Dr. Mariann Hardey

Digitally on.

Speaker, Writer, Academic.

Durham University Lecturer.

I do stuff for the BBC.

Feminist & lovely.

Slanguage of social media

First report on digital culture from London's TechCity

June 2015

REPORT I

This report is based on research to understand the networked culture of London's Tech City. In particular, the professional opportunities for women. So far the data presents a clear picture of differing opportunities, the need for anonymity and concern for what happens when failure is so public.

Groundwork:

So far interviews and focus groups that include digital discussion groups about 'the work culture in tech city’ have been conducted.

Specifically topics have focused on gender and tech (as allies) in recognition of the advancement of digital tech industry in the UK / internationally, the role of the labour force, and culture of Tech City - ie. what it means to work (and to cultivate professional and social networks) based in this area.

IF I were writing for the DailyMail, we could label this study as about ‘those women in digital tech’, but this would provide too simple and too much a media-heavy reaction into how the tech culture is seen.

I view this research as:

  • An opportunity to understand the community and network activities with a wide variety of individuals around the world and not just restricted to London / UK
  • Open to everyone who wants to participate in the research*

*As long as they share their experiences.

Thematic analysis

A few short points, the following investigative principles are central:

(1) identification of a domain culture that extends physical / local (as in community) and digital spaces

in order to (2) articulate assumptions underlying this culture

so that we are best placed (3) to suggest methods for evaluating this field

to observe (4) the sense of developing an alternative assumption environment – particularly about ‘gender.'

(5) to consider, in relation to networks, the role of ‘workers’ and professionalism

and (6) evaluate the alternative experiences of the environment

Dualism is firmly out. This includes the prevalent rationalistic school of thought that views professional competence as consisting of two separate entities: first as a set of attributes possessed by the worker; and then a separate set of work activities.

The following is relevant for future discussion

The theme ‘working in’, or being a worker in Tech City, is part of a much wider interest and set of experiences in what is being called 'Tech City'. Though physically placed within this space, many feel that they remain from the outside looking ‘in’.

Participants to the study have spoken about how they view the startup experience as containing its own “cultures”. Within these, there is an identifiable unitary set of values and beliefs shared by the workers and movers through the networks in Tech City.

At the root metaphor level we can question assumptions around unity, uniqueness, and consensus, just as relevant is the emphasis on differentiation, fragmentation, discontinuity, and ambiguity that are key elements in the same culture!

How has the current culture / ethos been cultivated in tech city – or “Is there really a problem with diversity?”

Short answer, yes. But it is more complex than this!

What I hope to produce is a continuum of overlapping assumptions open for problematization; that include from one end the experiences of those who have had issues, and to also consider how diversity will present certain obstacles that have been of benefit to others actions.

“It is an illusion that there isn’t a problem with [women] working in tech and my experience has had its good and bad moments in Tech City.”

In publishing this research, I seek to identify the environment as a broader and more fundamental form of a set of assumptions about tech, in general, a culture that is specific to accounts given during interviews. The strongest theme has been problematization about ‘women in tech’. The analysis I am currently undertaking is to consider critiques and early challenges of assumptions both within and about this space.

Tone of participants – aka, ethos and culture

Examples:

“I can’t understand why no-one seems to get upset about this, but I don’t know that stating it so publicly or in such an angry or emotional way is going to help to make the points that need to be made. I try being nicer and next time I get told off for being ‘too nice’!”

“When pitching I’ve been told by VCs, ‘there’s No need to get so bent out of shape!’".

"I was asked about my family life [...] They wouldn’t have even asked if I were a man.”

“I’ve been very affected [...] Getting a public dressing down is something you just get used to. I've been told ‘I think you’d get a better reception if you sounded more in control of yourself' […] I was being advised that you get more flies with honey than vinegar! And this from another woman who is a high up CEO. ”

“I need you to explain to me why you think there’s a problem…”

The following advice came from a 'top VC' who was visiting from California: “You alone are responsible for educating yourself, and while someone might answer your question, no one is obliged to even listen to you. If someone tells you to go find the information yourself, GO FIND THE INFORMATION YOURSELF. Go succeed for yourself. Otherwise, go fail for yourself.“

Additional thoughts and reflection:

Whilst discrimination certainly exists (especially against women of a certain age); there are small community groups talking about the ‘women in tech problem’ 'gender equality' - tellingly it is the disadvantages that are too often reported in the popular press. Though I have found the following of interest:

Swallow, E., 2015. March15. The most exclusive boys' club: America's largest startups. Fortune.com

Questions to answer, are about how the culture of tech, in general, pervades a male-centric exclusivity – even though networks in Tech City are making strides to counter this influence.

Such concerns are assumed not to be important when the community is viewed and (in some cases) publicised as being gender-neutral. Or (as one interviewee put it), "less sexist than other industries."

Report II

This blog post gives some background to the forthcoming research and analysis of the data for Report II and other publications later this year.