Improving diversity in tech to drive social impact
Written by Lana Weal on
the 14th of November, 2018
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This is a guest post from Lily Dempster, the founder and CEO of The Neighbourhood Effect – a digital platform that uses behavioural science to make it easy, social and financially rewarding for Australians to adopt greener lifestyles and reduce their carbon footprints.
Gender representation in tech is still notoriously bad.
Around a quarter of startups are founded by women, and this percentage drops into the ground for female-led technology startups.
People with lived experience of particular societal problems need to be empowered to create their own technology solutions.
We know that user-centred design approaches in engineering and public policy lead to better social outcomes with fewer unintended consequences.
Empowering others to create their own solutions
So by increasing the number and size of female-founded technology businesses, we’re more likely to see technology that benefits women.
Programs aimed at improving gender diversity in the tech startup scene in Australia are worthwhile for these reasons.
The SheStarts accelerator program powered by BlueChilli is doing just that – helping non-technical female startup founders, like me, get their companies off the ground.
Lily Dempster founder of The Neighbourhood Effect (left) with Zoë Condliffe of She’s A Crowd.
Solving global challenges with tech
Climate change is a huge social justice issue.
The most disadvantaged people, and those with the least responsibility for causing the problem are the worst affected by its impacts. I founded my company, The Neighbourhood Effect, after working for years as a climate activist. From running large-scale consumer campaigns, I realised that those of us in Western countries can have a rapid and tangible environmental impact if we make small changes to our lifestyles and our consumer habits.
I could see the need for habit-forming technology that helps people reduce their high carbon footprints while strengthening their communities.
So I’m building a digital platform that uses behavioural science to make it easy and rewarding for users to adopt green habits and switch to local, low-carbon products.
Thriving as a non-technical founder
I didn’t have a technical background and had trouble finding a CTO with the right expertise in Australia.
My participation in SheStarts overcame this barrier for me. The 6-month program paired me with a product manager, a user interface designer and a team of developers. It helped me build my capabilities in agile project management and increase my coding literacy.
The SheStarts program is living proof of the social good that can be created when women are empowered to use technology to solve the problems that affect them.
You only need to hear about a few of the businesses included in the 2018 cohort to understand what I mean:
She’s A Crowd
She’s A Crowd founder, Zoe Condliffe, who herself is a survivor of gender-based violence, has created a digital storytelling platform for women that uses data science to help policymakers prevent assaults and sexual harassment.
After her own daughter experienced difficulties with language learning, founder of TalkiPlay, Dr Annie McAuley, who has a PhD in Molecular Biology, drew on her understanding of cellular communication to build a patented smart home toy that helps children learn to talk and address speech delays.
Danielle Owen Whitford worked as a corporate honcho managing large-scale transitions, but after years of high stress, she experienced a devastating period of burn out. She used her expertise in communications and psychology to build Pioneera, a machine learning system that works with employees to catch the signs of workplace stress early.
Jenna Wortham argues that, “ultimately, what the tech industry really cares about is ushering in the future, but it conflates technological progress with societal progress.”
But my hope is that by improving diversity and representation in the technology sector, we will create more inclusive technology that better addresses a whole slew of societal problems.
Watch the 2018 SheStarts Documentary Series to hear more about their stories: