The Missing Women at the “Frontiers of Technical Innovation”: Exploring How Structural Violence Against Women in OECD States Contributed to the Digital Skills Gender Divide.

The Missing Women at the “Frontiers of Technical Innovation”: Exploring How Structural Violence Against Women in OECD States Contributed to the Digital Skills Gender Divide.

26th May 2021 0 By Lorraine J. Hayman

In this paper, through an empirical analysis of the technology sector, I will discuss how the digital skills gender divide, hereon referred to as ‘The Divide’, can be considered an outcome of structural violence committed against women in states that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Most people can name, and probably picture, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, but how many females working in executive positions in technology corporations in OECD states can people think of? Many are unable to name a female working at the forefront of technological innovation, rather giving the names of female voice assistants like Siri when pushed to respond.[1] The notable contributions of women to technology, like that of Ada Lovelace, are confined to short passages in history books. Moreover, literature and analysis of The Divide usually focus on the language of inequality, rather than violence. However, this paper will explore the connection between The Divide and structural violence. The data is interpreted in line with specific definitions of violence; thus, the evidence could be interpreted differently if applying alternative definitions. Within many states, there is a fear that “…society is plagued by random violence”.[2] Violence is often understood to be gruesome, physical acts against others, often committed by a “faceless stranger”.[3] Yet, is considering violence as only physical a realistic understanding of the shape and application of violence? I argue violence is found in various forms, including indirect or structural. The biggest challenge in exploring structural violence is that it is difficult to quantify and measure and is often entirely subjective. Nevertheless, through applying Johan Galtung’s definition of violence, I suggest structural violence against women, seen in the actions and choices of those in governments and the technology industry, resulted in the development of The Divide.

Background and definitions

Exploring structural violence can be uncomfortable, as it reveals a form of violence sitting at the heart of many institutions of liberal democracies in OECD states, like governments forming policy and large capitalist corporations creating our technologies. I have chosen to explore this avenue of violence, as it is one that is neglected in studies of both technology and violence, being hard to measure and challenging to explore objectively. Initially, the definitions of structural violence and how it can be applied in the context of the development of The Divide must be clarified. In doing so, it is revealed why this topic is controversial, as many of the key terms involved are subject to regular changes and different interpretations.

Firstly, I will clarify the critical terms featured in this analysis, including structural violence, The Divide and digital skills. In 1969 Galtung stated violence is “…the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual, between what could have been and what is”.[4] Structural violence, according to Shaun Kingsley Malarney based on the understanding of Galtung, can be found when deliberate choices are made to limit an individual’s potential, “…specifically when other choices could be made that would create the circumstances in which they could achieve that potential”.[5] Galtung further asserts:

“If insight and/or resources are monopolised by a group or class or are used for other purposes, then the actual level falls below the potential level, and violence is present in the system”.[6]

This definition is understood to mean indirect violence, rather than the direct violence of physical acts, such as hurting someone somatically. Paul Farmer develops the idea further, arguing “structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social advances”.[7] Thus, in this paper, I apply the definition of structural violence as the cause of the distance between the potential and the actual, which is avoidable, and which deliberately denies women access to digital skills and the development of technological advancements.   

The Divide reflects global gender inequalities between men and women concerning digital skills in technology.[8] It is a current ‘hot topic’ in education, literacy, and development arenas and is featured in the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.[9] UNESCO considers The Divide to be apparent from the most basic of digital skills through to higher computer programming skills:

“The gap is apparent from the lowest skill proficiency levels, such as using apps on a mobile phone, to the most advanced skills like coding computer software to support the analysis of large data sets”.[10]

Yet, The Divide is nothing new and has been building since the technological boom of the 1970s. A long history is often the case in structural violence because the violence is embedded, so it occurs more slowly over time, often presenting as a normalised behaviour or way of doing things.

UNESCO measure digital skills against their ‘digital literacy global framework’ which breaks down digital skills into seven competency areas, ranging from browsing online to developing digital content.[11] Yet, UNESCO also considers digital skills to “exist in a continuum…a wide range of skills [and] relate more to behaviours, expertise, know-how and life skills”.[12] Therefore, within the digital skills indicators provided by UNESCO, there are limitations, as the skills lack robustness and fail to capture the “range of skills that comprise digital literacy”.[13] For example, the indicators fail to reference relevant cognitive skills, like problem-solving. This limitation illustrates the complexity of analysing The Divide because the definitions of terms central to the discussion are ever-evolving and adapting to “the constant development of new technologies”.[14] For this paper, it is more evident to see the examples of women being denied access to digital skills development at the higher end of digital skills competency; thus, women who work in the technology sector, rather than those currently learning basic digital skills. Therefore, I will focus on how structural violence impacted the higher-level competencies of UNESCO’s ‘digital literacy global framework’, such as career-related competencies.

During research for this paper, questions were raised to me about the term ‘violence’ for this topic: Is violence too strong a word? Is it fair to argue that an outcome of structural violence is The Divide? I consider shying away from using terms that fit the description only aids the covering up and legitimising of violence. Sarah Hautzinger was bold in finding “violence as a positive resource in constructing male identity” in observations of domestic violence in Salvador,[15] but what she saw informed her suggestions. Inspired by Hautzinger, I am going to be bold too and suggest there is strong empirical evidence to imply an outcome of structural violence against women in the technology industry was the development of The Divide. Thus, this paper seeks to explore the uncomfortable through examining examples of women who had their access to technology and digital skills development restricted, which resulted in structural violence being committed against them. Arguably, the violence we should all be most afraid of is not the infrequent random acts of physical violence against strangers, but rather the embedded structural violence against women which surrounds us in our digital technologies. That violence is hidden, misunderstood, and more difficult to analyse.  

The Divide’s history, consequences and impact

Historically, corporations in Silicon Valley and the British Government deliberately altered the predominant gender of the technologists in their workforce, from female to male. These actions caused a gap between women’s actual capability and their potential achievement of digital skills, which over time led to men having more advanced digital skills, and, therefore, contributed to The Divide. In line with Galtung’s definition, the choices made by these corporations and governments are structural violence against women, as they were deliberate, avoidable, and resulted in a gap between the potential and the actual.[16] There are specific cases of structural violence being committed against women in the technology sector in OECD states. An examination of these draws on the experiences of women in technology and how structural violence has affected them.

After the Second World War computer software programming was initially considered feminised “women’s work” in some future OECD states like America and Britain, as stereotypes characterised women as being meticulous in their step-by-step approach;[17] thus, until the 1970s women were leading global technology programming initiatives.[18] Yet, in the mid-1970s, the influence of Silicon Valley in the technology sector started to grow as Apple, Atari, and Oracle launched their companies and the power and potential of computers were recognised. Kirsty Brewer asserts it was at this time a shift in the technology industry and governments to deny women the same access to digital skills as men started:

“By the 1970s, there was a change in mindset…the government and industry had grown wise to just how powerful computers [were]…women were systematically phased out and replaced by men…”.[19]

Brewer’s observations suggest structural violence was committed against women by the technology sector’s leading corporations, in addition to governments in future OECD states, not against individual women, but in a systemic way. Leading technology corporations and the governments involved in ‘replacing’ women with men made a choice to restrict women’s access to technology and enhance men’s access at the expense of these women. If this choice had not been made and women had not been ‘systematically phased out’ of the technology sector, The Divide would not exist in its current state today.

The replacement of female programmers by male ones is a fact in America and Britain and across other OECD states. However, what is harder to evaluate is the reason why this replacement occurred. Sheila Rowbotham argues one reason women were replaced by men in Britain was that “class and gender became so thoroughly intertwined that women’s oppression was nearly synonymous with labour exploitation”, whereby the economy relied on women’s low-cost labour rather than technical expertise.[20] Sara Wachter-Boettcher argues the process of removing women from technical roles in both American and Britain coincided with technological advancements, monetary investments, and a lack of public scrutiny, resulting in an environment where many technology corporations could “keep doing whatever [they] want”.[21]  Therefore, the data implies technology corporations and governments realised the potential power a computer programmer had and sought to systematically limit women’s involvement in computer programming so that men could dominate the technological skills needed in the future and women could provide the low-cost labour:

“As computers became integrated into all aspects of life, it became clear that programmers wielded tremendous influence; women were pushed out, and the field became more and more male-dominated”.[22]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, cultural stereotypes about behaviours and competency of female employees were prevalent in the technology sector, which combined with a movement towards the sale of technology to replace the female workforce.[23] For example, Emily Chang explores an advertisement for Optical Scanning Corporation, which read “What has sixteen legs, eight waggly tongues and costs you at least $40,000 a year?” and panned in on a picture of women’s legs and mouths.[24] This sexist advert suggests women are not good value for money because of their tendency to chat and gossip in the office, and instead, they could be easily replaced with the technology on offer by this corporation. What it fails to consider are the skills and competencies these eight women bring to their employment. Chang draws on the work of Nathan Ensmenger, highlighting the technology industry started to perceive programming as a “black art”,[25] requiring “the prestige of a professional job”,[26] and “was synonymous with an all masculine and thus high-status occupation”.[27] This example suggests those responsible for removing female computer programmers and replacing them with men, were acting on, and thereby reinforcing, sexist gender stereotypes about women with ‘waggly tongues’ compared to ‘professional’ men. Through these actions, structural violence is evident, as it limited the potential of women to be employed as ‘professionals’ in the technology sector and advance their digital skills development at the same rate as men; thus, this contributed to the development of The Divide.

I argue modern technology in OECD states grew from a foundation of structural violence committed against women. The data suggests there was a shift in perception within technology corporations and governments about who could access digital skills, which in turn led to a societal shift. Software programming and technology development moved from being considered “feminised” employment women were good at, to work considered ‘masculine’ and restricted to ‘professional’ men.[28] This shift contributed to The Divide and opened a gap between the potential of women within the technology sector and their actual allowed status, which continues to affect women’s digital skills today. In 2020, possessing digital skills is more critical than it has ever been before, enabling individuals to engage with society on a local and global level:

“The ability to leverage digital technology is increasingly indispensable…without an ability to control technology, people risk being controlled by it, or isolated from local, national and global communities”.[29]

This quote implies for those women affected by The Divide, are limited in their ability to engage with their local and global communities and are at risk of being controlled by technology or those in control of technology. This risk is genuine and one which started at the beginning of computers becoming mainstream with the shift in perception of computer programming jobs from ‘feminised’ to ‘masculine’.

A notable consequence of the actions of corporations and governments after they replaced women working in technology with men, is the advancement of the perception of technology as ‘masculine’ and something women were not interested in. This image partly explains how, in 2020, technology is still defined this way; programmer and computer scientist Robert Morris proclaimed technology could be understood as a “predominantly male province” because “women and girls use computers; men and boys love them”.[30] Primary data collected for this paper illustrates what Morris meant, as one interviewee, Bee, stated her father would try to “understand the language” of technology, opening technical devices to see how they worked and troubleshooting and problem-solving when things went wrong.[31] Whereas, Bee, a female, would only tolerate technology to benefit from its outcome, such as listening to podcasts.[32] Whether Bee was aware or not, she was conforming to the stereotype that her father is interested in tinkering with technology as he is naturally inclined to do, whereas she cannot ‘understand’ its ‘language’.

Someone who is technologically minded and enjoys using technology is often called a “geek” or nerd who will likely be male, usually white, and wearing glasses and a “button-up shirt”.[33] Annette Vee explains the ‘geek’ stereotype hurts women more than men, illustrated through a quick Google images search:

“Awkward-looking people who are almost exclusively white men…or young white women provocatively dressed in tight shirts that say, ‘I love geeks’”.[34]

On replicating this search, I did not find the same results, however. Rather than Vee’s description appearing under the Google image search for ‘geek’, it appears when I search ‘nerd’, with the 24th image being the ‘provocatively’ dressed woman Vee discusses, displaying a ‘talk nerdy to me’ “bedroom outfit”.[35] Nonetheless, what Vee is arguing is that the average computer programmer is not considered to be a feminine looking woman, but an ‘awkward’ looking man. For example, Therese Tucker, a female computer programmer and the CEO of her company, Blackline, which is worth more than $1.5 billion, has pink hair and is inclined to wear floral clothes.[36] In 2017, Tucker experienced another example of sexism in the technology industry when a senior male member of Goldman Sachs bank, who had just offered investment in Tucker’s company, was introduced to the CEO of Blackline and proceeded to shake the hand of the man who stood next to Tucker.[37] This example, combined with the experience of Bee, suggests we still see technology in OECD states as a male domain today, which continues to exacerbate The Divide, especially as the rate of technological change is much greater now than in the 1970s.

Furthermore, Marie Hicks explores the development of the digital economy in Britain and how this process explicitly sought to establish “structural discrimination” against women working in the technology sector by displacing them with men:

“In Britain, gendered labour change was part of a top-down government initiative to computerise”.[38]

This suggests a deliberate targeting of female technologists by the British Government in the process of digitisation, which contributed to The Divide. Hicks highlights a generic story of a computer programmer who was considered to have “a good brain and a special flair” for programming and was asked to train her two male assistants but found herself demoted as their assistant once the training finished.[39] Within the history of the British technology sector, the experience of this capable woman is a normalised story, which follows a pattern of what Hicks refers to as ‘structural inequality’ but which I consider structural violence. Women in the technology sector in Britain were systematically prevented from reaching their digital skills potential because of the government’s ‘gendered labour change’ initiatives. [40]

The consequence of the structural violence enacted by the British Government has significant ramifications for millions of future females in Britain. We grew up perceiving the technology sector as ‘not for us’ because “men displaced the thousands of women who had been pioneers in a feminised field of endeavour, and the field acquired a distinctly masculine image”.[41] It can be argued the ramifications of these 1970s governmental policies continue to enact structural violence against females today, as they caused generations of women to avoid careers in the technology sector, which has perpetuated the view of technology being ‘masculine’ with few women working in it:

“In the United Kingdom, women currently hold just 12 per cent of the programming and software development jobs held by ICT [Information Communication Technology] professionals, down from 15 per cent a decade earlier”.[42]

This is of even greater consequence when considering that a challenge for women who want to work in technology is the lack of female role models.[43] Moreover, as explored previously, this representation of technology as ‘masculine’ occurred both in the United States and Britain concurrently, illustrating a global pattern in the process of how this structural violence manifested.

Nevertheless, some women in Britain resisted the structural violence the British Government subjected them to. Entrepreneur Stephanie “Steve” Shirley used a masculine pseudonym to overcome sexist stereotypes, enabling her to build her technology company after she was unable to advance her programming career while working as Stephanie.[44] Using male pseudonyms for women working in technology is a “global phenomenon”, also referred to as “cyber disguise”.[45] After becoming ‘Steve’, Shirley went on to build a multi-million-dollar corporation staffed by women, whose female programmers worked on prestigious projects like programming the Blackbox for Concord Jets.[46] Still, the success of Shirley’s corporation was not a result of the opportunities presented to her because of gender equality in Britain; in fact, her biological sex led to Shirley losing the opportunity to bid for technical contracts.[47] Hicks notes, “Shirley found herself having to conform to masculine stereotypes in order to succeed” by adopting the name ‘Steve’ and suggests Shirley’s success was the result of her corporation being seen as run by a man:

“Shirley’s company only succeeded once she began signing her letters ‘Steve’”.[48]

When it was realised by other corporations and the British Government Shirley was a woman, she was regularly “put in her place” by the men around her and “one minister ‘pinched her bottom’ as she was making a successful bid for a government job”.[49] This illustrates another example of the pattern of structural violence, which resulted in The Divide; it is directed at women in the technology industry with intentionality and some women have experienced it in combination with sexual assault. Moreover, it suggests if women working in technology disguise themselves as men, they will find themselves less affected by The Divide. As Hicks demonstrates, Shirley in adopting the name ‘Steve’ was able to “break away from the patterns in place to structure women’s careers”.[50]

Without corporations and governments in the 1970s replacing female programmers with men, women would be just as skilled and at the forefront of technological innovation today; perhaps Sheryl Sandberg would be the CEO not the COO of Facebook and Sailaja Bhagavatula, the Managing Director of Cloudfirst Lead, would not consider her success in technology to be down to “taking calculated risks and leveraging opportunities”,[51] but due to her digital skills. Bhagavatula is a female working at the forefront of technological innovation, who overcame the barriers her male peers did not face, such as “perceptions and stereotypes” and a lack of female role models.[52] However, at the same time, she explains women in technology need to “take risks” and “build our personal brands” to ensure the male workforce realise women can handle the multitasking needed of a technologist.[53] Given that Bhagavatula is a female role model working at the elite end of the technology sector, it is interesting to hear her talk of the need for women to adapt and change themselves to fit within the male-dominated technology industry. Nevertheless, Bhagavatula recognises the importance of supporting women to gain digital skills, launching a women’s only programme called High-Tech Women, to enable female programmers.[54] What this suggests, is on the one hand, Bhagavatula’s experience of the technology sector is that is it normalised for women to need to work harder to fit in with the ‘masculine’ industry, changing their ‘brand’ and accepting the environment which commits structural violence against them. Yet, on the other hand, women working in technology can resist this too, not only through ‘cyber disguise’ but also by establishing women’s only technical programmes to inspire more women to enter the sector; thus, resulting in more female role models.

The data implies structural violence committed against women working in technology in OECD states has been normalised, or overlooked, through the success of technology corporations and the lack of women working at these corporations. For example, Google was launched in 1998 by two male Stanford University students, Page and Brin. By 2018 women only made up 21% of Google’s technical workforce, and 10% of those working at the “frontiers of technical innovation”.[55] Ruth Oldenziel attempts to explain this phenomenon, arguing men working in technology and with computers need no explanation as it is understood they would be using technology and are gifted in its use.[56] However, women “entering computer rooms…as designers…hackers…they need to be accounted for and explained”.[57] Here, Oldenziel, in line with Bhagavatula’s, Hicks and Bee’s observations, is implying women who want to work in technology must fight harder to gain employment and recognition, as they not only need the skills but they also need the ‘explanation’ of why they are there.[58] This suggests there is a pattern in the implementation of the structural violence which resulted in The Divide where large corporations, supported by governments, removed or failed to instate women in programming and technological positions, which resulted in the view that technology is a ‘masculine’ industry. As technology corporations like Google grew to successful heights within this context, this normalised and legitimised the assertion that technology was a male domain in which women would need to work harder to join or would need to disguise themselves as male, and would require an explanation of why they were there; thus, both structural violence and the origins of The Divide are evident.

Systemic structural violence recreated by technology

The historical exploration of the technology industry in Silicon Valley and Britain show how it was built on the foundation of structural violence, where women were deliberately and systematically shut out of programming and technical job opportunities. A consequence of this structural violence is The Divide. Moreover, this structural violence initiated a pattern that continues into the modern-day, whereby women have their potential limited and restricted by the male-led corporations in the technology industry. This is because structural violence against women is systematic and is now being replicated in the software of technology created by these male-led corporations. As fewer women work in the technology sector, more gender bias is coded into the technology of the modern world, which provides a support mechanism to structural violence.

In 2018, a report revealed Amazon’s recruitment tool, which utilised Artificial Intelligence (AI) to sort candidates for a range of jobs, was acting with inbuilt gender bias against female candidates for technical positions.[59] The tool had spent ten years scanning and learning from resumes, of which the majority for technical jobs were from men. Thus, in sorting candidates for any technical roles, “Amazon’s system taught itself that male candidates were preferable”.[60] In the technology industry, it is not only humans committing structural violence against women, but now the very technology surrounding us is recreating this violence because of its software algorithms; thus, technology is denying women the chance to fulfil their potential and in the case of Amazon’s recruitment tool, denying women the chance to gain employment in technical roles.

This computerised structural violence is particularly worrisome when understood with the number of women involved in programming software used in the analytics of big data. This is because big data is increasingly important in informing governmental policies, and it affects the globalised digital economy. For example, well-used analytics open-source software, ‘R’, in 2012-2017 had 77% of its software packages developed by male-only teams, which is “…of concern…[because of] potential unintended biases that may be embedded due to a lack of diversity”.[61] For women, this means that due to unconscious bias coded into analytics and other software, gender inequality is encoded into daily life. ​Caroline Criado-Perez outlines that this is the case in an alarming number of examples, ranging from car safety and town-planning through to medical care because “most of recorded human history is one big data gap”, which is destined to get even more severe as AI is relied upon in big data analytics:

“Big Data. Which in turn is panned for Big Truths by Big Algorithms, using Big Computers. But when your big data is corrupted by big silences, the truths you get are half-truths, at best”.[62]

The lack of diversity in programming teams highlights the issue, ironically coined by computer scientists, of “‘garbage in, garbage out’”.[63]

If The Divide was prevented at the initiation of technological innovation, women may not find themselves facing unconscious bias in their AI technology today as they could also be coding in the same number as men. However, the unfortunate reality is that women are not coding in the same numbers as men, and consequently, there are increasing examples of modern technology recreating structural violence against women, because of coded unconscious bias. For example, in Britain in 2015, Doctor Louis Selby was denied access to the Pure Gym female changing room. After some investigation into the problem, it was revealed the title ‘Doctor’ was coded as male.[64] Is this an innocent mistake that caused a minor inconvenience? What about when in 2016 a woman was in need of help and reached for her smartphone which didn’t understand the word “rape” and “instead of doing even a simple web search, Siri [an AI voice assistant] cracked jokes and mocked users”.[65] This data suggests the consequences of unintended bias coded into technology can force women to re-live trauma and be unable to seek help easily. The impact of initiatives to remove women from software programming roles since the 1970s has resulted in notable examples of inbuilt bias in our technologies today.

Moreover, the role of technology in enabling structural violence is evident in voice assistants, like Siri. Voice assistants are arguably an outcome of gender inequality within the technology sector. UNESCO’s publication “I’d Blush If I Could” took its name from “when a human user would tell ‘her’, “Hey Siri, you’re a bi***”.[66] By 2019, Siri’s “submissiveness in the face of gender abuse remains unchanged since the technology’s wide release in 2011”.[67] Of course, Siri was programmed by humans. However, machine learning is taking the lessons from these programmers and unconsciously coding gender inequality into the software:

“AI developers are mostly male, generally highly paid, and similarly technically educated. Their interests, needs, and life experiences will necessarily be reflected in the AI they create”.[68]

This data implies male coders are, therefore, more likely to embed unintentional gender bias into the software they develop. 

In the case of Siri and other female-voiced assistants, they project gender stereotypes, which normalise women being subservient, often flirtatious, and open to verbal abuse.[69] I suggest this provides a support mechanism to structural violence in the technology sector, and voice assistants play a secondary legitimising role in this structural violence. For example, with female voice assistants, verbal abuse at what is perceived as ‘female’, is normalised, as Siri, Alexa, Cortana and friends react submissively and fail to challenge their abuser.[70] Can this normalising of abusive behaviour and projection of gender stereotypes harm women? UNESCO argues it can because these voice assistants can’t defend themselves against verbal abuse, which reinforces that women can be “subservient and tolerant of poor treatment”.[71] I argue those who code and promote the use of female voice assistants are, albeit unintentionally, developing a system to support structural violence against women because they provide a space in which to verbally abuse a ‘female’ without there being any repercussions. This presents an alternative pattern in the data so far explored, as previously the evidence implies deliberate actions which resulted in structural violence and The Divide, whereas this evidence suggests some unintentionality in the development of systems to support structural violence.

The role of meritocracy

In Silicon Valley, it is estimated women hold “fewer than one in 10 senior positions at the leadership level”.[72] Criado-Perez argues Silicon Valley and the technology industry overemphasises “the myth of meritocracy”.[73] The idea that success is achieved through mainly merit has its foundation in neoliberal ideology, which is prevalent in OECD states:

 “The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it”.[74]

Meritocracy has played a role in the development of structural violence in the technology sector and has led to women being denied the same job opportunities as their male peers, because of the belief in a meritocratic approach.[75]

Meritocracy in the technology sector is found in examples such as the 2016 survey in which technology start-up companies in Silicon Valley rated ‘hiring good people’ as their number one concern, with a ‘diverse workforce’ being number seven out of ten priorities.[76] Research suggests “in organisations which are explicitly presented as meritocratic, managers favour male employees over equally qualified female employees”.[77] This quotation shows one cause of the alarmingly low numbers of women working in Silicon Valley, which contributes to The Divide because there are fewer women working at the forefront of technological innovation. Arguably, an emphasis on meritocracy legitimises and provides the avenue for structural violence in technology companies, whereby men are the ‘good people’ companies want to hire, even when presented with qualified women. Thus, this structural violence against women is committed by those who believe in, and act on, the ‘myth of meritocracy’.

The ‘myth of meritocracy’ can be a tool used by Silicon Valley executives, such as the founder of Paypal, Peter Thiel, “of the Paypal Mafia”, a group of white men of a certain age and educational background,[78] to enact structural violence against women. Arguably, this violence is not intentional. However, in failing to act and effectively implementing a meritocratic approach to hiring staff, Silicon Valley executives and their technology corporations are locking women out of the technology industry and maintaining their “bro culture”. [79] This is epitomised by the likes of Uber which, in 2018, “revealed forty-seven cases of sexual harassment” against management and senior management staff.[80] Emily Chang specifically explores Thiel’s failure to act when at the 2016 LendIt Conference, he stated “we all have a responsibility to do more” concerning gender disparity in the technology industry.[81] Yet, he went on to publish a book about technology start-up businesses, without referencing women or gender inequality in the technology sector at all.[82] There is a connection between the behaviours and actions of those in Silicon Valley and structural violence against women; a belief in meritocracy and a failure to act leads to men hiring other men under the illusion they are the ‘right people’, preventing women from obtaining jobs in Silicon Valley, which exacerbates the gap between women’s potential and their actual in digital skills.

In the evidence thus far explored, a pattern of the structural violence committed against women is apparent because even if women want to work in the technology sector, having defied the low odds they would obtain higher education qualifications in ICT,[83] they still face the barrier of needing to be hired by men who may believe in ‘the myth of meritocracy’ and fail to see them as suitable for the job over male candidates. In a state without the belief in meritocracy and where technology executives act to ensure gender equality in their corporations, women could be working in Silicon Valley at the same rate as men and be offered equal opportunities to gain digital skills competency. However, in OECD states which believe in meritocracy, another pattern in the manifestation of structural violence in the technology industry is apparent whereby structural violence combines with sexual harassment and assault committed against women by their male colleagues. There are numerous high and low-profile examples of this happening across the technology sector, and especially in Silicon Valley:

In December 2017, Chang reported on “several women who accused Shervin Pishevar – prominent tech investor and major Democratic Party donor – of sexual harassment and assault”.[84]

The Divide in the Republic of Korea and Germany

The Republic of Korea offers an interesting case study into The Divide as it has one of the most digitally literate youths on the planet, having pursued a progressive digital skills education programme partially designed to ensure gender equality.[85] Yoram Eshet-Alkalai considers digital skills “a survival skill in the digital era”,[86] which was recognised by the Republic of Korea, an OECD state that began its economic growth strategy based on digitisation in the 1990s, and since 2009, has emphasised digital skills in school curricula through the SMART Education Initiative.[87] Yet, OECD data from 2016 illustrates the proportion of female ICT specialists, working at the forefront of technology, in the Republic of Korea make up only 13% of the total, which is the lowest of all OECD states.[88] A 2012-2015 OECD study ranked the Republic of Korea as the second (of 42) in the digital skills of children but OECD studies from 2011-2012 and 2014-2015 placed adults from the Republic of Korea as 18th (of 33) for their digital skills.[89] What this data suggests, is The Divide in the Republic of Korea has the potential to close, as young people advance through the SMART Education Initiative.

However, there is an alternative interpretation of the evidence, supported by the assessment of Insung Jung, that young women in the Republic of Korea perceive technology to be a masculine industry and working in it sits at odds with the femininity young Korean women are encouraged to demonstrate.[90] The evidence from the Republic of Korea could indicate there is a barrier in society, which prevents girls graduating school with digital skills from choosing to continue with a career, or further study, in the technology sector. In 2019 according to the Global Education Monitoring Report, female tertiary graduates of ICT in the Republic of Korea represent only 21%.[91] This suggests that in the Republic of Korea it is not a lack of digital skills that prevent women from entering education and employment in the technology sector, as all new high school graduates have all benefited from the same digitisation initiatives, but rather something else which limits girls from continuing to study technology. I suggest the barrier girls in the Republic of Korea must overcome, is structural violence found within gender norms which place importance on femininity in the way women behave and look.[92] Vanessa Phillips explain this has origins in Neo-Confucianism because women were expected to behave as their husbands wished and remain in the household refining their “beauty and delicateness”.[93] Although today women are in the workforce in the Republic of Korea, these values still affect the jobs they can obtain, as they are expected to remain feminine at work and “behave in a certain manner”,[94] which means they do not have the same access as men to careers defined as ‘masculine’, like computer programming.

Despite the Republic of Korea’s progressive digitisation policy, there is evidence they have not overcome the patriarchal cultural norms of the past because “in 2018, the country ranked 30 out of 36 OECD nations for women’s employment…[and in] the World Economic Forum’s most recent report on the global gender gap [they] ranked 115 out of 149 countries”.[95] The Republic of Korea’s cultural gender stereotypes cause structural violence and demonstrate an intolerance “of unorthodox behaviour and ideas”,[96] which encourages women to pursue careers where they can ‘behave’ in a feminine way.[97] These gender stereotypes are then reinforced by society in the “rigid codes of belief and behaviour”.[98] The impact of this can be seen within the technology sector in the Republic of Korea, where women are failing to translate the digital skills they receive in their ‘SMART’ education into employment and tertiary study choices. Technology is often perceived to be masculine; therefore, in a nation that still holds gender stereotypes and the importance of feminine females in its values, it is understandable to see the emergence of The Divide. However, in the Republic of Korea case, The Divide occurs because of broader society stereotypes that cause structural violence, rather than government policy and the specific actions of corporations. Therefore, it could be argued women are prevented from reaching their digital skills potential in the Republic of Korea despite the progressive governmental digitisation policy.

In Germany, another OECD state which experiences disparity in digital skills between men and women, women make up 20% of ICT graduates.[99] Maren Heltsche, the founder of Digital Media Women, attempts to explain this, stating “women don’t want to fight their way through an IT degree” to graduate into an industry dominated by men.[100] Moreover, computer programmer, Johanna Lang, argues in a German company “a clear code of conduct and a good feedback culture can help…women feeling equal and safe in IT development”.[101] Heltsche and Lang’s testimonies highlight the potential impact of corporate culture on women working in the technology industry in Germany. As Heltsche notes, the technology industry is so dominated by men, that women don’t want to study higher-level digital skills. Lang states the importance of women being provided with a “safe space” in which to overcome their anxieties about working in the technology sector:

“…a safe space, and an atmosphere that encourages…enables women to overcome their fears and uncertainties”.[102]

Arguably, where companies in Germany fail to provide codes of conduct and a culture of feedback that provides women with this ‘safe space’, they are failing to prevent structural violence, as this results in women not studying digital skills, or for those that do and obtain a job in the technology sector, leaving their employment prematurely. UNESCO data evidences this, showing women in OECD states leave their jobs in the technology industry at almost double the rate of men, citing “gender bias, discrimination and harassment as their reason for leaving the field”.[103] This data implies companies who choose not to provide codes of conduct and a culture of feedback, are permitting structural violence against their female staff because women have their incentive to access an entire employment sector restricted, unless they are willing to work with a feeling of ‘uncertainty’, without a ‘safe space’ and with the potential of ‘harassment’. Therefore, for those women who opt out of the technology sector in Germany, they are being prevented from reaching their potential. Arguably, this shifts structural violence into economic realms also, considering that Electronic Computer Manufacturing and Internet Publishing are two of the highest paying employment industries in OECD states.[104] 

Conclusions

In this paper I have discussed the connection between structural violence and The Divide, highlighting evidence suggesting The Divide is an outcome of structural violence, which has been systematically and often intentionally targeted at women within the technology sector, specifically in OECD states. There are several other critical avenues of analysis this paper has not been able to include, such as drawing on further examples of cultural violence; exploring the Global South which offers an alternative picture of The Divide; and considering in-depth why corporations and governments conducted this structural violence against women. Moreover, there are further implications to some of the data discussed in this paper which have not been elaborated on, specifically the connection between structural violence and harassment in the technology sector and the progression into somatic violence in the form of sexual assault against women. Furthermore, this paper provides a very critical analysis of the technology industry. Of course, technology corporations are not all committing structural violence against women, and some have interesting initiatives to try and overcome The Divide. For example, Klöckner & co in Germany sponsor a digital skills programme for refugee and migrant women, with the aim of hiring the programme’s graduates to support their digitisation process.[105] It was not within the scope of this paper to elaborate further on positive initiatives occurring in the technology sector to deal with structural violence, but they nonetheless do exist.

Nevertheless, despite what is missing from this paper, some key pieces of evidence have been analysed, including the historical origins of The Divide, the impact of meritocracy on women in Silicon Valley, and the cases of the Republic of Korea and Germany. Historically, the British government systematically restricted women’s access to technology roles as part of their ‘gendered labour change’ initiatives, leading to a gap between what is and what could have been for women working in the technology industry. In Silicon Valley, an emphasis on ‘the myth of meritocracy’ led to male technical job candidates being hired over equally qualified females. Combined with a failure of large technology corporations to intervene and ensure gender equality in their industry, I argue Silicon Valley is at least complicit in this structural violence against women. The lack of women at ‘the forefront of technological innovation’ is a significant concern, as my analysis of unconscious bias coded into technology highlights. This unconscious bias can lead to female voice assistants being subservient to verbal abuse and perpetuates the idea women are tolerant of such abuse. Female voice assistants provide a supporting system to enable structural violence against women in technology and, therefore, they play a secondary legitimising role in this violence. Moreover, as the example of the Amazon recruitment tool illustrates, the unconscious bias embedded into technology can lead to machines learning and replicating this bias against women and actively limiting the potential of women to obtain certain jobs.

Furthermore, the examples of The Divide and structural violence in the Republic of Korea and Germany illustrate the importance of culture and normalised gender stereotypes in replicating structural violence in the technology sector. For example, the emphasis on femininity in the Republic of Korea leads to women failing to advance careers in technology, and in Germany, women lack incentives to study advanced level ICT skills and work in the technology sector. In summary, this paper has explored an uncomfortable and often overlooked issue. I argue the evidence presented shows that The Divide is an outcome of structural violence committed by corporations and governments in OECD states, which limits the potential of women to achieve the same level of digital skills competency as men. I hope this paper sheds light on a much-overlooked issue and can contribute to a greater understanding of the development of structural violence committed against women in the technology sector, which results in the global phenomenon of The Divide.

Bibliography:


[1] IBID., p.103.

[2] Best, Joel. Random Violence: How we talk about new crimes and new victims. California: University of California Press, 1999.

[3] IBID., pp. 2.

[4] Galtung, Johan. “Violence, Peace and Peace Research”. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 6, No. 3 (1969). Pp. 167-191. http://www.jstor.org/stable/422690

[5] Malarney, Shaun Kingsley. “Health and Structural Violence in Colonial Indochina”. The Journal of Social Science, Vol. 61, Special Edition, (2007). Pp. 27-56.

[6] Galtung, Johan. “Violence, Peace and Peace Research”. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 6, No. 3 (1969). Pp. 167-191. http://www.jstor.org/stable/422690

[7] Farmer, Paul as cited in Malarney, Shaun Kingsley. “Health and Structural Violence in Colonial Indochina”. The Journal of Social Science, Vol. 61, Special Edition, (2007). Pp. 27-56.

[8] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[9] United Nations. “About the Sustainable Development Goals”. Sustainable Development Goals, 2019. Accessed October, 2019, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

[10] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[11] IBID., pp. 14.

[12] UNESCO. Building tomorrow’s digital skills – what conclusions can we draw from international comparative indicators? UNESCO, 2018. Accessed, November 2019. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000261853

[13] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[14] UNESCO. Building tomorrow’s digital skills – what conclusions can we draw from international comparative indicators? UNESCO, 2018. Accessed, November 2019. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000261853

[15] Hautzinger, Sarah in M. Anderson, ed. West Lafayette. Here the Cock Does Not Crow, for He Is Not the Lord of the Land: Machismo, Insecurity, and Male Violence in Brazil. Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2004.

[16] Galtung, Johan. “Violence, Peace and Peace Research”. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 6, No. 3 (1969). Pp. 167-191. http://www.jstor.org/stable/422690

[17] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[18] IBID., pp. 20.

[19] Brewer, Kirsty. “How the tech industry wrote women out of history”. The Guardian. August, 2017. Accessed January, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/aug/10/how-the-tech-industry-wrote-women-out-of-history

[20] Rowbotham, Sheila in Hicks, Marie. Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing. London: The MIT Press, 2017.

[21] Wachter-Boettcher, Sara. Technically Wrong: sexist apps, biased algorithms, and other threats of toxic tech. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2019.

[22] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[23] Chang, Emily. Brotopia: Breaking up the boys’ club of Silicon Valley. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019.

[24] IBID., pp. 14.

[25] Ensmenger, Nathan in IBID., pp. 25.

[26] Chang, Emily. Brotopia: Breaking up the boys’ club of Silicon Valley. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019.

[27] Ensmenger, Nathan in IBID., pp. 25.

[28] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[29] IBID., pp. 1.

[30] Morris, Robert in Oldenziel, Ruth. Making Technology Masculine. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1999.

[31] Bee. “Digital skills”. Interviewed by Lorraine J. Hayman. January 20, 2020

[32] IBID.

[33] Vee, Annette. Coding Literacy: How Computer Progragrmming is Changing Writing. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017.

[34] IBID., pp. 18.

[35] 5000-styles. “Dreamgirl 9797 Talk Nerdy to me Bedroom Costume”. eBay. Accessed January, 2020. https://www.ebay.com/itm/New-Dreamgirl-9767-Talk-Nerdy-To-Me-Nerd-Bedroom-Costume-/273619920570

[36] Aspan, Maria. “Meet the women who broke Silicon Valley’s gender barrier”. Inc. October, 2017. Accessed January, 2020. https://www.inc.com/magazine/201710/maria-aspan/blackline-therese-tucker.html

[37] IBID.

[38] Hicks, Marie. Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing. London: The MIT Press, 2017.

[39] IBID., pp. 1.

[40] IBID., pp.1.

[41] IBID., pp. 2.

[42] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[43] Bhagavatula, Sailaja. “Woman on a mission: at the forefront of tech innovation”. Accenture. December, 2019. Accessed January, 2020. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/blogs-woman-on-a-mission

[44] Hicks, Marie. “Why tech’s gender problem is nothing new”. The Guardian. October, 2018. Accessed December, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/11/tech-gender-problem-amazon-facebook-bias-women

[45] Perrons, Diane. Globalisation and Social Change. London: Routledge, 2004.

[46] Hicks, Marie. “Why tech’s gender problem is nothing new”. The Guardian. October, 2018. Accessed December, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/11/tech-gender-problem-amazon-facebook-bias-women

[47] Hicks, Marie. Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing. London: The MIT Press, 2017.

[48] IBID., location 6140.

[49] IBID., location 6140.

[50] IBID., location 5313.

[51] Bhagavatula, Sailaja. “Woman on a mission: at the forefront of tech innovation”. Accenture. December, 2019. Accessed January, 2020. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/blogs-woman-on-a-mission

[52] IBID.

[53] IBID.

[54] IBID.

[55] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[56] Oldenziel, Ruth. Making Technology Masculine. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1999.

[57] IBID., pp. 9.

[58] IBID., pp. 9.

[59] Reuters. “Amazon ditched AI recruitment tool that favoured men for technical jobs”. The Guardian. October, 2018. Accessed December, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/10/amazon-hiring-ai-gender-bias-recruiting-engine

[60] IBID.

[61] OECD. Empowering women in the digital age: where do we stand? OECD, 2018. Accessed January, 2020. https://www.oecd.org/social/empowering-women-in-the-digital-age-brochure.pdf

[62] Criado-Perez, Caroline. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2019.

[63] IBID., pp xii.

[64] Wachter-Boettcher, Sara. Technically Wrong: sexist apps, biased algorithms, and other threats of toxic tech. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2019.

[65] IBID., pp. 5.

[66] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[67] IBID., pp. 4.

[68] AI Now Report in IBID., pp. 102.

[69] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could 

[70] IBID., pp. 105.

[71] IBID., pp. 105.

[72] Bogdon-Martin, Doreen. “Calling time on the digital gender divide”. International Trade Forum. March, 2008. Accessed December, 2019. http://www.tradeforum.org/news/Calling-time-on-the-digital-gender-divide/

[73] Criado-Perez, Caroline. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2019.

[74] Monbiot, George. “Neoliberalism- the ideology at the root of all our problems”. The Guardian. April, 2016. Accessed January, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot

[75] Criado-Perez, Caroline. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2019.

[76]IBID., pp. 94.

[77] IBID., pp. 94.

[78] Chang, Emily. Brotopia: Breaking up the boys’ club of Silicon Valley. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019.

[79] IBID., pp. 14.

[80] IBID., pp. 14.

[81] IBID., pp. 53.

[82] IBID., pp. 53.

[83] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[84] Chang, Emily. Brotopia: Breaking up the boys’ club of Silicon Valley. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019.

[85] UNESCO. Building tomorrow’s digital skills – what conclusions can we draw from international comparative indicators? UNESCO, 2018. Accessed, November 2019. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000261853

[86] Eshet-Alkalai, Yoram in IBID., pp. 7.

[87] UNESCO. Building tomorrow’s digital skills – what conclusions can we draw from international comparative indicators? UNESCO, 2018. Accessed, November 2019. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000261853

[88] OECD in West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could  

[89] UNESCO. Global education monitoring report: gender report, building bridges for gender equality. Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO, 2019. Accessed, December 2019. https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/2019genderreport

[90] Insung, Jung. “Meeting”. Interviewed by Lorraine J. Hayman. January 8, 2020

[91] UNESCO. Global education monitoring report: gender report, building bridges for gender equality. Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO, 2019. Accessed, December 2019. https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/2019genderreport

[92] Phillips, Vanessa. “Femininity and Identity in Korea”. Georgetown University. June, 2019. Accessed January, 2020. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/femininity-and-identity-in-korea

[93] IBID.

[94] IBID.

[95] Jeong, Sophie. “South Korea’s glass ceiling: the women struggling to get hired by companies that only want men”. CNN World. February, 2019. Accessed January, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/31/asia/south-korea-hiring-discrimination-intl/index.html

[96] Hofstede. “South Korea”. Hofstede Insights. N.d. Accessed February, 2020. https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/south-korea/

[97] Phillips, Vanessa. “Femininity and Identity in Korea”. Georgetown University. June, 2019. Accessed January, 2020. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/femininity-and-identity-in-korea

[98] Hofstede. “South Korea”. Hofstede Insights. N.d. Accessed February, 2020. https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/south-korea/

[99] Ullrich, Angela. Germany, lagging digital literacy. Betterplace Lab, 2019. Accessed, January 2020. http://www.w20-germany.org/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/BDGG-Brochure-Web-ENGLISH.pdf

[100] IBID., pp. 30.

[101] IBID., pp. 30.

[102] Lang, Johanna, in IBID., pp. 30.

[103] West, Mark, Krau, Rebecca, Ei Chew, Han. “I’d Blush If I Could: Closing Gender Divides in Digital Skills Through Education”. UNESCO for the EQUALS Skills Coalition, 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could

[104] Careeronestop. “Highest-Paying Industries”. Careeronestop. January, 2018. Accessed January, 2020. https://www.careeronestop.org/Toolkit/Industry/highest-paying-industries.aspx

[105] Rühl as cited in ReDI. ReDI school partners. ReDI. N.d. Accessed January 2020. https://www.redi-school.org/partners