes to you with 20 CVs from males, ask to see 10 males, and 10 females… if you are running a piece of design research, ensure there is equal participation from all genders, ethnicities and abilities…
You may just find that the outcomes shock you.
Many tech-start ups focus on common challenges that groups of people believe technology can play a part in solving.
And with male-focused start-ups like Numan and Hims doing so well, the pendulum is starting to swing the other way, with seed and series funding heading towards a range of interesting new female-focused businesses.
Let’s take a look at three:
Dotplot is an at-home breast health monitoring tool that offers guided self-checks on a monthly basis. It is designed to facilitate the early detection of breast cancer by enabling and encouraging women to stick to a regular breast-self check routine.
Dotplot users build a personalised map of their torso by providing size and shape information about their particular body type. Once set up, the app then guides women through the self-check by showing which areas they need to scan. The position of the device on the torso is determined by Dotplot’s pre-trained system which analyses the orientation of the device relative to the ground. A sound signal is emitted to record the tissue composition at the site. Each month’s reading is compared to the previously recorded readings to highlight any abnormalities developing in the tissue, at which point users can choose to send reports directly to their GP.
Withings offer the first-of-its-kind hands-free connected home urine lab.
This connected health lab sits within any toilet bowl. It provides an immediate snapshot of a woman’s body’s balance by monitoring and detecting a large variety of biomarkers found in urine while also offering actionable advice for health improvements.
With more than 3,000 metabolites, urine is an extraordinary witness to our health. It can help detect and monitor a large variety of health information. While urinalysis is typically performed only once a year, U-Scan opens the door to regular access to these metrics from the comfort and privacy of one’s own bathroom.
Evie provides a stylish smart ring designed specifically for women.Whether a woman is in their reproductive years, post-menopause, or anywhere in between, Evie is designed to help women in their health & wellness journey.
Evie gives you access to medical-grade data about yourself that you can trust and gives you information that you can use in conversations with your healthcare team, coaches and family members.
These examples are just three of a diverse and growing landscape of connected digital devices with companion software focused on health. There are many more out there that are looking to address women’s financial literacy, access to education and access to support, so change is afoot… there is a bright future on the horizon.
We asked the question in the opening paragraph ‘are women underserved by digital innovation?’ and the answer would be ‘yes, but things are trending in the right direction’.
As with all change, it happens incrementally and comes with people addressing imbalances head-on, rather than leaving old tropes and old ways of working to persist unabated.
The reason for optimism is in the younger generation. There have never been so many female developers, female data scientists, female designers… and so many women displaying a passion for technology.
If we can nurture that curiosity in the next generation, then we are only scratching the surface of what could be achieved on behalf of women, by women for the future of the 49%.
It’s a wonderful time to be a woman in tech and there is positive change happening every day. And there is no better time to disseminate that message than on International Women’s Day!