Guest editor Erin Gee: The world is not neutral
The co-host of the Bad + Bitchy Podcast is one of our guest editors for Women’s History Month.
When William approached me to be one of Vancouver Tech Journal’s guest editors for Women’s History Month, I jumped at the opportunity. While I’ve been contributing to VTJ for a few months now, I was happy to be given the opportunity to not only shape coverage, but also share a bit about myself and the things I want to cover with VTJ.
As co-host of the Bad + Bitchy Podcast, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about how institutions and decision-makers can create equity (not equality) for marginalized communities. And how actions and decisions taken impact them, whether it’s the design of a policy or program (e.g. CERB, immigration), the institutional behaviours/structures (e.g. standardized testing, rates of Black women dying during childbirth), or how we interact with the world (e.g. transit schedules/routes, workplace policies, media literacy).
I know the tech industry likes to believe that the world—and especially the internet—is a neutral place, but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case.
Every line of code is developed by someone who has their own belief system. In tech, these people are often white, cis-gender, able-bodied, middle-class, heterosexual males. Their experience of the world (including online) is very different from mine, so how can we expect them to be able to build things that are broadly applicable to folks who are only some or none of those identifiers?
If these white, cis-gender, able-bodied, middle-class, heterosexual men are the “true neutral,” then their biases are being projected onto everyone else through their code and their products.
We’re seeing massive overcorrections in online platforms as companies try to rein in bad actors. This happened with Donald Trump and not only his disinformation and blatant lies, but his incitement to violence and insurrection. We saw this with YouTube and Alex Jones. We see this in the ways women, especially women of colour, are harassed, doxxed, and sent death threats on social media.
Social media platforms were designed to be “neutral” by these white, cis-gender, able-bodied, middle-class, heterosexual men, but the experiences of the people who use these tools every single day are not equal, let alone “neutral.” And so, the broader tech industry can’t and shouldn’t make those same mistakes, especially in a place like Vancouver that is incredibly diverse and whose tech scene is exploding.
This is why it’s important to have female founders. This is why it’s important to have queer founders, why having people with disabilities on your team is integral. If you fall into “mainstream” demographics and you’re a founder looking to build something and your target audience is “someone like you,” I implore you to check in with people who are the opposite of you.
Tech is supposed to work for everyone, but if the “problems” being “solved” are those experienced by mainstream populations with power, then tech isn’t working for anyone on the margins. If anything, it’s creating a bigger divide, both in terms of accessing funding for those who may not be in the mainstream (a problem that Backbone Angels is trying to solve), and also by making the industry less hospitable to those who are underrepresented in the industry (which is what Future Capital wants to fix).
It’s ok to acknowledge that the system is broken, in fact, it’s probably better for everyone if we do.
I look forward to continuing this journey with VTJ and highlighting the stories of people on the margins and those who seek to create equity in tech. Reach out to me, let me tell your stories.
Get in touch with the author at erin-gee.ca.