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!
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 🙂