Why have a session on women in open data? It was the first question to be addressed at the post-lunch session on that topic, which was held under Chatham House Rules (meaning that the content of what was said could be reported, but not who said it).
The session organiser argued that a session was needed because: “As women, even as feminists, were are conditioned to please men, so I thought it was important to have this space. Because with the best will in the world other sessions can be dominated by men, and there is a lot of mansplaining and stuff like that.”
One attendee pointed out that most technology events were not women or family friendly. “Now I am a mum, it is hard to get to events if they are running at times when I physically can’t be there if I need to be at home reading bedtime stories,” she said. “Perhaps next time open data camp could have a kid’s corner.”
Another said that some groups had challenged conferences that ran over school holidays: “And when they did that they were totally into changing things.” A number of participants had come across a Birmingham group called Radical Childcare, which worked to make sure that business could take place alongside childcare.
Gender bias in technology
A major reason for attending the session was to explore the gender bias that is visible in most technology sectors; but which is perhaps less visible in the data field. “I would be hard-pushed to think of one women in the IT department writing software, but data seems a bit different,” one said. Another argued that she particularly liked the open data space “because it feels like we can grab it before men get hold of it.
Others felt that the collaborative skills that were needed to make open data useful, particularly to communities, were more likely to be held by women. “Men are always trying to meet some target, whereas women are more focused on empowering people,” one argued.
A further reason for attending the session was explore this further. “I am a feminist, and I want to know how data can work for me,” one participant said at the outset. while another said that she was working on open data projects and: “I am interested in whether I should pro-actively discriminate and do some positive discrimination stuff.”
Female-led ideas and implementation
When they debated open data and its use, though, many women said it was women who were the most likely to have good data and to have ideas about how to use it. “I have absolutely had that,” one said. “I was in a meeting that was just totally dominated by one man shouting about data protection and stuff and when the meeting finished the women all came up quietly and said: ‘We think this is a good idea and you can have our data’.”
Overall, the group felt it was important to make sure that women were visible. One pointed out that women’s response to a male professor who had argued that female scientists were distracting in the lab had been to set up a ‘sexy’ social media meme that had been highly effective in lampooning his attitudes; so it was important to “take control” of such controversies.
Taking inspiration from this, the group concluded that the best way to start would be to go to some Open Data Camp sessions that they might not normally attend. “Open data and highways doesn’t really sound like me, but I’m going to go along and give them a feminist perspective,” one said.