2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Global 16 Days Campaign. According to UN Women, the global theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which will run from 25 November to 10 December 2021, is “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”
Violence against women is messy. Year after year, reports, statistics, and think tanks remind us how bad the situation is and how to address it.
Still, we fail to make this planet safe for half of the population. Moreover, some groups of women are especially let down by our society.
Children are an afterthought in our digital inclusion plans.
We talk about the importance of embedding diversity, inclusion, and ethics in technology as a prerequisite for a digital future that works for everybody. The conversation is framed in the context of identities – gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, culture. However, we have forgotten children. I’m talking about children’s data privacy and their vulnerability to tech tools, especially those powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
In this article, I share four areas where we’re letting children down and how the power of framing data as money can help us to proactively include them.
I’ve been beating the drum of the business value of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in tech since 2015. Many moons later, still every time I engage in this discussion with business leaders, they invariably default to either the diversity of their workforce or the McKinsey reports correlating the gender and ethnic makeup of their leadership teams to increased financial returns such as higher earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT).
In my experience, it’s hard to use correlation to convince the skeptics or to support D&I champions. On the flip side, through my professional and personal path, I’ve witnessed innumerable instances where D&I has played a crucial role in the success and failure of initiatives and organizations.
How did I come to witness all that evidence? I’ve been a unicorn all my life. I became an emigrant before I was a year old and I’ve had the opportunity to live in 6 countries and 3 continents. As a woman, my professional path is “atypical” by Anglo-Western standards. I studied engineering and computational chemistry, which are considered typically male occupations. Beyond academia, I’ve worked for chemical and tech companies. I don’t have children. I still remember talking to colleagues in December 2015 about the need to put in place a strategy to retain women in tech as half of the young women who go into tech drop out by the age of 35 [source]. To my surprise, often my puzzled interlocutors would ask me if “diversity and inclusion was an American thing”.
Fortunately, nowadays there is much more awareness about diversity and inclusion in business, including the tech sector. Also, there are some companies that are getting tangible value out of understanding the value of developing solutions for underserved populations. As I’ve written in the past, people with disabilities and their families constitute a market the size of China ($8 trillion/year). Closer to home, the UK’s 12 million people with disabilities have a spending power of £120 billion as per AbilityNet, a British charity focused on the digital inclusion of people with disabilities.
But how to go beyond preaching to the converted? Moreover, how to engage with organizations that don’t have the budget for a Head of D&I?
What business leaders want to know about the value of D&I
Early June this year, I launched a survey asking business owners, managing directors, CXOs, and board members their top question about the business value of diversity and inclusion. In return for answering the survey, I offered respondents to email them my answer to their question.
I categorized the 50 answers I received into four buckets. Even in such a small sample, still we can trace a roadmap for how organizations approach D&I at workplaces
I’m delighted to be featured in the last issue of The Mint Magazine on the digital economy. My first contribution to an economics journal!
In this article (5-min read), I highlight how the pervasiveness of patriarchy, exceptionalism, and meritocracy in the technology sector is at the core of women’s battle for fair access to leadership positions in tech.
I also share how we need to overhaul tech so it moves from extracting to contributing to society and the planet.
What are your views on the topic? How does my story resonate with yours?
Early this year, I received the following post in my daily digest from the Ada’s List [source], a supportive community of women who work in and around technology.
Over the next few weeks, we’re collaborating with long time Ada’s List partners Bulb for a 3 week blog series – and we need you! The blog series will be split into the following topics, with all places allocated on a first come, first serve basis:
●Growth – All places taken ● Branding and Company Values – Places available ● Sustainability – Places available
I wrote back
I’ll be very interested in talking about embedding diversity and inclusion practices as a part of the sustainability agenda, both footprint and handprint.
I was invited to participate in the post. I was very pleased when I received the questions sent by Bulb to guide my contribution. There was one explicitly mentioning diversity and inclusion.
As you’ll read below, I didn’t limit the value of diversity to one answer.
For the last 6 years, I’ve been very vocal about what’s wrong with products, services, and workplaces that exclude users and employees. I’ve designed visual tools, given talks, and created communities to highlight the problems and build a business case for diversity and inclusion. Whilst all those efforts have contributed to increasing awareness about the issues, change has been incremental at best. What’s more, the pandemic is already threatening to reverse any progress made in the last decades.
Exceptional times call for exceptional measures
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
What if instead I’d draw a picture of a better future? The occasion was the final assignment for a creative writing course sponsored by Arts Council England: A 2,000-word story related to World War II.
Keep reading to discover my assignment, which is now part of the book “VE75 An Anthology of Short Stories” by Trafford Libraries.
In 2018, I discovered that in spite of considering myself a diversity and inclusion evangelist, the books I read were mostly written by white, anglophone, American, and heterosexual men. I was appalled at the homogeneity of the voices to whom I was paying attention. Decided to do something, I began to record not only if I liked a book, but categories such as the gender and ethnicity of the authors, where they were born or their religion.
As a result, in 2019 I read 40 books written by a much broader range of voices. The experience was so energizing, that a year ago I launched the #CuriousMindsDiversePeople2020 challenge [source]. The aim of the challenge was to serve as a quarterly accountability check for the diversity of the voices participants heard in 2020. Subscribers to the email list received quarterly emails reminding them to check the diversity of what and whom they were reading, listening, and watching and sharing with them the list of books I’d read in the previous three months.
Figure adapted by Patricia Gestoso from this image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay .
(7 min read)
Imagine you go into a one-week change management training with the expectation is that when you are back to work you’ll reassure everybody that there is no need to change. How does that sound?
Actually, this is what’s happening right now. We’ve been in a change management boot camp for 3 months now, at the cost of $2-4 trillion US$ (UNCTAD, Asian Development Bank), but most leaders keep using sentences such as “back to normal” and “resume”, or simply they have gone hiding. Do they really believe we can all go backwards in time to 31 December 2019? Are they lacking the creativity and energy to be the catalyst for a different future miles away from their vision four months ago? Or are they simply patronizing their citizens and employees by thinking that if they keep insisting on going forward to the past, we’ll all close our eyes to our individual and collective experiences during this crisis?
Last week, I asked a colleague how her recent transition to remote working was going on. Was her internet and VPN working ok? Did she get access to the docking station, screen, and mouse from the office? Was she proactively taking breaks?
Her answers reassured me: Yes, yes, and yes.
She also told me that after finishing her work at 6.00 pm she rushed to the supermarket to only find broccoli and Brussels sprouts. We made fun about how some people rather starve than eat certain food. It also made me realize that I’ve failed as a leader.
The scarcity trap
The picture that accompanies this post it’s how the supermarkets looked like where I live a week ago. It’s how they looked all this week too. And this weekend as well. Me too, I’ve felt the pain and stress of visiting 3, 4, 5 supermarkets to gather the basic food and toiletries I needed.
Interacting with tech products that reject me as a user or provide a subpar experience elicits two very different responses in me.
As a Head of Customer Service with 25+ years’ experience in scientific and engineering software, I’m well aware of the constraints imposed by a finite R&D team and an ever-growing list of customer enhancement requests and bugs to fix. It’s teams like mine that build those lists and provide feedback to the product team on their prioritization. Which features and fixes make it into code depends on a multitude of factors: the difficulty to implement them, their alignment with the vision for the product, and their potential impact on the user experience and expectations. This last criterion is assessed using fictional user personas created by the product team as a representation of the ideal customer. The closer the requester of the feature is to one of the user personas, the higher the chances of implementation into the product. However, if the issue is considered an edge case – not representative of a substantial customer base – then it will mostly get rejected or postponed indefinitely. Every new feature and fix must demonstrate its ROI.
As a woman that cumulates several out-group identities – e.g. non-native English speaker, poor vision – I’m used to the frustrating feedback that my mediocre user experience is deceptively cataloged as an edge case. Why deceptively? The average tech Continue reading →
Before using the term diversity and inclusion advocacy, I had already identified the need for it. I’m a woman, STEM studies, work in tech, and I’ve been an immigrant all my life. This intersection of out-group identities has often resulted in being seen as the other. It has also prompted me to consciously endeavour to listen and empower members of other out-groups.
However, a little more than a year ago, I realized that, unconsciously, I was silencing those other voices.
The term empathy has been steadily gaining visibility for years. It’s not a hunch; as per Google Trends, its popularity has doubled in the last 10 years. This shift can be explained by empathy expanding from the personal sphere (partner, family, friendship) to the business arena (emotional intelligence, management, customer service, HR, diversity and inclusion). What’s more, empathy appears to be the cure-all for any human interaction mismatch (and for machines too: if only they would have empathy…).
But, is this based on hard evidence or wishful thinking?
I believe that betting on empathy is unlikely to make the positive change in human relationship we are looking for. Continue reading →
Chairing an employee awareness session about the UK Gender Pay Gap in Tech at the Dassault Systèmes office in Coventry.
Recently, I was invited to chair a “Breakfast & Learn” session at our Dassault Systèmes office in Coventry (UK). The topic: UK Gender Pay Gap. This article is a reflection on that great learning and interactive experience.
What is “Breakfast & Learn”? One-hour monthly awareness sessions organized by our Great Place to Work (GPTW) ambassadors around a specific theme. Ideally, the presenters should keep the topic light and open, avoid the profusion of slides, encourage the audience participation, and limit the use of jargon. A healthy breakfast is provided along.
Why me? I founded the EuroNorth Dassault Systèmes Lean In circles in 2016 to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives at a regional level, I’m a member of the EuroNorth Diversity and Inclusion Council, and I’ve had the pleasure to host virtual employee meetings with our UK HR team to discuss the findings of our gender pay gap reports for 2016/2017 and for 2017/2018.
Why this topic? I learned that the recent publication of the Dassault Systèmes Gender Pay Gap report had been a hot topic for discussion in this office. There were different views regarding the scope, key indicators, and impact of the UK gender pay gap as well as the usefulness of reporting the data. Continue reading →
The typewriter, internet, closed captioning, text-to-speech, eye gaze.
All those inventions have in common a widespread application and impact. They were also originally created to overcome a limitation imposed by a disability. And there are a lot more, as this article points out.
Surprised? I was. Stereotypes do narrow our thinking.
I was not planning to like Moment of Lift (source) by Melinda Gates. Although I was tempted to read it, I always bailed out at the last minute because somehow I thought it would be some kind of 101 Wishful Thinking for Women. When the World Economic Forum Book Club (source) chose it as a May read, I thought it may be a signal. It was.
I love the Masters of Scale podcast, hosted by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and investor at Greylock. What’s not to like about a podcast about innovative business models, that is fun and committed to a 50-50 gender balance for guests? Continue reading →
In my first LinkedIn article, I share 5 key factors to the success of the customer support team I lead. Predictably, diversity of workforce and perspectives is crucial to delivering exceptional customer service. Continue reading →
A structure like a seat over a hole where you get rid of waste from your body.
A room in a house or public building that contains a toilet.
Early this month I attended TEDxLondonWomen. As per the director and curator of the event – Maryam Pasha – it was 8 years in the making. The stimulating array of speakers showed a labor of love, commitment, and resilience.
I went to the event to keep up with the state-of-the-art in women’s issues and to network. I did a lot of the first (more at the end of this post), less of the second.
Remember last time you were faced with strong winds against you whilst cycling or walking? Probably yes. And tailwinds, i.e. winds that helped you to progress faster? Probably not.
In their scientific articleThe headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings, Shai Davidai and Thomas Gilovich used headwinds and tailwinds as a metaphor to explain our perception of advantages and disadvantages that we face. Continue reading →
Two weeks ago I attended the Ada’s List Conference 2018. The Ada’s List is an email-based community of more than 6,000 subscribers (me among them) “for women (and those who identify as) who are committed to changing the tech industry”.
The Conference was structured as a blend of presentations and concurrent workshops covering a vast array of topics related to women in tech. Inclusive design (‘Leaving No One Behind: Building Apps for The Next Billion Users’ by Aygul Zagidullina), new technologies (‘How can we use advanced imaging technology to build a better food system?’ by Abi Ramanan), self-care (‘Discover your self-care non-negotiables” by Babs Ofori-Acquah), and UX (‘Personalising the user experience and the playlist consumption on Spotify‘ by Mounia Lalmas-Roelleke) are some examples.
If there was a talk that both challenged my preconceptions and fuelled my optimism that a diverse and inclusive workplace is achievable was that of Åsa Nyström, Director of Continue reading →
In 2015, the UK branch of WaterAid – an international non-profit organization with the mission of providing clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene to people that don’t have them yet – launched the campaign If Men Had Periods to denounce that more than 1 billion women around the world lack of water and toilets during their menstruation. Furthermore, WaterAid wanted to increase the number of signatories to their Make it Happen petition, which called on world leaders to make sure that the UN sustainable development goals included a target on safe water and sanitation.
Their tongue in cheek approach was successful. Their adds won several awards, their Continue reading →
Women, Tech & Power (Figure adapted by Patricia Gestoso from Pixabay images).
As a woman joining the university in the late ’80s to pursue an engineering degree, I took for granted that gender parity in the workplace was around the corner. The few female professors in our science and engineering faculties reassured us that we were on a good track. They shared how as students they were only 2-3 women per chemical engineering cohort, whilst we could be counted by tens! The message was clear: “”Don’t complain and work hard. Women’s presence is scaling exponentially”.
It’s 2018 and the World Economic Forum reports that the workplace gender gap will not be closed for 217 years. This disappointing realization has sprung a flurry of expert Continue reading →
a bias that happens automatically, outside of our control and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences.
Whilst all human beings have unconscious biases, that’s not an excuse for inaction. Unconscious bias impactsContinue reading →
Recently, I read the through-provoking Women & Power A manifesto, written by Prof. Mary Beard. In the chapter The Public Voice of Women, she highlights that in the Western tradition for the last 3,000 years women’s public speech has been confined to two areas: (a) the support of their group interests (e.g. women rights), and (b) their victimhood (e.g. Christian martyrs). Attempts to breach that rule are Continue reading →
The Collins Dictionary defines privilege as “a special right or advantage that only one person or group has”. The paradox is that is not uncommon that those same persons or groups are oblivious to their privilege in the first place!
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book “Everybody lies” assembles his work on what he calls “Google Digital Truth Serum”, people’s internet searches. Seth theorizes that people are more honest when they ask Google than to any other source, including Facebook, which he calls “Digital Brag to My Friends How Good is My Life Serum”.
As women advancement in the career ladder has stalled, there is an urgency to signal “the” culprit: women don’t ask for promotions, women don’t have an appetite for leadership, women don’t sit at the table… Unfortunately, rarely those assertions come with metrics.
Recently, I came across an article in the Engineering and Technology magazine that made me realize up to what extent artificial intelligence (AI) is mirroring our gender biases, conscious or unconscious. Think about the ubiquitous female voice in our home-assistants: Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri perpetuate the stereotype of female obedience.
What was even more disturbing was to learn that this submissive attitude goes beyond the Continue reading →
It’s been some years now since I realized that I was consistently paying more than my partner for items ranging from toiletries to fitness weights.
It’s not my imagination – it’s called the pink tax! The Fawcett Society in the UK estimated that “women are paying on average 31% more for an own brand basket of comparable toiletries and are paying 12% more for a basket of own brand clothing items”.
In this TED talk, Mellody Hobson – president of Ariel Investments, a US management firm – challenges us to learn to be comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics such as race and gender as the only way to make meaningful change in our workplace and boardrooms.
Our privileges (gender, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic) make us blind to the disadvantages of others. Additionally, we generalize other people’s experiences based on our preferences, environment, and upbringing. As most of this behavior is unconscious, how can we free ourselves from those constraints and develop more inclusive products?