sea the elephant in the room

Salvesen Photo Album
Sea Elephant (c) Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh https://www.flickr.com/photos/crcedinburgh/17180464078/

Last week, as part of our PlayFair Steps equality and diversity intiative in ISG, we invited Dr Rowena Arshad to talk to ISG staff about ‘Race Matters at Work’. The presentation was excellent and thought provoking. Attendance was low though, in comparison to an earlier talk in the same series about age.   I wonder whether colleagues hear ‘age’ and think ‘that’s me‘, they hear ‘race’ and they think ‘that’s someone else‘.

Rowena’s presentation helped us to ask ourselves questions about how we see people as ‘other’, and provided valuable insights into real, recent examples at University of Edinburgh.

As well as being one of the ISG change themes through which we are looking at our organisation and changing it to be fit for the future, equality and diversity is part of a larger consideration of digital transformation going on in the university, being championed by our CIO.

Our CIO challenges us to think about the ‘internet of me’, where each of us is at the centre of a web of services tailored to what the internet knows about us and what it anticipates  our wants and desires to be as a result.  Examples given of Uber, Airbnb etc certainly seem to make life easier for some.

I’d suggest that we cannot think about digital transformation without considering privilege and bias.  For some people, their experience of the internet is not as positive as it may seem to be for white, wealthy, north american or british men. For some it is  toxic, biased and perpetuates unhelpful stereotypes.  It is up to us as tech professionals to consider all our users and ensure that we create an internet for all. It is up to us not only to consider our unconscious bias but also to check and recheck that the services we build are inclusive.

The best way we can do that it to have diverse teams working on every project and provide safe working environments for colleagues to share their experiences which can inform our thinking. The risk if we don’t is that the more our services become personalised, the less we are able to empathise with the experience of others.

Some articles worth reading:
Airbnb’s ‘belong anywhere’ undercut by bias complaints
Can computers be racist? Big data, inequality, and discrimination
Research reveals huge scale of social media misogyny
Trouble on the Tracks: Susan Calman on internet filters

Update:

Rowena encouraged us never to be a bystander. Following  a reported rise in racist incidents in the wake of #brexit, this is also a useful resource on social abjection.

 

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