8 March 2017

Equitable Innovation: The Uncharted Play Effect

This article from Uncharted Play is the final piece in the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) Women in Science, Technology and Innovation series that analyses the gender dimension of Sustainable Development Goal #9: Industry, Infrastructure and Innovation. Leading women inventors of the 21st century were asked to avail themselves for interviews and submit articles highlighting the gender dimension of their work, research or inventions as they relate to SDG #9 and outlining their implications in helping to realize that goal. Please note that the interviews and articles are for discussion, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

As a black female CEO in tech, I am no stranger to gender inequality. Unfortunately, my struggle is not unique. According to a recent New York Times article,by the age of 6, young girls are less likely than boys to view their own gender as brilliant. Brilliance is defined as superior intelligence, in other words, smarter than their peers. Thisfact translates itself into workplaces, as technology giants such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter are comprised of only 16, 18, and 10 percent female employees, respectively. Other studies have shown that this gap in confidence (which is indoctrinated at a young age), as well as lack of mentors, specifically within the tech space drastically affects the quality, relevance, and diversity of innovative ideas companies in this sector are expected to produce. This is exactly the internalized stigma we are aiming to address at Uncharted Play, where every day we tackle the intersection between innovation and empowerment.

I have lived a life of 'unlikelies' in the founding of this company, and it is my discomfort and struggle in the tech space that contributed to the foundation of Uncharted Play, and our impact program, UPlift 1 Million program. This program, and our general impact framework, stems from the thought that there is an intrinsic bias in tech against people who do not adhere to the norm regarding race and sex, suggesting that those who look like me do not have the capacity to innovate and create. But the idea that only one type of person can contribute to future ideas in technology is not only false, but is simply bad business.

Instead, at Uncharted Play we believe that diversity and struggle is not a disadvantage, but a competitive edge. So we are actively cultivating a pipeline of innovators that reflects the global population. We are dedicating a team of social impact and development practitioners, educators, data analysts, and activists to create a curriculum that teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), design thinking, and innovation. Uncharted Play is changing the game by creating an outlet for underrepresented communities in our home in Harlem and elsewhere to learn about inventing, prototyping, and the product development process. We have built a curriculum, 'Think Out Of Bounds', which allows students to leverage their own expertise for their communities and create innovations that contribute to positive and sustainable economic development.

In developing our impact framework, we started with the Sustainable Development Goals, which have been a crucial guiding principle as we aim to address gender inequity in STEM, renewable energy, equity in diverse workforce opportunity, and entrepreneurial innovation in various communities. Gender inequality has been a recurring challenge in our local work, as we have conducted pilots in New York City where children as young as elementary aged still ask, 'Can girls be engineers?'

The gap is real. The New York Times explains that there are simply not enough cultural examples equating intelligence as a female quality: 'If you try to think of a character in a book or show who is brilliant, you may come up with someone like Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Spock, Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, or some other man. (...) our cultural stereotypes promote the idea that being intellectually gifted is a male quality. The needle is moving slowly with movies like Hidden Figures, that allow us to broaden our understanding of the diverse fabric of genius that contributes to everything from engineering to space travel. But there is still work to be done. As Kai, a black 17 year old girl in Silicon Valley so eloquently stated in a recent NPR interview about the movie: 'I'm going to a school in the bay area right next to Silicon Valley, but always there's going to be people that look at you weird because they don't really think that you can do what they can because you don't really fit the image of the typical white male geek. And that's kind of harmful.'

As a company, I hope Uncharted Play can help ensure that the demographics of the tech community accurately reflects the global population. We want to give agency to people from all backgrounds to believe that they too can participate in what is now the next revolution - an ushering in of the new faces of technology.

Let's power and empower together.

For more information regarding Uncharted Play's Impact Mission please visit:http://www.unchartedplay.com/

About the author

Jessica O. Matthews is the founder of Uncharted Play, a renewable energy company specializing in motion-based, miniaturized power systems. At the age of 19, she invented the the SOCCKET ball, an energy generating soccer ball that provides off-grid power for the developing world. Her research and career centers around the intersection of disruptive technology, human behavior, and the psychology of self-actualization. Jessica envisions a world powered by and for its people. Get inspired by listening to her interview with United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) here.