Inequality in Technology Funding: How a Male-Oriented Bias Threatens to Stifle Growth in Women-Led Tech Businesses.

Creativity without boundaries.

The finest creativity requires freedom to stretch and push boundaries and that freedom often comes through a disconnection with real world financial considerations; disconnection or lack of worry.

Historically, great artists managed this freedom through an abundance of personal wealth, a passion for their art which placed financial considerations out of their reach, or the security of rich patrons who would finance their expression often without limit.

Today, financial disconnection is rarely possible; not every artist can work living in poverty and the concept of benevolent patronage (or, equally, matronage) hardly exists any longer, except on Patreon, GoFundMe or in UAV SkyFund if you can get enough people to support your idea. For those wishing to break outside of the traditional boundaries of art, financial freedom must often come from a competent business portfolio and acknowledgement of strong business principles. It is there we seek sponsorship, either indirectly or through personal business ownership.

Technology and funding

While photojournalism and drone journalism are my focus for my professional work, financial mobility is critical in making it all happen. Everything from music and the written word to tailoring or architecture has a strong connection to technology; indeed, the very act of technological advancement and design is an art itself.

We combine our vision with the tools we are given and produce our personal masterpieces when we are able to work without boundaries. Just as financial disconnection offers a freedom to artists, so too does access to the technology that is providing new perspectives and new means to express them.

The domination of inequality in technology

For women in developing their careers, the limits on both financial and technological freedom still stifle. It is something that can be seen in the burgeoning UAV industry. Unmanned aerial vehicles offer a startling new viewpoint for artists in many fields; quite literally for those of us dedicated to aerial footage as drone journalists where we takes our tools to places that were previously off limits.

Yet, despite a strong showing of professional female UAV pilots in the industry, those that dictate the technology budgets are still overwhelmingly male. And despite many positive intentions, suffer from an almost-overwhelming bias to provide the best opportunities to men.

It is a model that I witnessed as a photojournalist – it has been the same for years and still goes on today: lower wages for women taking on identical assignments to their male counterparts, a prevalence of sexualised advertising to entice allocation of those budgets from other men, and ultimately funding going to businesses led by powerful male figureheads.

Though you might be hard-pressed to find anyone professional who would openly suggest that a woman utilising cutting-edge technology for her work would be any less adept, any less thought-provoking, and any less professional than her male peers, the money is still only a trickle in that direction where the rivers flow wide to their male seas.

Funding for females

The end desire is, of course, equality. The male perspective in the industry is as significant and enlightening as the female one and it is imperative that neither vision is choked by a dominance of the other.

Equality, however, cannot come if there is no voice or perspective highlighting where it is lacking.

The UAV industry needs to come to understand the importance of providing the funding and technology to the women and women-led businesses in the sector in equal measure to the men making their mark with these new tools. It should no longer be a case of ‘boys with their toys’, evoking a feeling of overgrown children playing with their miniature helicopters in the park, but a true understanding of drones as technology that when it comes to funding we should all have an even freedom when it comes to making the best use of them and opportunities for innovation, this is where a lack of funding for women in UAV will stifle our growth and choke us out of the competitive market. Sadly we mistake key-players in industries for “greatness” and we tend to elevate them becuase they hold money and power but that does not necessarily make them innovators or more ethical or more honest, or more trustworthy.

If the big grants, the powerful male “key-players” in our industry like agro, security, delivery, data-processing, drone conferences and commercial expos don’t open up more opportunities for women it will stifle female innovation, it will weaken our influence in the industry. Much more at risk would be that we will lose our powerful voices, our plans to start new drone ventures and our contributions will be overlooked. We need to have influence in the funding arena, we need top level pay for our work. If we continue down the path of “top 10 women in UAV” versus “top 100 key-players in UAV” (99 percent of which are men making critical funding decisions in the industry) we will lose out on a whole perspective that contributes so much when given the same opportunities. That is, female as influencer.

Across the world, women drone pilots represent less than 3% of the field. For that to improve (and surely it must), budgets need to be allocated to provide:

• Workshops and training courses that encourage women to the sector

• Grants and scholarships for girls and young women

• Better literature and drone literacy workshops and training to increase understanding

• Funding for female-led projects

Of course, it is also important that assignments and opportunities already available are given without prejudice and with equal pay to the best applicant, no matter their gender.

Avoiding the same mistake again and again.

The past four or five decades have seen technology at the forefront of our society, from computers, through the internet to mobile phones and more, technology has shaped and driven the modern world. The UAV market is still in its infancy with drones only now making their presence known in the zeitgeist. Previous waves of technology have been left without a female voice, a female perspective – it has long been a male-dominated sector and threatens to continue to be so.

There is an opportunity here at the ground level of this arena to make sure the same mistake – an in equal bias setting a precedent – doesn’t happen again. Strive to make this avenue of technology a truly equal one.

If you have an interest in the technology then make your voice heard – demand better funding distribution, badger for equal pay and demand training. Let’s not miss out on a whole female perspective, that of the female UAV pilot.

Gail Orenstein –  A Drone of Her Own©