By Louie Meyer, Junior Researcher
Can you imagine a future in which no distinction of gender exists? A future where people hive in clusters and are screened as to which working area their skills apply?
Can you imagine a future where the current patriarchy is reversed into a matriarchy, characterized by values that are equally as exclusive as those of the patriarchy?
Let’s try one more.
Can you imagine a future where a feminist hacker group applies independent analysis tools to LinkedIn to find out which skills are being developed by BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disabled people in STEM related fields? Do you think this would create disruption in the way we value and endorse skills within these fields?
Perhaps yes, perhaps no.
These future scenarios were constructed during a ‘play session’ in the Ethos Lab with inspiration from Speculative & Critical Design as a part of my research project. My aim with the project is to investigate and challenge gender gaps in STEM through the lens of data feminism, focusing on datasets presented in the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
A Gendered Hierarchy of Skills
In the Global Gender Gap Report from 2021, the WEF states that gender gaps are more likely to appear in job clusters that require ‘disruptive technical skills’ such as Data & AI, Cloud Computing and Engineering. In the following report from 2022, the WEF emphasizes that “women continue to be overrepresented in Education, Health and Welfare degree subjects compared to men, and underrepresented in STEM fields” and that “enrolment behavior shows that men and women’s skilling preferences continue to respond to traditional patterns, creating skilling gender gaps for both men and women”.
As presented in this previous blogspot, the initial part of my project focused on assessing information and data visualizations from the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 inspired by the data feminism principles ‘Elevate Emotion and Embodiment’ and ‘Rethink Binaries & Hierarchies’. In this phase I was particularly concerned with wonderings such as “which genders are represented in the gap?” as well as “how are the genders and the gaps depicted?”
In summary, I found that the gender gaps were solely narrated through a binary distinction, namely of men and women, and furthermore that this duality served as hierarchies in the data visualizations particularly through the gendering of skills.
Revising Existing Data Visualizations
As I entered the new year and the second phase of my research, I thought I was ready to take on the task of revising the data visualizations in order to challenge the gender gap and the existing narrative on the matter. This proved to be harder than I first anticipated. I was stuck in thoughts of how to visualize a more nuanced gender representation utilizing the binary data from the report, or contrarily reflections on how to visualize who was not represented. I was likewise stranded by attempts to visualize skills in STEM outside of the gendered hierarchy, as this is how it appeared in the data presented in the Global Gender Gap Report.
As opposed to making a visualization that could ‘solve’ these challenges I decided to seek inspiration from a design approach that aims to make viewers reflect on the problems and ask questions of how the world could be, namely speculative and critical design (SCD). In their paper, Johannessen et al. (2019) introduces a practical approach for SCD unfolded through 3 steps;
1) Define a context for debate,
2) Ideate, find problems, and create a scenario that represent alternative presents or speculative futures varying between utopian or dystopian
3) Materialize the scenario to provoke an audience
With these steps as the foundation, I set out to experiment with this approach in context of the gender gap in STEM. I created a template for the ‘play session’ as illustrated below and invited the ETHOS Lab to create scenarios based on this context.
The session resulted in a rather wide variation of scenarios of alternative presents and speculative futures of gender in STEM, which represents utopia or dystopia depending on the viewer. Some of these scenarios were introduced to you in the very beginning of this blog.
The step that lies ahead of me is working on how to materialize these scenarios through data visualizations. I am curious to experiment with this approach as a means to challenge the current power structures that fuel the narrative and predictions of the gender gap in STEM.
D’ignazio, C., & Klein, L. F. (2020). Data feminism. MIT press.
Johannessen, L. K., Keitsch, M. M., & Pettersen, I. N. (2019, July). Speculative and Critical Design—Features, Methods, and Practices. In Proceedings of the Design Society: International Conference on Engineering Design (Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 1623-1632). Cambridge University Press.
World Economic Forum. (2021). Global Gender Gap Report 2021. https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2021
World Economic Forum. (2022). Global Gender Gap Report 2022. https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2022/