What does technology have to do with machismo and lack of representation?

* Maria Flavia Souza is director of the Auto & Health Business Unit at Take Blip

Every year, when March arrives, my schedule, like that of several women I know, is filled with requests for interviews and participation in lives and events. I hold a management position, which is still quite rare in the market — and not just in Brazil, but especially in Brazil.

Yes, of course, the space offered to us to talk about the struggle of women at the negotiating table still dominated by men is very important.

And no matter what we do, we all have a lot to talk about. Executives, teachers or doctors, housewives, students, lawyers, young or old, without exception, our stories go beyond the day established as International Women’s Day.

The message that I would like to share here has to do with technology and my perception in this field, which I have already recognized for a good 20 years and a little more.

By talking a little about the world of innovation and algorithms and, especially, who makes these algorithms, I hope to bring another element of discussion about women, but not only them — for people who, equally, have little space and power to decision-making in companies and society in general.

What does a world with little diversity represent?

The technology itself is not biased, but the whole story behind it is. Technological favoritism for certain demographics has led to a lack of diversity among programmers, and thus machines unwittingly replicate these biases. The majority presence of the same few traditional groups is seen in the search engine algorithm, in which the word “lesbian” until yesterday referred to pornography sites.

The soap dish with sensor, which does not recognize the black hand, says a lot. I ask: is whoever made the soap dish racist? No, but probably the entire team that developed the soap dish is made up of white people. They tested it with their skin color. In other words, the lack of diversity behind the development had a strong influence on the result of the product.

Unfortunately, this is not the only example. There are thousands, such as facial recognition that does not recognize women’s faces, or recognizes it with a degree of difficulty; voice recognition, much more friendly to male timbre, among others.

A recent test of an algorithm for lending and other financial services passed far more white males of a certain age. This algorithm was developed with previously approved data. That is, the machine learned from the past. However, if the past has a history that excluded diversity, it will continue to do so, but in a more exponential way.

Society has created a separation in which women care and men develop. It is a culture that comes from an early age and that, in the long term, leads to an immense lack of representation, among other areas, in the world of technology. Just remember that, in our childhood, girls received pans and iron, and boys received trucks and tools.

The Gender Gap Report pointed out that 72% of artificial intelligence professionals are men. And the UN Women mapped only 17% of female programmers. It is very difficult for a young woman to come to these spaces and say “I belong here”. Environments with a majority of men intimidate, scare away. Many end up giving up or adopting masculine ways to fit in. And this can be a very harmful pressure that contributes to making environments more sexist.

It is also worth mentioning how this whole system imposes lower wages on women than men – a practice that was previously traditional in the labor market, originally patriarchal, in which the man, as the patriarch of the family, deserved to earn more. We know that today this notion does not match the current reality, but this practice continues to be done by companies.

Bringing more women and all other diversity into any field is important. For technology I would say that it is fundamental for the ability to exponentialize an existing problem.

If we, professionals who work with technology, don’t act intentionally to change this history, racism, machismo and all systemic prejudices will grow exponentially because that’s what the machine does.

Applications are used by women, blacks, men, old people, children, lesbians, gays, in short, by the most diverse people. If there is no diversity in development, we will most likely continue to develop with tags. A history of privileged developers will result in a privileged view that most consumers do not. But if we hire people with a history of issues that involve their environment and put them in the same environment, we will have such a diversity of views and such a better product! This is good for companies and good for the world.

This is clearly a moment of transition, in which female leadership, with its more empathetic and collaborative look, will grow a lot as new generations enter the job market.

We still have a long way to go towards a healthy environment where men, women, white and black people live together. Each of us has our struggle, our questions, our role. Today, technology is of great importance in the world; has a lot of jobs and that’s where the world will develop. For people to see themselves there, it is necessary to change their entire mindset. And this is a matter of intentionality. The old organizational model is incompatible with the desires of the contemporary world.

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