TechTruth initiative covers the intersection of technology and social justice | #GuestOfTheWeek


This past August, The GroundTruth Project and SiliconANGLE Media’s theCUBE announced the winners of a new reporting fellowship for women in technology. This fellowship pilot program is the inaugural effort for the TechTruth initiative, which aims to train and support a new generation of journalists to cover the intersection of technology and social justice.

Three fellows and two junior fellows earned a month-long fellowship that focused on training at GroundTruth’s headquarters at WGBH in Boston, as well as the opportunity to report on theCUBE during the 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Houston.

Karis Hustad, a reporter at Chicago Inno; Pooja Sivaraman, Women in Tech fellow; and Tori Bedford, associate producer at WGBH, spoke to Rebecca Knight (@knightrm), host of theCUBE, in a special “Meet the Women in Tech” segment during the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, where they revealed the topics that are at the heart of their reporting. Also appearing on theCUBE with Knight were the junior fellows, two Palo Alto High School seniors, Alicia Mies and Peter Maroulis, who are aspiring journalists.

This week, theCUBE applauds our fellows and the next generation of great reporters in our Guest of the Week feature.

Thinking about the end-user

Hustad is a journalist based in the Chicago working for a publication called “Chicago Inno.” She covers hyper-local tech and startups with a non-Silicon Valley approach to what’s happening in tech throughout our country.

“I think at a conference where you have 15,000 women in technology; it’s a great opportunity to explore [the] women behind the tech, who are going to create the infrastructure of tomorrow,” Hustad said.

She continued: “We have so many examples of products that have missed features or that have created sort of a discriminatory product feature because those tech teams were not diverse. What I want to do is look at a few tech companies and startups that already have diverse tech teams and to look at how that impacts their products. So the actual thing I am looking at is how diversity impacts the actual tech products that will create the infrastructure of our future.”

Finding identity through virtual reality

Bedford works as a radio producer at WGBH, an NPR station based out of Boston. She works as a reporter and a producer for a pop culture and news show. She is excited to have the opportunity to look at diversity in a technology environment.

“Something that I’ve been chasing after, [is] VR [virtual reality] … there’s this ethical question of the idea of identity. If you go into VR, you can be anybody you want,” she explained. “If you go into a workplace, you can create these avatars so you can identify as certain things, and sometimes it’s used to cover up your identity so that you won’t face discrimination.”

Bedbord continued: “For instance, if you’re a Muslim woman and you’re a coder, you might face a bunch of hurdles a white male coder wouldn’t face. So if you can present as or perform as this avatar that doesn’t have those identifications, you could potentially get further. But that introduces a whole bunch of ethical issues where if there is this erasure of identity, there’s the erasure of culture. There is gender blindness and race blindness, so I think that’s something that companies are tackling now … and what that means for the future.”

Discrimination is not a game

Sivaraman recently graduated from Tufts University, and she is a reporter for the Graduate Project. She has always been interested in the intersection of technology and social justice. She said that she is working on several stories at the moment, but her interest lies in the gaming industry.

“I’m really interested in the gaming industry and specifically looking at post- ‘Gamergate,’ which was a harassment movement that took place in 2014 that specifically targeted women gamers and game developers. I’m trying to investigate that movement, which definitely brought a lot of attention to the fact that women are being harassed,” she said.

Sivaraman continued: “I think the Gamergate movement shows that there’s this definite miscommunication between the people who are creating the games and the people who are using them.  Forty-five percent of gamers are women, and that’s a really surprising statistic to some people, because when you look at mainstream games, they are very sexist, they are very misogynistic, and they don’t seem to be made for a female audience. So that’s the conversation I’m looking into; you have so many female gamers, why aren’t there women creating games? Why aren’t women gamers getting funding? Getting into the mainstream? Why are they not at the forefront of the gaming industry?”

The fellows have all taken notes and learned a great deal throughout the conference, but the key sentiment was there is more work to do to bring diversity into the technology industry.

A look a life/work balance

Mies and Maroulis, the junior fellows, are working on a project that examines how men and women balance their work and family lives. As part of the project, they are observing the daycare at the Grace Hopper event to monitor how women handle the balance of motherhood and work.

Mies explained how they began the project. “Before we came here, we talked to a bunch of sources about the disparity that they face in Silicon Valley, and when we are here, we see that even more. A lot of people here are more hopeful, I’ve noticed; they believe that women are going to take more of a place in the tech industry,” she said.

According to Maroulis, “Everything is moving in the right direction in terms of closing the gender gap, and I think that’s especially noticeable in the daycare. Parents, mothers, in particular, aren’t afraid to bring their kids to this event and house them up at the daycare. It’s 0 to 12, and they have a whole room with cribs for the infants. It’s really incredible to see working mothers coming here and bringing their kids, and feeling totally comfortable to walk around.”

Knight asked about other projects they are doing. “Another area we would like to explore possibly is this idea of women of color in tech and get their perspectives,” replied Mies.

“We are just trying to get as many diverse perspectives as we can,” Maroulis responded.

Watch the videos below and watch more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of the Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Photos by SiliconANGLE