Who gets to invent the future?

by Suw on December 3, 2018

Nike and Boeing Are Paying Sci-Fi Writers to Predict Their Futures, apparently. I have to admit, I was very excited to read this article when I stumbled on it. I’ve done some futurology projects on a couple of occasions, and it is always a huge amount of fun. This kind of work, using sci fi and world building to help companies understand future opportunities and risks is both exciting and smart. We are all narrative creatures and we understand the world through stories, so using stories to imagine different scenarios is a good way to think about the future.
 
But as I read on, I became really disturbed, and then quite cross. Of all the 21 real people named in this piece, precisely zero are women. Of the two fictional people, one was a named man, the other an unnamed woman, “grandmother”. The author was a man. The illustrator was a man.
 
And whilst the author acknowledged the gender bias, ‘the men behind these companies (and yes, they’re largely run by men)’, he did little to mitigate it.
 
He even included a stereotyped and factually wrong scenario posited by DIY store Lowe’s:
 
‘The story prototype follows a couple who try to renovate their house the old-fashioned way but keep running into problems. “The husband thinks he can solve it all, the wife is fed up, and the contractor is going ‘hehehe.’ The client loved it.”’
 
Women actually make more DIY purchase decisions than men. They are 60% more likely to complete a home improvement project than men, and 66% of women pay for DIY out of their personal bank account. Women initiate 80% of home improvement projects, account for 50% of DIY store customers but spend 50% more in store than men do. They are not ‘fed up’ whilst waiting for their husbands to fix things, they are the ones driving the projects.
 
To me, it’s a major problem that women either aren’t involved or aren’t recognised in this kind of future scenarios work. What kind of futures are being dreamt up by these men? Are they futures that include women? That recognise women’s decision making and buying power? Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases. 91% of women feel advertisers don’t understand them.
 
Just look at those numbers.
 
Yet businesses are asking all-male or majority-male teams to try to imagine the future, and I would put good money on those teams seeing things through a skewed male lens that doesn’t recognise or account for the role women play across all areas of life. In futurology work, whether it’s sci-fi based or straight scenarios thinking, diversity of thought is paramount if the results are to be of any use. Heavily male teams do not generally show much in the way of diversity of thought, as amply proven by the tech industry where women’s needs go frequently unmet and their voices unheard. 
 
Which does, on the one hand, mean that there’s an opportunity here for any woman willing to grasp it. And I’m seriously considering a project, once my current one is safely launched. 

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