What Brooklyn rats can teach us about designing cities for everyone

Go to a government technology or innovation conference and look around, and you’ll see that the majority of attendees tend to be white and male. In 2015, women made up 22% of the government tech workforce, while white men made up over 50%. White workers make up about 70%. The numbers are even more lopsided at the highest levels of tech companies.

Although women are underrepresented in technology, they make up a growing portion of the civic innovation workforce. On New York City’s Design and Product Team, for example, 6 of the 10 staff members are women. The staff of the United States Digital Service, which brings technologists into the federal government, is 50% female, and the leadership is over 60% female. The staff of Code for America, whose mission is to make the government work in the digital age, consists of 65% women or nonbinary, with 76% women or nonbinary people on the leadership team. And our own Public Interest Technology team at New America is run by a staff of all women, half of whom are women of color.

But despite the prevalence of women in civic innovation, we have a long way to go to make the demography of the field match the demography of the United States. And there’s an even bigger challenge to draw more leaders from the communities they serve. We heard from numerous practitioners in public interest technology that diversity of all kinds is critical to appropriately designing services for people.


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