Back in the early days when Doteveryone was talking about ‘Women In Tech’ I always used to say .. “How do we get more men into the care industry? That would have a much more profound effect on society and how fair it is” — I mean lets just think for a minute about the overall power the tech sector has in comparison to the care sector.. a lot more!
The following year when developing our new strategy “….But I don’t want to clean up the mess of the tech sector, they should sort themselves out…” I said frustratingly in a meeting with Rachel Coldicutt when we were talking through the different ways that Doteveryone could influence change.
Months later Rachel tweeted this, which just reinforced how I was feeling.
And it’s something that still irks me — though I think the work we are now doing to influence the tech industry is good and important — I can still be quite grumpy about the technology industry.
This grumpiness is due to a number of things — the gendered inequalities, the lack of diversity in the industry, the dominance in particular of men (so it feels like it’s their mess we‘re cleaning up), the hype (automated processes are often far less impressive than the propaganda surrounding them imply), the salaries (private sector day rates in the tech industry are astronomical but even the contractor day rates at Government Digital Service have now skewed the day rates of “digital people” so much, that the social sector can barely compete when recruiting), and that’s not even getting started on all the other ways tech is having an impact on society.
“The darkest tasks that sustain our digital world are outsourced to poor people living in poorer nations, from the environmentally destructive mining of precious minerals and the disposal of toxic electronic waste to the psychologically damaging effects of content moderation.”
The Automation Charade
The rise of the robots has been greatly exaggerated. Whose interests does that serve? An image from a Hoover catalog in…
Enough about tech!
Mostly though, my grumpiness is far more personal. I think I feel some weird resentment toward tech for how much of my brain and effort it’s been taking up. I have spent far far too much time over the last few years analysing it, talking about it, researching it — it’s all felt a bit too “tech first.” It’s why I used to say that I was only “fighting for a fairer internet because I care about a fairer society.” And central to a fairer society is how we value care.
What I have been doing at a micro scale is what I feel the tech industry (and wider society)is doing at a macro scale. With all this attention on tech, I haven’t been giving enough attention to care. As Amelia Abreu says, care has been marginalised forever.
Because caregiving is given to such a marginalized position in intellectual history, there is little we actually know about it through formal, or even informal channels. We have discourses to measure other parts of our lives, like our jobs or education or even the milestones of family formations. There’s not a recognized conceptual vocabulary for caregiving, no official forms of recordkeeping or documentation of it.
At the weekend I attended an event where Nina Power spoke about the need for re-centring care and the need to value it more. It linked to a programme of work that Doteveryone is about to launch that Lydia Nicholas will introduce later this week.
In the run up to that programme of work launching I’ve thought a lot about the way the tech industry might be influencing how we value care.
The disparity in salaries and investment
To focus on salaries for a minute — in the UK, a carer receives just £64.60 a week in carer’s allowance for a minimum of 35 hours — that’s equivalent to £1.85 an hour. (More than 1.3 million people provide 50 hours of care a week or more but receive no more social security for it.) Below are the median salaries that tech companies were paying in 2017, and below that a slide from a recent presentation I saw about digital in the social sector. It was being used to highlight the average salary costs of “digital people” — I think some are even higher than this.
What are we saying as a society that we pay our nurses and teachers and others in caring positions so much less than this? (And of course all the invisible and informal care work – of which there is masses – gets paid nothing at all).
Last year, the Government published its digital strategy, and this shows how much money they have invested in digital skills. How much have the Government invested in care skills? I couldn’t even find any stats online to share, because maybe they don’t invest in them at all? Or if they do, they aren’t significant enough to publish. I’m not saying that digital skills aren’t important, this isn’t an either/or, but the disparity or lack of visibility, says heaps about what we value.
The first thing that needs to change is how we value care work financially. Tech can’t save care, proper wages can.
The long-term undervaluing of caring labour – because it’s “women’s work”, in the home, and isn’t profit-driven – is hurting millions of families. If politicians wish to show they value carers, it’s going to take hard cash, not platitudes. I hope
Will tech create an opportunity for care?
One of the more hopeful things I’ve been able to consider whilst doing some scoping research for the programme is whether automation will (at least for a period of time) increase how we value care. If we follow the premise that there are aspects of care work and emotional labour that can’t be translated into tech, then this might afford humans doing care work a more distinguished and valued position.
University of Virginia professor and sociologist Allison Pugh also thinks that as other jobs in the labor market disappear, there’s a possibility that society may finally begin to better value human care work.
This Could Be the Last Human Job
Caregiving may be the last realm where humans outperform machines. But will that change the way society values it? What…
These advances in tech should help us revalue and better understand the many facets of care work. Automation first requires deconstructing a job and its composite behaviors, a process that can help us decide which parts of this work to cede to algorithms and bots, and which should remain in human hands.
Bringing more visibility and legibility to the many different aspects of care work (formal and informal) could provide new ways to value it. Re-centring care could also have ripple effects in how we more generally strengthen our social infrastructure, paying more attention to maintaining things and being in relationship with one another.
A major shift to more caregiving may require us to re-consider some of our values — rather than buying fancier and more expensive gadgets each year, can consumers place more value on community, companionship, and connection?
If automation could be an opportunity for care to be more valued, how do we make sure it happens? What might get in the way? And how can we pay more attention to care so that it’s properly valued?