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More than ever, technology needs the insights of women

02.11.2020
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Ethnographic research shows why women are integral to the future of tech

Jing Yi lives in an apartment in Singapore where she looks after her toddler. Her son’s play area is extremely well organised, with books, games and toys as well as the ubiquitous iPad. In previous interviews I had always found that young children will play on an iPad indefinitely, and yet this didn’t seem to be a concern for Jing Yi. As well as ensuring that that device was loaded with appropriate, educational applications, she explained that the iPad was charged to 10%; thus her son could play on it only for a limited time, after which he would divert his attention elsewhere, with no tears or tantrums.

Jing Yi’s example amply demonstrates what I’ve found over seventeen years of research as a media ethnographer – that it is largely women who provide the most penetrating insights when it comes to creative, emotionally intelligent applications of technology. Yet with disproportionate responsibility for the care-giving burden, whether of children or the elderly, it is a glaring understatement to say that women struggle to balance their home and working lives. The technology industry badly needs the involvement of women if it is to represent the whole population, rather than half of it, and benefit from the unique experiences and insights that women bring.

We know that attrition of women in employment rises after childcare. This becomes a pipeline issue, and there are then insufficient role models. The tech industry needs to work hard to break down these barriers by helping women to sustain their professional networks, smoothening their transition back into the workplace after a period of absence. Professional organisations could offer discounted membership. Businesses need to offer more flexible working arrangements and better childcare support. Start-up incubators, aimed especially at nurturing women entrepreneurial and creative energies, should be launched. There is also a need to shift the culture of society towards a greater male involvement in care-giving. Unless governments and companies provide adequate paternity leave, care-giving responsibilities will always fall primarily to women. Finally, we need to undertake serious, long-term research into the career trajectories of women in various industry sectors. This will enable us to better understand the reasons for attrition, and devise policies to promote re-entry into the workforce. Such actions would represent valuable investment, not just in women, but in humanity as a whole.

Sun Sun Lim is Professor of Communication and Technology and Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. See more at www.sunsunlim.com

This blog is extracted from Professor Lim’s ‘Spotlight Talk’ at the IIC’s International Regulator’s Forum on 6th October 2020. You can view her presentation here.

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More than ever, technology needs the insights of women - Ethnographic research shows why women are integral to the future of tech.

Sun Sun Lim (Prof) Sun Sun Lim (Prof) Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Singapore University of Technology and Design
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