Olabi, a social organization that works to democratize the production of technology by contributing to the construction of a socially more just world, presents Pretalab, a survey that shows that it is urgent to debate representation in the world of innovation.
Part of the project, with the same name launched in 2017, the study brought interviews, videos, data that points out why we need to speak about race and gender. It is necessary for the creation of the technological environment that is socially more just and inclusive.
Far from being conclusive content, this space is an invitation to the discussion and a call to action, so that the field of technology may actually be more inclusive and diverse.
Black women have the worst social indexes in Brazil. At work, they receive the lowest salaries and have the highest rates of unemployment. At home, they are the ones that suffer the most from violence and the ones that have the largest responsibility in sustaining the family. In health care, they are the preferential victims of obstetric violence, from the neglect in the public health care system and criminalization of abortion.
Despite the advances, such as the rise in the amount of people in higher education, the inequalities persist and demand a keen awareness of the lived oppressions of black women. According to the research “Statistics of gender” from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the percentage of white women with a completed higher education is 2.3 times larger than black women, which is 10.4%.
The difficulty in access to education reflects itself in the work market. Left with positions of less prestige and compensation are black women. According to “Dossier Black Women: depiction of the conditions of life for black women in Brazil” from the Institute of Applied Economic Research, they are overrepresented in the area of domestic labor – accounting for 57.6% of the workers in this field – and have the lowest presence in positions with more social protection, such as those with a work permit4, and they suffer the most during economic crises.
Between 2014 and 2017, the rate of unemployment among black women went from 9.2% to 15.9%. Amongst white women, unemployment also rose, going from 4.6% to 8.5% but the levels are still very different. The data is from the economist and professor of Unicamp Marilane Teixeira, with the groundwork from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.
Black women represent 27% of the Brazilian population but in 2016 only 0.5% of the elected officials were black women. “The presence of black women in decision making positions in public and private organizations corresponds to 3% in the office of Minister of State (2016), 1% in the Parliament (Senate and House of Representatives) and 0.5% in executive positions of the 500 largest businesses in Brazil (2010). There is not any black woman presiding as Federal Supreme Court Minister of Brazil” affirms the dossier. “The situation of human rights for black women in Brazil: violences and violations”, produced by the Geledés Institute and by the NGO Criola. In the entire period of democracy, only five black women have been ministers.
Between 2012 and 2016 the number of Brazilian that self-identified as black rose by 14.9% in the country. According to the National Household Sample Survey, revealed at the end of last year by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the quantity of those that consider themselves mixed race rose, while the percentage of white people decreased in the population.
The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics estimates that this rise is due just as much to the rise in fertility amongst black people as well as the rise in the number of people that began to consider themselves black. This being one of the achievements of the years of fighting from the black movements. According to the survey, in 2012, white people were the majority (46.6%) in Brazil, mixed race people represented 45.3% of the total, and black people 7.4%. Whereas in 2016, mixed race people composed the largest group (46.7%) and black people are now 8.2% of the 205 million Brazilians.
However, this numeric majority runs the risk of remaining outside of the changes that happen in the economy and society. In a world that is becoming increasingly more digital, this absence can result in the rise of inequality. Black women need to be included in the technological transformation processes that happen in the global economy.
A study by Accenture Strategy estimates that the digital economy represented 22.5% of the global economy in 2015, which represents a total of $19,591 billion (USD). The prediction is that this percentage may rise to 25% by 2020, which means an economy of $ 24,615 billion (USD). It is urgent to work so that the technological applications that society consumes may be, increasingly, produced by diverse groups. In the United States only 2% of the workforce, in all of the science and engineering community, consists of black women. In Brazil, no such data exists. To change this scenario it is essential that we think about the democratization of the access to the production of technology.
More and more present in our lives, technology has become natural in our everyday lives which gives the impression that it is neutral. “But technology is loaded with the political, economic and cultural views of those that create it – and this power today is centralized in the hands of men, white people, heterosexuals and the middle and upper class. This already maximizes a large inequality, in a world that is increasingly more digital”, explains Silvana Bahia, Project Director of Olabi and co-ordinator of PretaLab.
A study done in 2017 by the Law's Center on Privacy and Technology, at the center of privacy and technology from the school of Law at the University of Georgetown, estimates that information of 117 million citizens of the United States may already be in police data bases. “Facial recognition is going to affect African Americans disporportionately”, says the study.
Initiatives such as the Algorithmic Justice League seeks to denounce and to end implicit racism in artificial intelligence programs. Founder of the initiative, Joy Buolamwini perceived that artificial recognition programs are not always able to detect black faces, a problem caused by the lack of diversity in the teams that create these programs and of the images that the machines receive to learn how to “see” these faces. “The computer's vision uses artificial intelligence to perform facial recognition. You create a series of images with the examples of faces. However, if these series are not diverse enough any face that deviates from the “norm” will be difficult to recognize”, she said in a Ted Talk.
While the statistics, studies and public policies for black women ignore the importance of technology, black women are going to be at the margins of decisions that are increasingly more centralized in society. “If black women are not in this process, if there are no policies for them, we are going to totally lose our integration power in the world”, affirms Silvana.
Another factor relevant in the debate is the fact that technology also represents a important possibility of economic freedom. In the United States, data compiled by the economic research Glassdoor shows that the jobs in the area of technology, engineering and science were the most well paid in 2017. However, the unequal access to education, as well as stereotypes and prejudice, distance black women from the courses and jobs in these areas.
Inequality and barriers already emerge when gender data is observed in technology. A study that analyzed women's presence in science, technology and engineering in Brazil, China, the United States and India concluded that women abandon the technology industry because they are treated unjustly, receive lower salaries and less chances to be promoted than their male colleagues. In Brazil, 29% of the women interviewed feel stagnated at their job and 22% think that they can give up their careers next year.
Despite all of the barriers, studies show that women's work in this area can be just as well or better evaluated than that of their male colleagues. Researchers discovered that the users of the software repository GitHub approved the codes written by women at a larger rate than those written by men, but only when their gender was not identified.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that 62% of men and women in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics suffered discrimination because of their race or ethnicity in the work environment. Adding to this study is data from the Center of Innovation and Talent that points out that 77% of the black women in high-tech businesses say they need to prove their competency more than their peers. The result is clear; for black women, the barrieirs are double – both sexism and racism work against their insertion into sectors increasingly more strategic for society.
This pressure to perform above the average is counter-productive in work environments in which creativity is necessary, besides the fact that it generates anxiety and brings health complications.
According to the study “Why so few women? African American women in Science, Technology and Engineering” in 2010, 27,576 black women obtained diplomas in Engineering or Science, which represented 10.7% of the diplomas given in the United States. But they represented less than 1% of the total amount of women employed in this industry, with 75 thousand engineers and scientists working in some level or position in their areas.
Even in countries in which black women's access to higher education is significantly better than in Brazil, racism and sexism impede their access to the work market.
“To democratize the access to technology is not about increasing consumption, but about the possibility of creating applications. And this discussion needs to have not only a gender analysis but also a racial one”, explains Silvana. According to the survey from the Group of Gender at the Polytechnical School at USP (Poligen), in 120 years the University of São Paulo graduated only ten black women. Until now, on the list of the pioneers of science in Brazil, created by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research, none of the cited women are black.
In the United States, diverse initiatives have already understood the importance of this political agenda and have been taking stances in this debate, proving, moreover that the rise in diversity is beneficial for businesses. Some of these initiatives are: Hire More Women In Tech, Black Girls Code, Black Tech Women.
In the case of Brazil, there is no such data referring to black women in technology, which shows that the problem, although real, is invisible. According to the National Institute of Educational Studies and Research Anisio Teixeira (Inep), of the 1,683 computing engineers that graduated in 2010, only 161, or 9.5% were women. In the same year, only 14.8% of 7,339 graduates in computing sciences were programmers.
For Silvana, the absence of black and indigenous women in the fields of technology and innovation is connected to two factors. “One of them is access. Almost everything related to this camp is expensive and is in English. And the policies (public and private) which are directed towards our admission and subsistence in these spaces are rare. The lack of references is another determinant factor: if being a woman in technology is already a challenge, imagine for us black women. The absence of positive references of black and indigenous women is a social question that passes through not only the world of technology but also the more varied power and professional fields”, she says.
“I would already be a minority in the course that I chose [Computation Science] just for being a woman. Also I am a black. It is a very big challenge to enter, to occupy these spaces, because you see the looks in the elevator, in the library, in the corridor. You see.”
“As a naval engineering student, I felt a lack of motivation and inspiration. Because of this, women's visibility is of great importance in this field. We need this so that the others can feel that they are capable of going anywhere and being in any field.”
In Brazil, beside PretaLab, initiatives such as OxenTI Menina, Rede de Ciberativistas Negras (Network of Black Cyber Activists), Blogueiras Negras (Black Bloggers), Pretas Hackers (Black Hackers), Desabafo Social (Social Venting), Gato Mídia, Criola, Criadoras Negras RS (Black Creator RS), Minas Programam (Girls Program), data_labe, Black Rocks, Instituto Mídia Étnica (Media Ethics Institute), MariaLab, InfoPreta, Preta Nerd (Black Nerd), Coletivo Nuvem Negra (Black Cloud Collective), have been acting to change these numbers.
They are initiatives to show in practice and with data that women aren't naturally inferior to men in any way and that supposed “aptitudes” are socially constructed and limit the scope of women's performance beginning from their childhoods. Mothers and fathers do not dream of their daughters becoming programmers, likewise girls do not find female references in the exact sciences.
Maria Rita Casagrade, senior developer, she has been blogging since 1998, when there were no simple tools like the ones today, what existed were technical abilities for postings. She began to work in 2002 with web development but only in October of 2016 she was able to write on her resume that she is a front-end and back-end developer (full stack developer).
“I went through 15 years of difficulty to assume this place, of believing that it [programming] wasn't for me. When I realized that it was mine, it occurred to me to question if it takes such a long time for a white man to assume as well that he is “in technology” she affirms. For her, the internet gives voice and possibilities to women, black people and people in the LGBT community.
“We need to master technology to construct within the internet a universe of our knowledge, where we are able to be valued as women, as a black person” said Maria Rita Casagrande in a interview with PretaLab.
In a world in which applications (apps), sites and servers constantly capture information about everything and everyone and generate value from this, to contribute to black women's autonomy is to stimulate that they process and analyze data about their own reality. “Everyone produces data these days, but how is it read and interpreted? For whom does our data serve? Who reads our data? Questions Vitoria Lourenço, integrant of data_labe, doula and Social Sciences student at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.
“We have much research about the black population but little is done for black women. Data_labe is made for marginalized youth to think of public data and to be able to construct narratives about them” says Vitoriz. For her, to learn to work with data shows that it is possible to go far beyond the stereotypes of violence normally associated with black youth.
In 2016, Vitoria developed research about maternal mortality in Rio de Janeiro from 2009 to 2013, from the analysis of SUS's data base. The research demonstrated that black mothers with 4 to 7 years of education and between the ages of 19 and 29 years die the most by causes related or aggravated by the pregnancy-childbirth cycle, which includes the pregnancy and the post-partum. “While this number is reduced in white women, among black women this number only rises. Facts such as these can be crucial in the decision of public policies or other types of investments”, she defends.
The platform Alyne is also a result of the union between black women and technology. The site joins a range of technological tools to rapidly respond to the violations of black women's rights and to give visibility to these cases. “The challenge of the platform is to join together many different types of black cyber activists in Brazil, understanding that cyberactivism and the knowledge of technology are fundamental in this process”, says Viviane Rodrigues, member of the Network of Black Women Cyber Activists.
For Viviane, to alter code and technology is fundamental to overcome racism. “If the technology that we are consuming does not look like us, it does not offer possibilities so that we may intervene and modify anything.” She evaluates that initiatives such as Pretalab bring the possibility of changing the form of how black women are seen and broaden the spaces they occupy.
“To become familiar with technology is not exactly a privilege but it allows you to be able to access more for those that have less”, affirms Fernanda Lira Monteiro, graduated as a system's analysis and co-organizer of the collective MariaLab Hackerspace. She left a job in the financial sector in search for a job that could impact the lives of representative minorities, “for other women, other black women, for other women in the outskirts of the city, for transgender women, and transmen as well. To begin to understand technology from a point of view that is not just from the market” she says in the an interview with Pretalab.
To alter code, to program, to create technology can seem like long undertakings, but Glória Celeste de Brito, who has a bachelor degree in Literature and German as well as is a web writer, tries to demystify this idea as well. “Programming is language, just like you can write a story in your native or a foreign language, you also can do this programming”, she says.
Get to know the stories of Ana Carolina Da Hora, Fernanda Lira Monteiro, Gabriela Oliveira, Glória Celeste de Brito, Maria Eloisa, Maria Rita Casagrande, Monique Evelle, Silvana Bahia, Vitória Lourenço e Viviane Rodrigues Gomes in the series of interviews that PretaLab did, directed by the film-maker Yasmin Thayná:
PretaLab is an initiative of Olabi launched in March of 2017 with the focus of encouraging the inclusion of black girls and women and indigenous women in the field of new technology. Made feasible from the support of the Ford Foundation, the initiative emerged as a campaign in search of mapping and understanding who are the black girls and women and indigenous women that work in this area.
From a survey on the internet, stories, impressions, and data were collected about this public. Afterwards, as part of the campaign, videos were recorded to give visibility to the story of the protagonists that exemplify the challenges of these Brazilian women who are already working as developers, business women, producers of content and activists in the digital realm.
The objective of the project is, on one hand, to show how the lack of representation is one problem not only for the fields of technology and innovation, but for human rights and freedom of expression. And, on the other hand, to stimulate positive references in search that more black girls and women look at innovation, technology and science as possible and interesting fields of work.
“Are there black and indigenous women producing and/or utilizing technology?”. “Where are they?” These were the questions that brought PretaLab to this point. The lack of mapping is one of the basic difficulties of constructing any public policy for inclusion – and one of our objectives was to fill this gap.
In the case of indigenous women, there are other stereotypes, and the one that this survey is most concerned with is that they are represented as being of a culture opposed to modernity, and therefore opposed to technology.
A complex reality, multi-faceted and full of potencial emerged during the survey. One of these aspects is the participants pride in relation to their origins: diverse stories that were sent mention the profession of their mothers – domestic workers, in the country that has the largest contingent of this type of profession in the world (7 million people). For Pretalab, the problem that lies here is to identify black women automatically and exclusively with the profession, be it rationally or unconsciously.
For black and indigenous women, extremely varied experiences are compacted into fixed and one dimensional images. And what we saw in the results of this pool was exactly the strength in the multiplicity of black and indigenous female experiences in Brazil. And notice that we approached only one area.
In the case of indigenous women, the stereotypes are different, and the one that says more, in respect to this survey, is that they represent cultures opposed to modernity and to technology.
Just as much for black women as for indigenous women, these extremely varied experiences are compressed into fixed and onedimensional images. And what this survey point to is exactly the opposite: the potencial of multiplicity of black and indigenous experiences in Brazil.
There were 570 women between the ages of 17 and 67, with various inputs and interests, the majority concentrated in innovation (29.1%) and social transformation (14.6%). These women come from all of the five regions of the country, of almost all of the states and more than half are interested in developing initiatives in the area – however only 20% of them are familiar with projects that bring black and indigenous women together in technology.
The lack of stimulation has an important cultural element and is reflected in the little expressiveness of the two groups in engineering and the exact sciences. In technology this gap gets worse, firstly because it is thought of as a “man's thing” a place for white people.
With little incentive so that black and indigenous women involve themselves with technology and innovation, the survey shows that the main entry for them in the area is informal learning (option selected by 52% of the interviewed), followed by Digital entrepeneurialship – the second position among the 18 options of involvement modalities with the technological field.
The data gives us assistance in reflecting on the importance of the stimulus (programs as well as public and private policies) so that black and indigenous women occupy more and more of this type of space, that is beyond a place of power, or a cultural space. A space that seeks to shake up the solidity of racism rooted in our country's culture.
Pretalab's survey was answered by almost 600 women between the ages of 17 and 67 years old from the five regions of Brazil.
PretaLab is an initiative of Olabi with the focus of stimulating the inclusion of black girls and women and indigenous women in the field of new technology. Made feasible from the support of the Ford Foundation. Get in contact, in case you want to collaborate with one of these fronts on.