Do you feel seen and heard online? Or worried about attracting the wrong attention? #digitalequality #IWD2023
How amazing are blogging and social media! In the past, we had few means of sharing our views so quickly and easily. Now your message has global reach and doors can open that were previously shut. All powerful reasons for women to have an equal voice online and feel seen and heard.
But this year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day about digital equity and equality got me thinking.
Is feeling seen and heard really as easy as that?
In one of my last face-to-face workshops before the pandemic I trained an international group of would-be business owners all wanting to learn how to promote themselves online. When someone from Iran admitted their fear of censorship and reprisals, everyone was shocked to hear that this person had never been able to speak freely, online or offline.
Aren’t we lucky! In this country we can say anything we like.
And that is true. Except. I have Instagram friends who got shadow banned for quite innocent updates. Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company has algorithms that, when triggered, can either hide your account or block it completely. Which is what happened to an African woman who had tried to raise awareness of women’s issues that the platform considered inappropriate.
Interestingly, as a vaccine-injured person I can’t mention the word vaccine in social media without triggering a negative reaction either from algorithms or from people.
It may have never happened to you but if it has, please be strong. Don’t let it stop you from believing in yourself and what you want to say.
Your stories are part of you and could be important to other people too. Because discrimination can happen to anyone, anywhere. And it can be about anything too, not just the gender someone associates with.
What about digital access and equal opportunities for all?
As I dug deeper into the topic of digital equity, I thought of all those people who have no access to the digital world, even in the UK. Not being able to afford a laptop or phone (and the relevant contracts) isn’t so rare according to my teacher friends.
Imagine being a single parent working from home having to home school your child. What if you didn’t have enough digital devices or had to compete for access because the connection was poor. Who is likely to lose out?
Of course this isn’t only a gender issue. But it is girls and women, according to the UN, who are most likely to miss out on digital opportunities in poorer countries.
Why don’t women feel seen and heard in the tech world?
Would you be surprised if I told you that when my 8-year-old grandson showed an interest in coding, there wasn’t a single girl on his course? Why wouldn’t girls be just as interested in learning how to communicate with computers and create their own games? Especially as technology plays a big part of their lives too.
According to LinkedIn women only make up 28% of the technical workforce and only 15% of engineering jobs are held by women. Even when girls and women break through early barriers, a survey by Accenture and Girls Who Code shows that half of young women who enter the tech world leave by age 35 as a result of “non-inclusive company culture”.
If it’s so hard for women to be an active part of the tech world then we are losing the role models that inspire girls as they grow up. Who would have thought that gender issues first raised by suffragettes over 100 years ago would still affect us now!
A report by Unicef highlights that “Gender inequality in the physical world is replicated in the digital world.”
There is a lot we can do
1. Be you – your blog is the perfect home for your voice
Being visible online has always been a necessary part of how we market ourselves. If you worry about being seen and heard online, remember that a blog on your own platform gives you complete control over your message.
It is important to bring your whole self to your blog. Be passionate. Be bold. You may not appeal to every reader that way, but that is a good thing. Being true to yourself will set you apart and that helps you to attract the right readers. Because you are way more than the work you do.
I have recently noticed a return to blogging by people who had at some point neglected it in favour of social media. They say they feel more secure now and less worried about the transience of their social accounts.
On your blog you can write without fear that your content will disappear. It is easy to deal with unwanted attention too, and plugins can automatically filter out the dreaded spam.
Blogging wins hands down here!
2. Join the right networks to feel seen and heard
There are of course ways to join in with social media in a way to suit you. Are you part of any online networks or forums that support you in your views? There will be places for you regardless of your interests or business focus. (There are, even for people with ongoing vaccine problems). Joining in somewhere safe is far better than staying quiet.
And then you can take a step further and widen your circle. The downside of only surrounding yourself with people like you is that it can keep you in your comfort zone. You’ll miss out by not engaging with people different to you. Seeing the world through other people’s eyes is a great way to become more aware of unconscious bias.
3. Look out for unconscious bias
Recently we sent the draft of our upcoming guidebook for bloggers to our Beta readers. Little did we know that we had made an assumption about a certain demographic of readers. We are grateful that someone brought this to our attention.
There are many forms of bias. Stereotyping is just one of them. Another common online one is the way some people judge ‘influencers’ online. Seeing other people follow someone makes it easy to think you should follow too. Believing something because others believe it can be quite prevalent in social media.
It is so easy to have blind spots. We don’t know what we don’t know. We may have much to learn as writers as well as readers.
4. You can influence and lead by example
How amazing to be able to challenge bias from within and contribute to a more inclusive approach. We can all do that in our work and interactions with others.
At home too! My grandson doesn’t just enjoy coding, he also loves his yoga class. When he first joined, the instructor asked his mum whether he would feel out of place being the only boy in the class. He doesn’t, thanks to his mum. And neither do the girls.
We can all help to break perceptions around what is or isn’t acceptable – for all children. How brilliant would it be to remove the traditional barriers for children. Would it not encourage more girls to learn about tech and more boys to go to a yoga class?
Where participation and contribution are equal, everyone will feel seen and heard. And nobody gets left behind.
Ps. Do you have any personal experience of attracting the wrong attention? Or more ideas to help us all lead by example? Please add them below!