Regardless of the specific sector you work in or the kind of technology you may be interested in, it’s likely you’ve seen blog posts, tweets, or other coverage of some incredibly tough experiences by a few women working in the tech industry. Peter Campbell, a long-time member of the nonprofit tech community, collected some of the links in a recent post. I had already read the various articles before seeing his post. What really gripped me, though, was what he included at the very end of the post:
Postnote: The nonprofit tech sector is a quite different ballpark when it comes to equity among the sexes. Which is not to say that it’s perfect, but it’s much better, and certainly less vicious.
I do the work I do because I believe that technology in general, and the Internet specifically, have the potential for making the biggest impact on social justice, access, equity, and democracy here in the U.S. and everywhere. With access can come so much. For individuals and for those working to tackle some of the toughest issues in our communities and around the world. I’m often leading trainings for nonprofit groups who work in locations, towards missions, or with communities of people that make the Internet seem like a scary place. I’ve talked to incredibly smart people – from scientists to activists – who openly admit that they personally want nothing to do with the Internet for fear of the comments, the responses, the people that will emerge.
As a supporter and member of various “women in tech” events and groups, as a member of the nonprofit tech community, as a human, I believe that we need a free and open Web that includes all of us and only if all of us are there will it truly be free and open. So how do we balance that with the level of harassment, the level of fear, the level of hate that exists?
And, is it really so different in the #nptech sector?
I’m a realist (though appreciate the consistency in which others call me an idealist). I don’t actually think that I, or even any small number of us, could change the entire tech sector. But, even thinking about the corner of the sector, the corner of the Web where we spend our time, over here at #nptech, I’m not sure things are very different. I appreciate that Peter admits our sector isn’t perfect. And I want to believe that we have an entirely different stadium in an entirely different town for the ballpark we play in. I don’t have to try very hard, though, to think of a long list of examples (even if they aren’t those currently linked in Peter’s blog post) that remind me we have a lot to change.
How do we tackle digital inclusion – something that is part of NTEN’s core mission but also something that every nonprofit needs to tackle in order to fully serve their communities, communicate with their members, understand the constantly changing needs of their constituents – when we know that we have all, like it or not, cocreated a Web that isn’t necessarily as free, open, and safe as we’d like to believe? How do we encourage more participation when these examples that justify people’s fears of the Internet are so prevalent? How do we continue to engage, start to make the change, and bring others along in the process?
I very much want to be part of cocreating a different story about the Internet.
After posting this yesterday, I knew there was much more to say but prioritized timeliness over thoroughness. I appreciated finding that Peter posted the link on Facebook and it prompted some discussion. Unfortunately, that discussion made clear that engaging in comments on a public blog was, as a default, already an unsafe place to participate. The idea that my own blog (a woman working in this space) could be seen as unsafe by default because it exists on the Web is already incredibly disheartening for me. I think any conversation we have about moving forward needs to recognize how very far back we are coming from.
I also wanted to highlight here (“for the record”, if you will) a bit more about why I brought up those questions related to the nonprofit angle of this conversation. In addition to all of the same issues the recent personal stories from women in the tech sector have surfaced, the nonprofit sector piles on top the issues we seem to perpetuate, create, or at least be blocked by: lower salaries than for-profit industries, assumption that we do the work only because we want to do good at the sacrifice of anything and everything else in our individual lives, assumed credibility issues to begin with because of the nature of asking for money to do our work, and the misconception that our sector “gets it” when it comes to women in leadership roles (take a look at the data, it isn’t true – for example, “In 2009, women made up nearly 75% of the nonprofit workforce, but held only 45% of CEO positions.” – U of Denver).
I don’t bring this up to make the case that the mountain is too high to climb. But, like I said above, I think it is critical that we put everything on the table so we can have a full, valuable, and forward-moving conversation.