For International Women’s Day, Lotte Bergan, Origami’s EA to the Exec, takes a look at what the day means, the idea of unconscious bias and how important it is for those in Tech to try to #BreakTheBias
What is IWD?
I have only found myself aware of International Women's day (IWD) in the last decade, and I greet it with a vague detachment at the thought of self-celebration based on the biological sex assignment I share with roughly 50% of my species. If the day brings you any sort of murky guilt about not giving it the depth of engagement your moral compass hopes you would, you are probably not alone.
So what exactly is International Women's day, and why should we care?
The IWD website is an obvious place to start. It will dutifully tell you that 8th March is a global day celebrating women's social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and marks a call to action to accelerate gender parity.
Not just another Clinton Cards invention, IWD has roots back in 1911 starting in Europe, and over a century later, is celebrated globally. IWD is recognised as a national holiday in 27 countries, including Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Russia and Ukraine.
I must admit, I am guilty of becoming complacent about how far society has come in terms of women's rights in such a short time. I was shocked to discover that my husband had never heard of a suffragette. The reality is that things have changed radically, but it is all recent history. A lot of living memory remains of the 'old world,' and with that, the associated attitudes and unconscious biases.
Feminism at a glance
The suffragettes are icons of the first wave of feminism in the UK. The 1920s saw women gaining the right to vote, own property and be educated, but it wasn't until the 70s that the push to social equality really started. Fast forward through the ‘Riot Girlz’ in the 90s, and we get to the #MeToo movement of today.
In 1968, Stanley Kubrick's science fiction "2001: A Space Odyssey" predicted artificial intelligence, but it didn't predict women in space. In fact, all the female characters in the film were assistants, flight attendants and receptionists. When I first saw this film, I didn't notice. It took other students on my film degree to point this out. This demonstrates how friendly challenges to unconscious bias can open minds and encourage people to think critically themselves, without it feeling like a witch-hunt. That is how we are best placed to contribute to this year's theme and #BreakTheBias.
Let's talk about tech. Tech has a lousy reputation for its lack of diversity and its retention and treatment of women. In fact, the IWD website has a whole section dedicated to topics around it. The big-bad in this story is Silicon Valley. In recent years, you may remember an interesting debate after Google fired a senior software engineer in 2017 following the circulation of a document called "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber", arguing the reasons that women were underrepresented in tech were biological and criticising Google's diversity efforts to readdress the balance.
There is still much debate around the nature/nurture argument of biological sex differences. No sex difference applies to every man or every woman, so it is common sense to assume judgements of any person based on a generalisation of their group is grossly unhelpful. Using science to justify the imbalance is a lazy solution. Active inclusion avoids accidental exclusion.
Women may make up 50% of our species, of all religions, ethnicities, and countries worldwide. For that reason, the small differences we make can have a considerable impact. As far as we may have come, it is also important to remember that there are still some women whose rights have not changed since the Middle Ages. The World Economic Forum predicts that we won't see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. It is actually challenging to picture what it might even look like.