Digital and making the invisible visible

Digital and making the invisible visible

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This week I was invited to speak at a Ministerial event in Leeds which showcased the growing community of data, digital and health in our city. The opportunity to share the mHealthHabitat programme with an audience was great, but that’s not what I want to talk about here. Instead, I want to reflect on who gets to be in the conversation and who doesn’t. My post is offered in a spirit of enquiry and in making visible what can easily be rendered invisible.

It was visible to me that I was the only woman on the invite list (as it turned out there were two other women present in the audience). All the speakers, apart from me, were men. Once I had noticed gender it was only a small leap to notice that everyone was white, almost everyone was wearing a suit, and everyone was of a certain age. There was no one there bringing patient perspectives to the conversation.

There are two things I am not doing in this post –  firstly, I am not taking the moral high ground, if it had been an event full of white women I may well have not noticed if there were no black women there. I noticed because I was in a minority myself.  Secondly, I am not criticising this particular event – it’s an example of what seems to be business as usual most places you go when it comes to digital.

The event was successful in rendering visible to myself, and no doubt other participants, that there really is a growing community of people in the digital and health arena. But if this arena is a privileged one where only certain types of people get to have a say, then with all the good will in the world, its impact will be limited.

In contrast, I had the pleasure of meeting a fascinating woman this week who is busy setting up a social enterprise in Chapeltown to help disadvantaged children develop digital and coding skills. She was an inspiration, full of passion and social purpose, wanting to bring about the sort of change that could mean Ministerial events of the future have a more diverse group of participants. She would have been an excellent voice to have at the event.

So what about now?

Well all I know is that the first step is render the invisible visible so that those of us who are part of the conversation can use our influence to connect with those who aren’t. We need to stretch the community in different ways and acknowledge the pernicious consequences of developing digital and health innovation orientated around the vision and aspirations of a narrowly defined group of people.

I didn’t make the invisible visible during my presentation on the day, so this post is the next best thing. If we don’t make a concerted effort in our city (or any other city) then we’ll get more of the same. I am confident that everything we do will be much better for having diverse experiences and points of view. If you’d like to be part of making this step change and have some ace ideas about how to do it, then get in touch!

Postscript

There was quite a bit of chat about this post on Twitter today. Here are some links to useful relevant stuff that people very kindly shared:

Phil Jewitt shared his post Questioning Y

Emma Bearman shared The Curious Citizens project

Abhay Adhikari shared his post about social technology and innovation

Alastair Sommerville shared his unMeConference idea.

Thank you all 🙂

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Victoria,

    I know we’d discussed this recently but I think sometimes people have to see a situation first to think hang on, is this really how this is or might it be a misrepresentation, and then to call it so. Good on you for raising it. Clearly the event you mention isn’t a misrepresentation or the only example of this happening recently. It needs to be addressed.

    Whilst I don’t disagree there are valid arguments about fewer women in tech related jobs or on boards and in other areas too, I think perhaps it’s not just about gender. Maybe about wider diversity, and/or even it might be a confidence thing.

    I was at an event a couple of years ago when someone pointed a similar gender issue out and then went on to do something about it at the event. I posted on that here https://philjewitt.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/questioning-y/

    Maybe, more importantly, it should be about event organisers having confidence (and sense) to say “XYZ upcoming event isn’t representative, how can we make it so.”

    You asked for suggestions, so I included a couple of links that include things that might help. The piece by Sharon Odea is useful. http://sharonodea.co.uk/2013/03/03/breaking-the-echo-chamber-diversity-or-the-lack-of-it-at-tech-events/

    Happy to help, if I can.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comments Phil – very much appreciated as is your offer of help. I think the issue is probably both complicated and systemic – it most definitely isn’t just about gender. I think the most important thing is that we make sure we aren’t satisfied unless as many voices as possible are part of the conversation as that will produce the best thinking and the best solutions and help our city be as wonderful as it can be. I’ll be in touch!

      Reply

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