by Julia Luteijn and Rhied Al-Othmani
Yin-Gemis is a research and art project that investigates women’s perspectives on working in the tech industry. The purpose of this project is to bring attention to the gender gap and bias in the tech industry by presenting women’s experiences and stories in a single AI-generated narrative. The project is a collaboration between Julia Luteijn and Rhied Al-Othmani. Julia is an artist and developer of digital literacy teaching materials for secondary schools and Rhied is a researcher and lecturer for research methods, data, and design at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht. Both have a background in critical data studies and digital design research.
We soon learned that gender bias and the lack of women in tech is a topic that we both care about. By combining our skills and knowledge, we hope to make a lasting positive difference in this industry.
The Problem: How Disruptive Technology Causes Inequality
Sectors that demand disruptive technological abilities are more likely to have gender gaps (Gender Gap report, 2021). Examples of such sectors are Cloud Computing, Engineering and, Data and AI. Disruptive technology is a type of technology that fundamentally changes the rules under which markets and industries operate; it often replaces an existing product or technology, resulting in the formation of business-/organisational models and flows of information as well as products (Christensen, 2001). They can even trigger the emergence of new business sectors and industries (e.g., the rise of the sharing economy). When women are underrepresented in these sectors, there is a lack of femininity, which leads to products and services designed by men for men, with a one-sided perspective. As women bring a different and more critical view on work culture, and professional values and ethics (Bastlich et al., 2007).
Cutting-edge technology triggers profound transformation in society. However, despite efforts to broaden inclusion, women make up only 14%, 20% and 32% of the workforce, respectively, in relevant sectors such as cloud computing, data science, and AI (Gender Gap report, 2021). These numbers are reason for concern, since women are largely excluded from co-shaping technological developments that have a tangible impact on society via products and services used daily.
In particular, Dutch numbers are sobering: Only 15.6 per cent of technical jobs are held by women, while only 16.6 per cent of women work in IT (CBS, 2021). Amongst those jobs are software and app developers, data and network specialists and IT specialists.
There could be several reasons behind these figures. First, research (Gaucher, Friesen & Kay, 2011) has shown that the self-confidence of women and men is influenced by the language used in vacancy texts. The words used in promotional texts influence who responds to vacancies. It also appears that these words attract more men than women and minorities, impacting diversity in the workplace. This can lead to the misrepresentation of women in the workplace and possibly contribute to prejudice as well as stereotyping. These issues are of particular concern in the tech sector. Second, another important factor is that tech jobs are typically given as full-time positions, whereas women often chose part-time positions (Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekeringen, 2018). Partly due to the family-work balance. Although the Dutch government has taken steps in encouraging women to work longer hours through improving childcare, leave options are limited due to flexibility, affordance and quality (Yerkes and Hewitt, 2019).
Finally, parents often have considerable influence on their children’s employment choices. Recent studies suggest that parents perceive technology jobs as unbefitting for girls (Erasmus School of Economics, 2020). This demonstrates that women’s social environment, especially regarding support, and education have a significant impact on whether they choose a career in tech. Companies have seen a scarcity of women in tech as a result of at least some of these factors. Thus, firms have implemented a women’s quota in order to increase diversity in the workplace.
We are eager to see how women in tech overcame these obviously overwhelming barriers, and how they feel about the actions taken, such as the women’s quota. With this project, we want to draw attention to their experiences and stories by conducting multiple interviews with women who have IT/tech-related jobs. This allows us to research and visualize a reflection of the current industry. To visualize the stories in an impactful way, we want to train an AI to write a universal story about women’s way into tech, based on the real experiences that we aim to collect from participants. Next, we want to use virtual reality (VR) to illustrate and communicate this story to raise awareness through an immersive experience and to make a statement against gender bias in the tech industry. Viewers will be able to read and listen their way through the story, as well as view highlights from the interviews, with illustrations and infographics.
Status of the project:
So far, we started with the first round of interviews and are looking for more respondents. We’d like to talk to as many women in tech as possible, from front end developers to hardcore coders. The technology industry is very diverse, and we hope to capture a wide spectrum of experiences and expertise. Next to the interviews, we have also started to work on the virtual reality environment and the text generator. Additionally, we are in contact with Creative Coding Utrecht, where we’ll be able to present our work and cooperate with professionals. The project ends in November 2021.
Curious about our project or do you have questions/remarks or do you know a woman in Tech who might be interested in talking to us ? Feel free to contact us at julia @ yingemis.nl or rhied @ yingemis.nl
The research is non-commercial and was subsidized by the Stimuleringsfonds, Digital Culture.
Visit www.yingemis.nl for more
Bastalich, W., Franzway, S., Gill, J., Mills, J., & Sharp, R. (2007). Disrupting masculinities: Women engineers and engineering workplace culture. Australian Feminist Studies, 22(54), 385-400.
CBS. (2021). Beroepen van werkenden.
Christensen, C. (2001). Making friends with disruptive technology:‐an interview with Clayton M. Christensen. Strategy & Leadership.
Gaucher, D., Friesen, J., & Kay, A. C. (2011). Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(1), 109.
Erasmus School of Economics. (2020). KIEZEN VOOR TECHNISCH VMBO: DE ROL VAN OUDERS EN HUN BEELD VAN TECHNIEK. SEOR. https://www.seor.nl/Cms_Media/S1311-Kiezen-voor-technisch-vmbo—De-rol-van-ouders-en-hun-beeld-van-techniek.pdf
Uitvoeringsinstituut Werknemersverzekeringen. (2018). Ict-beroepen.
World Economic Forum. (2021, April). Global Gender Gap Report 2021. https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2021
Yerkes, M., & Hewitt, B. (2019). Part-time strategies of women and men of childbearing age in the Netherlands and Australia. Dualisation of part-time work: the development of labour market insiders and outsiders, 265-288.
Photo: Kevin Wolf – Unsplash.com