The statistics of women in technology as well as digital media related industries are shamefully low. The game industry alone only employs about 2.9 percent woman in leadership roles, and other sectors are not terribly dissimilar. Hardware start ups are by far the most notorious for being skewed in terms of gender ratios and outright hostility to women.
To bring attention to gender inequity, numerous articles have surfaced to highlight that the percentage of computing jobs held by women in tech has actually fallen over the past 23 years as the technology sector has grown and pervades our daily lives. One study showed that in 2013, just 26% of computing jobs were held by women in the U.S. alone, which was down from 35% in 1990. Since the 1980s, we have also been witnessing a steady decline of women in computer science even though the percentage of engineering jobs for women are supposedly on the rise.
While well-meaning conferences and pioneering organizations focused on fostering gender equity and training for women in technology are rapidly emerging to rectify this increasing gap, what continues to fascinate me is the absence of a robust discussion of alternative genres and product diversification.
Rather than envision how we might design technologies differently from a women-centered point of view, much of the mainstream attention emphasizes fitting into a pre-existing system and approach to technological development. We continue to dress in drag when we could instead pro-actively shape the discourse and re-humanize our relationship to future technologies.
My hunch is that if we go all the way back to the forking moment post World War II, when cybernetics emerged, we will see that a full subordination of human subjectivity to the conscious demands of technical rationality and cognitive efficiency began to take root. This legacy still haunts us and continues to permeate how we think about and make technology. Cybernetic principles (established by a small group of mostly white men) are predicated upon quantification, prediction and social control as a means to not only quiet the fear of a “chaotic moral universe,” but to also rid society of human error altogether.
Today, we continue to develop technology designed to emphasize cognitive efficiency at the expense of bodily engagement with the world. We separate our senses, regulate our emotions and deny the body, in part, because they are seen as the source of error and considered lower-level functions.
But what if we didn’t?
What if we flipped the equation, and instead approached the creation of technologies in a radically new way that reasserted the importance of the body, emotions and the senses as equal sources of intelligence? We might come to once again value spontaneity, unpredictability, wonder, surprise, and intimacy.
AT XTH, we use this mode of inquiry as the starting point for re-envisioning our future relationship to bodies and technology. We are able to challenge normative innovation frameworks because gender equity is central to our mission. From the outset, we actively sought out a well-balanced global pool of talent, and we have benefited from and been challenged by the full range of viewpoints and approaches to design and development. We believe gender equity expands the qualified employee pool, improves the bottom line, promotes equality, reflects our customer base, and most importantly, enhances innovation.
We could not have achieved what have today without the unique lens of our lead engineer, Marije Baalman, industrial design guru, Marina Toeters and genius graphic designer, Paola Terzi. Let’s continue to serve as strong role models to encourage more young woman to create hardware and software start ups!