Are you IN? Importance of INclusion in Technology — 🖐🎤💥 MicDrop #10 by Sobhi Khatib

This is a transcript of the speech given by Sobhi Khatib, Track Owner of Systems for Sharing at the Digital Society School, during MicDrop#10 ‘Are you IN? Importance of INclusion in Technology’ on March 13th, 2019, Digital Society School in Amsterdam.

Digital Society School
Apr 8 · 5 min read
A voice assistant

What is the common thing between Siri, Alexa and Cortana? They have all been created by male engineers. This is important to know because this is how technology is reproducing stereotypical thinking. In a stereotypical world, women are in assistant roles, where they deliver a service. And that is why the companies that released these services gave lady names and lady voices. On the other spectrum of developing technologies, military robotics are designed to kill and are named after a man. The design of these robots is based on masculinity. It is easy to point the finger to the engineers. But how many of you have thought about how a person with reading challenges could read this text? If you have, you probably have experienced this, or know someone in your close circle. This is what makes inclusivity not an easy task. So why should we do it?

It is not the engineers who come up with this problem, we accept what is offered to us.

Diversity in technology is important because technology is designed on how we live and produce more. What if LinkedIn will have an algorithm that picks the best people to fill in CEO positions? The problem would be that the algorithm would probably exclude some gender because in general, the best CVs are generally of men, as they are the ones in most of the top positions. And automation will only increase this digital divide and inequality gap. The first step towards inclusion is diversity. Inclusion is the goal. Inclusion means we have multiple levels of people involved in decision making.

Having a 50% gender divide doesn’t mean anything if the women are not in management roles.

But there is more than gender when it comes to diversity. Nationality is also important. Diversity consists of three levels: Demographic, contextual and cognitive. The demographic level includes gender, sex, physical ability, ethnicity and characteristics that we are born with.

The second level is termed as contextual (or background) socio-economical. Where are you raised, which schools did you go to? What networks have you been exposed to? But there can be systematic problems. Understanding this level of diversity is not as easy as talking about your education. This layer of diversity is often paralleled with educational backgrounds. This does not mean you are racist, but you are not more accepting.

The third level is cognitive. What connections do you have? What is your approach to thinking? How do you do things? In many places, there is a dictation on how things are done. For minorities, this means: this is how we do it. The bigger issue here is that it is about belonging. When people feel at home, when they feel that they can be and act different, they will perform the best. When this doesn’t happen, the natural instinct is to stay in an alert. Which means your energy cannot fully go towards your work.

Everybody has an idea or thought when they meet someone. The problem starts when you act upon that thought.

We need to rethink how technology should work. We all have a bias. As much as any of us is trying to be aware of it, we will fall in this trap. If you made the mistake of assuming something, and you already said it, an apology can help a lot. So how does this help diversity on the work floor?

The business case for diversity comes from two directions: opportunities and skills. All companies are looking for the best skills from over the world. Of course, you want the best people. There is research conducted on which teams are the most productive, with the assumption that coherent teams would perform better than diverse teams. The result was the opposite; Diverse teams are 40% more productive, mainly because they are open to opportunities.

Diversity is a win-win situation. The more people you give opportunities, the more opportunities will be created.

The growth of a company: Apple’s HQ in 1976 and Apple’s Campus in 2017.

A son of a Syrian immigrant got the chance to do something and he succeeded. And he gave more opportunities to a lot more people. This son was Steve Jobs. In contrast to populist belief, it is not limited places we are aiming for. The more people we give opportunities, the more opportunities will be created. Somebody once said to me: 400 students in the class and only 4 women. It is hard for women to become a developer. And that makes it hard for companies to hire diverse people. I, myself, was sometimes hired, or not being hired, because I am Palestinian. This hiring process leads to questions: Was I hired because of my skills or because of this part of my identity? Or is this my entire identity to the recruiter?

Don’t hire someone because they fit in a box.

Don’t hire because of gender, ethnicity or religion.

The people hired to get the opportunity can bring forward innovation.

Technology is made to help people, let’s make sure it helps everyone.


The DSS Mic Drops are inspirational, interactive, provocative master classes given by expert researchers and practitioners, on topics that relate to design, tech, societal challenges and how we can make the world a better place by integrating technology more wisely and humanely.

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The Digital Society School is a growing community of learners, creators and designers who create meaningful impact on society and its global digital transformation.

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digitalsocietyschool

The Digital Society School is a growing community of learners, creators and designers who create meaningful impact on society and its global digital transformation.