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4 min

Open Data/Gov: Why having more women is not enough and what we can do about it?

Blue sky view and tall building.
Written by
Paulina Bustos
Published on
January 23, 2018

Before entering the Open Data/Gov space, I worked at a big tech company for four years. I was lucky to work in a mature company with strict rules on sexual harassment and discrimination. Even though the environment was positive, for a long time I was the only woman on several engineering teams and the sexism was present: jokes here and there about women stereotypes, the men that you should avoid at the party, mansplainers, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, because of my lack of knowledge and feminism, I saw it as a natural environment and did not read too much into it. The most important thing to do during those years was to climb the career ladder, be positive, lean in!

Eventually I left the commercial tech world and joined the amazing Open Data/Gov community. The work that we do here is important and has the potential to transform how governance works around the world and create everlasting change in our society. Belonging to this community has been one of the highlights of my life.

One difference that I noticed pretty quickly was how many more women surrounded me as opposed to the tech ecosystem. Many of them being responsable for doing a lot of work. In fact, through the work that we do at Cívica Digital, Diana D’Herrera (our Services’ Lead) and myself realized one day that most of our Product Owners (the person in charge of making decisions for a Product) are women.

If you were to ask me today: Who do you admire the most in the Open Government/Data space? I definitely will give you a list of 6 or 8 people, most of them women. ( You know who you are :) )

I don’t have exact numbers, but it seems like even though we are diverse and a lot of women are working on the space, our public ecosystem space is still dominated by men: in leadership positions; speaking at conferences; and being listened and praised. Somedays, it feels like women do the work, but men are the ones who get to talk about it.

If you were to ask a man in the ecosystem: Who do you admire the most in the Open Government/Data space? How many women will they have on the list?

If I had a dollar for each time someone asks me to add women to a list or to a panel, I would definitely add more sides of avocado to my food.

How come? We are already diverse! You would think… Well, think again. The broken promise of diversity is that it will automatically help you fix the toxic masculinity in your environment but that assumption couldn’t be more wrong. In order to foster a more diverse and empowering culture we need to change ourselves and the people around us in very deep and profound ways. Patriarchy and misogyny represent itself in our attitudes of everyday. The majority of these changes need to be internalized and adopted by men. However, I believe women can help and not only by handling people that are visible sexist.

I have been in the Open Government/Data ecosystem for almost four years. I have had the opportunity of speaking at events, being the recipient of grants, and attending several conferences. I want to contribute to create similar opportunities for other women. I also want to feel safe and make other people feel safe. Women can help men to change, but that requires a lot of emotional labour on our side. I don’t believe women are required or should do it. But, this post has a couple of changes that women can do to create a better and more diverse ecosystem.

With that in mind, here are the six things that I want myself and other women leaders in the space to start doing differently:

  1. If there is more than one woman in a meeting and they are quiet, I will ask for their opinion.
  2. If I have been invited to a conference to talk about a topic that has experts from marginalized communities working on it, I will propose other women to talk instead of me.
  3. I will not let men interrupt women. If that happens, I will ask the men to respectfully let the other person speak.
  4. If a man repeat a woman’s idea in meetings, conferences, public and private spaces, I will make sure she gets the proper attribution.
  5. I will have “that” conversation with men around me: If they are rude, mansplaners or interrupters. I will let them know their behavior and call them on it, until they change.
  6. I will mentor junior women in the ecosystem: Introduce them to other people, give them feedback for their projects and promote their work in front of senior people.

Creating the ecosystem that we want will not happen overnight or with magic solutions. Changes require internal ruminations in all of us, specially the privileged ones. We need to examine our actions and make little changes that require courage but will bring great benefit for us and for the people around us.

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