Why It Is Vital To Have People Neutral Teams Building Technology
Marshall McLuhan famously said in 1964, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”
This idea is just as important and relevant today as it was in the ’60s. Right now, we are in the midst of a technology revolution. What is happening today is similar to what happened in the past when new technologies and tools changed the way society functioned. The industrial revolution, for example, similarly disrupted skews of industries. It changed the types of jobs that were available and the ways we communicated and interacted with one another.
Right now new technology like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and blockchain are changing our day-to-day lives. These new technologies are creating new tools that have far flung implications. It has never been more important to ensure that the teams imagining, leading, and creating these advancements are comprised of diverse teams who are capable of seeing the world through a true people neutral perspective.
Teams are diverse and people neutral is important for several reasons. At the core, people neutrality ensures that people are able to be true to who they are and feel like they belong. People must feel fully accepted wherever they are, whether that is at work, using a new piece of technology, interacting with one another in real life or online, interacting with another human or with a bot, whether playing a VR game or on the field — the importance of people neutrality is the same.
Here are a few specific examples that come to mind to illustrate the importance of this point.
Social Networking Sites
Silicon Valley has a much reported diversity problem. When you imagine the typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur, you typically imagine a white male in a hoodie. Unfortunately, the stats back this up. Of leading tech firms, 71% are men, 29% are women, 60% identify as white, 23% Asian, 8% Latino, and 7% black.
Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn were born in this environment. While these companies have publicly addressed the need for more diversity on their teams, there is still a long way to go to ensure true people neutrality.
Social networking sites are building an architecture for the ways in which we communicate with our friends, family, and colleagues. Through life milestones the technology highlights like new career announcements, wedding engagements, or birthdays, for example, these platforms define cultural norms.
The ways we are able to interact with one another on social networking sites, from comments to emojis, are also shaping these cultural norms. Emojis, specifically, have finally gotten some blowback from users and even advertisers, who noted that while there are professional male emojis, the female emojis are only depicted as princesses and brides.
At first, this can sound silly. But for a young generation who is communicating heavily through emojis everyday, these emojis are defining their language. Imagine a culture where there is no word for a female doctor?
The Gaming Industry
The gaming industry is a giant. 4 out of 5 American households own a gaming console. And it’s not just adults, 27% of video game players are under 18-years old.
However, even though more and more women are actually playing games, the same increase isn’t reflected in the gaming engineers and leaders creating the technology and storylines. As The Nation points out, “While 52% of the gaming audience is comprised of women, they make up only 22% of the gaming workforce. As a result, tensions are high for women in the gaming industry.”
These tensions create difficult and unfair environments for people to work in, and a difficult community to be a part of. Ultimately, it allows for a toxic environment. It’s not fair for employees to work in this environment. The work and productivity is poor. And it will hurt the end user, and the organization as a whole.
Ensuring true diversity behind its leaders, creatives, engineers and technologists is a must. Without checks and balances, games and companies can turn into worlds filled with biases and dangerous stereotypes.
Companies focused on smart home technology have a lot to lose by not ensuring people neutral teams. There is so much potential in smart home technology, especially as an increasing number of households are comprised of partners who both work, leaving no one at home to help with chores. However, right now it seems smart home devices aren’t focused on this need.
As Business Insider noted, the problem is “smart home devices appear to be entirely designed by men.” While devices that are on the market now like smart home blinds or a fridge that can text you how many cold beers you have can be fun, they are missing the point of trying to fill a clear and practical need in so many homes right now.
I am certain that more diversity on the teams behind these technologies could not only be a warm and fluffy PR line in the press, but a vital means for companies to stay competitive in the market.
As we’ve seen time and time again, the tools we create will reshape us in ways we cannot imagine. What we need to ensure is that the tools we are creating in the first place are not riddled with hidden biases, prejudices, or a lack of perspective of a people neutral world. We need to ensure that all people, whether organizational leaders or everyday consumers, feel comfortable being exactly who they are.