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Women in Technology: Lucy Pei

An interview with the 2019 District 9 and Zonta International Women in Technology Scholar

"The recognition of my research path and the opportunities to reflect on the intersections of feminism and the technology fields have been very valuable to me."

How did the Women in Technology Scholarship impact your life?

The Zonta Women in Technology Scholarship was the first award I had won in my graduate career. Winning the local level was an exciting opportunity to meet the local Zonta chapter and share more about my research to a broader audience. I am immensely honored to receive the District and International levels too. The financial support will allow me to conduct more fieldwork and outreach. The recognition of my research path and the opportunities to reflect on the intersections of feminism and the technology fields have been very valuable to me as well.

What is your current role?

Right now, I am a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine. I am in my second year and am working toward a dissertation that explores the moral understandings of people who work on projects branded as “tech-for-good.”

"Even when we finally reach gender parity in tech workplaces ... there is still work to be done to fight for feminist values to be taken seriously in these fields."

Why did you choose to pursue this career?

As an undergraduate I recognized the growing influence that digital technology was having in the world. I was concerned that technical innovation was being focused on areas of high-profit entertainment and warfare. I also saw how the uneven distribution of technology was exacerbating existing social inequalities. I became involved in projects that sought to use technology to mitigate social inequalities and promote education and opportunities for social mobility. As I continued to work on these projects and saw the longer term impacts of technology-for-good projects on the underserved communities they sought to help, I realized there needed to be more research that would delicately critique this area of well-intentioned initiatives. Such critique is necessary, not to undercut the good work that is being done, but to evaluate how underlying assumptions and ethical frameworks may still reproduce inequities that the projects are trying to address.

Can you share more about a project or piece of work you did well or are especially proud of?

Last spring, I presented a paper about my work at a community literacy center at the top conference in the field of human-computer interaction. I was able to talk to people coming from extremely different backgrounds and perspectives, with different values. I was very proud of this interdisciplinary sharing of perspectives.

Resettled refugees from Bhutan learn to use iPads to practice English at a community literacy center where Lucy worked.

I am also proud of the project I had worked on at the literacy center. I was doing ethnographic research while also teaching resettled refugees and immigrants, who make up the student population at the literacy center, how to use the technologies they already owned but did not know how to use. I was able to build strong relationships with the students and see them grow as they gained confidence in interacting with technology and in practicing English on their smartphones and tablets. Even as I worked with students to reap the benefits of digital access, I worked with them to mitigate the harms and costs that also came with the newly gained connectivity. We worked to navigate data costs, storage shortages, predatory advertisements, feelings of addiction and overreliance, and technology breakdowns.

"Women pursuing a career in tech should always remember to care for themselves, and for other women aspiring to work in tech."

What challenges have you faced as a woman in technology?

It’s not just about getting women into a male-dominated space of technology. I have been lucky enough to have been able to get into the tech-related roles and programs that I wanted to be in. While I haven’t experienced outright discrimination personally, far too many of my friends who are women working in tech companies and studying in computer science programs have experienced a range of microagressions and outright sexism. Even when we finally reach gender parity in tech workplaces and it’s no longer okay to make outright sexist remarks, there is still work to be done to fight for feminist values to be taken seriously in these fields.

What advice would you give a young woman looking to pursue her passion in a career in tech?

Feminist literature in the field of science and technology studies has emphasized an ethics of care. There is no way to be perfect in this world, but each person can make the decision to act out of care for other people. Technical work is prestigious and difficult; it requires sacrifices, and it’s doubly difficult for women to make it in the world of tech. Women pursuing a career in tech should always remember to care for themselves, and for other women aspiring to work in tech. Equally we should care for the people who will be impacted by the digital products we make, and for the people who don’t have access to technology or the opportunity to learn about technology.

To learn more about Lucy and our other Women in Technology scholars, please click below.