Latoya Peterson, editor of Racialicious, discusses digital empowerment and the leveraging of technology against structural barriers such as race, gender, and class. A self-described "nerd and hip hop feminist," Peterson flew in to MIT from her fourth panel at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW), an annual gathering of top writers, companies, and artists involved in new media production. In addition to editing her award-winning blog, Peterson frequently speaks and consults on issues of social justice and social media, and has done consulting work for NPR, Wikipedia, and Weber-Shandwick.
Her talk at the MIT Stata Center focused on the concept of digital empowerment, which Peterson described as "leveraging technology against structural barriers such as race, gender, and class." To illustrate this point, Peterson led us through a series of examples of ways technology might foster or stifle social spaces. For example, drawing from her own research on video gaming culture, Peterson argued that the male-centric focuses of gaming centers and toy companies present obstacles to young girls’ participation. She then explained that on the other hand, the web also generates new spaces for girls to connect and create community, overcoming some parts of the "leaky pipeline" of girls' trajectory into STEM careers.
Peterson demonstrated her point by asking the audience a series of questions about MIT admissions. She asked the audience "Are you an MIT student?" "Do you feel anyone helped you get into MIT?" "Have you helped another person younger than you with admission to MIT?" "Did you use your social media outlets to broadcast upcoming deadlines and tips about admissions?" The show of hands grew less and less, in a powerful demonstration of how we may push through various structural barriers to achieve something like getting into MIT, but don't realize that it takes an entire community to do so. Empowerment is just as much about yourself as it is about pulling others up with you. This is what digital empowerment for the "real world" might mean—understanding how you can leverage the tech resources at hand but also realize that technology is fundamentally social and we must promote community at every step of the way.
Susan Fabry, Senior Strategist at Continuum, leads their Women & Children research group. In this talk, she shares fascinating design insights into what women really want from the products and services that they use every day. Trained in psychology and industrial design, Susan has 15 years of ethnographic research and is an expert at interviewing people to uncover ways to improve their lives. Whilst also sending a clear message about the value of human-centered design thinking, Susan shares some interesting statistics around shifting gender roles including the increasing number of men identifying as the primary child care provider in modern families, and how women significantly outnumber men as the primary decision maker when purchasing new cars.
This panel discussion featured speakers from fields where women are typically under-represented, including Aditi Garg (Tesla Motors), Pamela Benkert (Philips Healthcare), Hilda Tang (Oliver Wyman), and Leah Buechley (MIT). The speakers shared their career paths and experiences in the workplace, and discussed the evolving influence of gender. They discussed work-life balance, mentorship, and changing gender roles and policies that they encountered throughout their careers. The audience walked away with practical tips on overcoming negative gender stereotypes, workplace behavior, and succeeding on a personal and professional level.