Building for GenderAvenger: Dan Schultz Reflects On Being a Man Working for Better Gender Representation
Wait a second. What is a 32-year-old white guy doing on the GenderAvenger team?
I got involved with GenderAvenger in 2014 shortly before the launch of their first tool, the GA Tally. It started off as a volunteer effort to help my good friend Matt Stempeck, and it seemed to be a great cause. Over the past five years, my relationship with GenderAvenger has evolved, and it has shaped the questions I ask myself when I walk into a room, consume information, and organize new projects of my own.
The tools, networks, and types of content we're creating at GenderAvenger lead people to call out poor gender representation and recognize success. We're using tech to amplify observations about whose voices are in the room, and we're making those observations harder to ignore.
For those who haven't used the GA Tally, it is an app (and a web app) that you can use to generate a quick little visualization about who is part of a conversation. How many men, how many women, how many women of color, and how many non-binary persons? Just enter the numbers, hit submit, and share the results.
It sounds simple (it is!) but it's also powerful. Tallies are intended as a mechanism to affect change, a tool to help people actively witness, document, share, and even organize around the obnoxiously common flavor of sexism-through-underrepresentation.
The approach seems to work: we've seen people successfully identify disparities in conferences, award lists, and media coverage. Over the years, dozens of organizations have pledged to do better in response to GenderAvenger's attention. More often than not, those pledges translate to real improvement.
Every time I see this cycle, I find myself reflecting.
The change we're all working towards can't happen without men owning and addressing their role and contributing with whatever they have to offer. That ownership has to be regularly remembered and renewed.
For folks like me, who are inherently contributing to that other side of the gender ratio, the GA Tally also doubles as a mindfulness app. Our tools (and the corresponding stories uncovered by those tools) have instilled a personal practice of active reflection around representation in my day to day life:
Are there enough women in this room?
Why aren't there more?
What has to change to fix this ratio next time?
Are men talking too much right now?
Am I talking too much right now?
How can I make space for underrepresented voices in this conversation?
Does my comment/observation truly need to be made?
Does it need to be made by me?
I have no idea if I would have asked myself these kinds of questions without the GA Tally — I'd like to think so — but I know for sure that my participation on this team has compelled me to appreciate the role that I, as a dude and as a maker, have to play in the story.
Making for Good
There is a concept in my industry called "Human-centered design" which is essentially the idea that creating good software is more about understanding people than it is about understanding technology. Human-centered design is all about listening, learning, and thinking about the nuances of an interaction, and considering the human systems related to your project.
I've never worked in a domain more naturally attuned to these concepts than GenderAvenger's. Remembering to actively listen and observe is not just part of making the GA Tally, it is a habit that we are asking our users — especially our male users — to adopt themselves.
I try to bring those habits wherever I go. Sometimes this means tracking the time spoken during school board meetings and to make sure I and my fellow male board members aren’t droning on. It also means organizing in my communities to figure out ways to become more welcoming and valuable to women.
Most importantly, being a GenderAvenger has enabled me to look through an equity lens every day: whose voices are counted around me, whose are not, and how I can help.
Dan Schultz is a civic technologist who builds things for the public good. In addition to working with GenderAvenger, Dan is part of a weird creative collective called the Bad Idea Factory, which uses technology to make people 🤔.