Design strategist and storyteller Roya Ramezani did not feel the gender diversity issue in the Tech industry before she started working in Silicon Valley and found herself in a male dominated environment where women weren’t communicating their ideas. In contrast to the stats, She joined a diverse team, however, after a month, she discovered something that changed everything. Even when they were equal number as men in the room, women weren’t contributing to the discussions equally. They were being quiet and she thought as them not being present in the meeting room.
She realized that the online commentary platforms were facing the same issue: lack of female voices. According to the OpEd Project, an organization based in New York that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to “public thought-leadership forums,” a participation rate of roughly 85 to 15 percent, men to women, is common.
She mapped out the landscape of the reasons behind women’s silence. There is a complex ecosystem around this issue and there’s no one-type solution for wicked problems such as equality or diversity. Roya’s thesis is an attempt to put a dent on this issue by focusing on the lack of female agency. Lack of agency is listed by the two scholars from Princeton university as one of the main reason behind women’s silence. In their book, The silent Sex, Karpowitz and Mendelberg find evidence of a significant difference in contributions, and show how gender composition and rules dramatically affect what a group ultimately decides.
The word agency refers to the refers to the thoughts and actions taken by people that express their individual power.
Women’s sense of agency and confidence is negatively influenced by being a minority voice. It affects women’s language and the way they communicate their ideas and thoughts to men. Women usually tend to weaken their authority by using undermining language such as “I’m no expert, but…”
As Roya was excited to discover, journalists and psychologists were realizing the the impact of this self sabotaging behavior on women’s overall success. Journalists from the Washington post used humor to point a finger to this issue. They rewrote the famous speeches by men as if a woman was delivering them in a meeting trying not to sound aggressive or offensive.
This self sabotaging behavior is not innate. It’s an acquired habit. And when we talk about a habit, we refer to a behavior that is unconscious and is imprinted in our neural pathways through repetition. So Roya’s goal became how to help women conscious of their word bank. “I defined a word bank as the vocabulary that one uses rather than the vocabulary that one knows.” says Roya.
Roya’s thesis products focus on enriching women’s word bank by making them conscious of their undermining habits and replacing it with assertive language through repetition.
Keyboards, either physical or on-screen, are the primary tools we use to convert our thoughts to words online, and Roya wanted to use that as a starting point for her interventions. Roya then speculated on how women might benefit from a product line in, when they are based on women’s cognitive advantages. In her speculated Utopian future, all Tech companies have implemented the new keyboard in their office spaces and it’s become women’s new weapon.
Looking at the gender cognitive differences, women have better fine motor skills. So she made the keys intentionally smaller and now she had extra space to add more keys. Those keys became the assertive action verbs that were missing from most women’s word bank such as Claim, Disagree, Insist etc. It tracks every keystrokes and adds every word to the database. The exponent server then analyzes the words and based on individual input, generates missing powerful verbs. These words will be repeated until they become part of the user's word bank.
The form is inspired by Thomas Hansen’s writing ball—the first commercially available typewriter—which was built in 1870.
When we talk about unconscious behaviors, we should consider reminders. Roya envisioned the exponent wearables as a simple ring. It’s a discrete product and is paired with the user’s phone app.
Once the app is activated through touching the ring, it starts to record and add every spoken word to user’s word bank. In order to make people conscious of their destructive habit, the ring will vibrate when the app hears the trigger words such as just, sorry, basically, like and so on.
“Even though these functions could be achieved with the current wearable technology devices such an Apple watch app, the low price point makes it more accessible to a broader audience and single functionality makes it more effective” says Roya.
When It comes to sharing ideas and communication, one of the most important things is public presentation. It’s important to share your thoughts and ideas with others and to do it well requires practice and confidence. Despite very often being more qualified than their male counterparts, holding more professional degrees and holding equal positions in the workplace, women are less likely to volunteer for public speaking opportunities. The reason seems to be that men are a lot more self-assured and confident. As a result, men's voices still dominate in areas that matter and in online platforms. Women are underrepresented in the media, boardroom and in online commentary platforms.When it comes to entrepreneurship and starting a business, women are less confident about pitching to prospective funders and clients. The app is designed to address and improve this imbalance through a personal coaching service.
“we become more empowered, feel more able to express ourselves and most importantly, have more confidence when we have practiced and got approval from people we trust.” Says Roya.
Buddy is a personal speech coach. It helps users to build confidence for public speech through constructive rehearsal. The app leverages the Conversational UI to build a relationship between the user and the built in bot called buddy. Buddy asks for the presentation topic, scans commentary forums and grabs the most used words by professionals.
Then, it will allow people record their rehearsal and at the end, gives them an overview of how they did and gives suggestion on how to sound more like they know the language of their field.
Roya was able to create a prototype with the help of a machine learning phd candidate at Carnegie Mellon University and when they tested the prototype, the insight from a user lead to the next feature. She said: It’s not the same experience when you’re up there with all those eyes staring at you. People make all the difference.”
In order to make the rehearsal closer to the actual experience, Roya envisioned a VR space that Users can rehearse in a venue with audience. Buddy will be augmented in the audience to give immediate constructive feedback and remind them of destructive habits.
One of the best practices for adapting a powerful language is to observe and mimic people who are successfully doing it. Roya created Exponent Voices with having two goals in mind. The first goal was to create a platform for women developing their voice, to learn and get inspired by powerful female voices in their industries. It’s a series of interviews that women thought leaders in in tech and science will share stories about their challenges, their proud moments and tips of wisdom based on their experience.
She used the typology of a science lab to create a visualization of their voice so that participants could see the power of their language.
Roya created a device that connects to the microphone and transfers the sound vibration of the speaker to water so that it can be seen.
The human voice is composed of a multitude of different components, making each voice different; namely, pitch, tone, and rate. Pitch is an integral part of the human voice. She paired the visible spectrum frequency with voice pitch frequency and created 6 segments. Each segment represents one color from the spectrum. During the interviews, colors were added to the water manually based on the pitch of their voice.
Then at the end participants received a sample of the water that symbolically carried their voice energy.
These interviews along with their sound visualizations are posted on the online platform for women technologists and scientists to go and listen to and develop their own strong language.
Her second goal was to bring together a community of role-models for women in tech and science. Role-models are important in cultivating women’s interest and success in STEM fields. Young female students are more likely to choose to pursue a STEM career or education if they have a role model in mind. There is research on the gap between men and women in STEM fields that reveals the scarcity of readily available role models for women as they consider careers in tech. “Role-models can be thought of as lighthouses: they offer a steady point of reference as we travel through complicated waters.” says Dr.Larry Goodman
Words are like weapons. They’re very powerful. Change the story you tell yourself about yourself and it will change who you become.