As we approach the end of Women’s History Month, it is important to continue to celebrate women changemakers past and present. But it is also important to acknowledge that this has been a tough year for women in the workforce—especially women of color.
The challenges women face in this economy and in the innovation industry came into sharp focus at this month’s Multicultural Womxn’s Conference 2021: Spotlighting Multicultural Womxn, co-hosted by ALLvanza. Participants roundly acknowledged that even as COVID-19 cases seem to be declining, the harm done to women, especially women of color, will last for years.
That is why this year’s conference stressed empowerment and ways women can win back progress they lost since 2020 while continuing to look for new opportunities to put their talents to work. In particular, a panel on our changing relationship with technology during the COVID-19 crisis focused on how innovations and technology are impacting women at this moment in our country. Speakers addressed not just the benefits offered by new technology, but the challenges women and communities of color face in our rapidly changing world—including key issues related to closing the digital divide, protecting online privacy and promoting internet safety—as well as policy solutions that could make an important difference.
Access to Broadband
Among the most pressing issues is the need to close the digital divide. The stark disparities between those who have access to broadband and those who get left behind affects a wide range of communities from diverse backgrounds. Conference speakers pointed to overwhelming evidence that because Latino, Black and Native American students are more likely to lack adequate home broadband, they have been more severely hurt by school closures than their white peers. The pandemic has also been hard on Latino businesses including those led by women entrepreneurs, and a lack of broadband access puts many of those businesses at a deep disadvantage in navigating the COVID-19 crisis.
Advocates have praised recent moves by the Federal Communications Commission to expand internet access, but we know that much more is needed. Plans like the one recently released by the National Urban League offer thoughtful guidance for officials at all levels of government.
Access to broadband internet is not the only issue facing communities of color adopting new technologies. As we adapt to the threats posed by COVID-19, for instance, people are spending more time on the internet, intensifying the need for policies to protect personal privacy online—especially for children.
Americans are rightfully anxious about protecting their online privacy. The vast majority of Americans think technology companies are spying on them when they are online, and while they may not have a precise understanding of the kind of information being harvested, they are correct in believing that their online activists are under close scrutiny.
Conference speakers emphasized that consumers should be able to rely on full, clear disclosure about who is tracking their online actions, what information is being collected and how it is being used. At a federal level, panelists spoke to the need to have a single set of privacy rules applied evenly across the internet without exception.
The threats individuals face as we spend more of our lives online extend well beyond personal privacy. With the pandemic forcing 50 million K-12 students to learn from home, speakers voiced concern about online safety and wellness. They pointed to the need for protections extending far beyond privacy, including polices to address cyberbullying and trolling, ways to engage and motivate students learning online, and tools to manage children’s screen time.
And while communication between parents and their children remains an important aspect of keeping young people safe on the internet, speakers acknowledged it’s far from a panacea. One survey last year reported that more than 60% of teens say they can easily hide their online activities from their parents, highlighting the need for additional tools to guarantee their students safety online.
Women have lost a lot of ground this past year and reclaiming what we have lost will not be easy. But as the conference showed, women are continuing to bring passion, commitment and innovative thinking to their professional lives.
ALLvanza is proud to have partnered with allied organizations to present the 2021 Multicultural Womxn’s Conference, the extraordinary leaders who were able to attend the conference and all the changemakers using technology and innovation to make a more just and equitable world.