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Flexport, Inc.

Flexport and PowerToFly Discussed "Tech for Good" in San Francisco

On July 24th, PowerToFly partnered with Flexport, the innovative company combining advanced technology and data analytics, logistics infrastructure, and supply chain expertise, to present a very intimate, invite only evening for senior women tech leaders in San Francisco.

Held at the lovely Monroe, this mini-retreat focused on how tech can be used for the greater good while also allowing for both our invited guests and Flexport speakers to share their own personal career journeys, discuss the impact of diversity and inclusion on tech and to network with likeminded skilled tech professionals.

After ample networking time over food and drinks, PowerToFly CoFounder Milena Berry kicked off the night by introducing Susy Schöeneberg, Head of Flexport.Org, to deliver the night's opening remarks, sharing how Flexport is making global trade easier for everyone. Then, our attendees formed smaller breakout sessions, each lead by a Flexport leader that, in addition to Susy, included Elaine Teoh, VP Engineering, Experiences; Madison Bell, Senior Product Operations Manager; Becca Ling, Product Design Manager; and Geoff Smalling, Vice President, Product Management; to share what products and companies they think are examples "tech for good".

As our brainstorming sessions wrapped up, the whole room came together to share their collected findings and continue the conversation as a larger group. This insightful evening wrapped up with plenty of more opportunities for our guests to network before calling it a night.


Flexport believes global trade can move the human race forward. That's why it's their mission to make global trade easier for everyone through their pioneering Operating System for Global trade. Currently, they connect almost 10,000 clients and suppliers across 109 countries, including established global brands like Georgia-Pacific as well as emerging innovators like Sonos.

Flexport is hiring! You can view all of their open roles and learn more about the company on their PowerToFly page.

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"You're not like other girls. You're so...chill."

I've gotten that "compliment" from multiple guys in multiple contexts — and I'm ashamed to admit that until a few years ago, I took it as one.

Occasionally I'd wonder why. After all, anyone who knows me well knows I am the Anti-Chill: a tightly wound stress ball, ready to explode into tears at any given moment.

So what was giving these guys the wrong impression? As it turns out, it was my voice. My cool, unnaturally-deep-for-a-woman, never-shrill voice.

And if I'm honest, I always prided myself on not sounding 'like other girls.' No uptalk or high-pitched squeals of glee from me. I thought I sounded smarter and more serious. Talk about internalized misogyny.

This isn't just me though. There is a societal double bind that forces women to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the right pitch and tone for each situation.

Just consider the advice that Democratic-debate coach Christine Jahnke gave female candidates to avoid being labeled as shrill: "… go slow and low. Very purposefully slow your pace and lower the tone a bit, because that will add meaning or gravitas to whatever it is you're talking about."

In a nutshell: try and sound chill, not shrill.

What I didn't know, until recently, is how this bias against women's natural voices is being reinforced and amplified by century-old technology. (Just one of many examples of how technology designed by and for men ends up hurting women in the long-run.)

Author Tina Tallon explains this little-known fact in her recent New Yorker article, summarized below:

How 20th Century Tech Is Holding 21st Century Women Back

With the rise of commercial broadcast radio in the 1920s, women's voices began getting critiqued. As Tallon explains, station directors asserted that "women sounded 'shrill,' 'nasal,' and 'distorted.'" So when industry standards were set, directors didn't take women's voices into account.

When Congress limited the bandwidth available to each radio station in 1927, station directors set a bandwidth that would provide the minimum amount of information necessary to understand "human" speech.

They used lower voices as their benchmark, so the higher frequency components of women's speech necessary to understand certain consonants were cut, making women's voices less intelligible.

  • Researcher J.C. Steinberg asserted that, "nature has so designed woman's speech that it is always most effective when it is of soft and well-modulated tone." He explained that if a woman raised her voice on air, it would exceed the limitations of the equipment. As Tallon says, "He viewed this as a personal and biological failing on women's part, not a technical one on his."

Why You Should Care

Women have always been told to lower their voices, but this 20th century approach to sound frequencies is still accepted as the standard, literally forcing women to lower their voices if they want to be heard.

  • To this day, many algorithms and speakers distort women's speech by limiting higher frequencies, causing women's voices to lose definition and clarity.

Tallon sums it up well:

"Consequently, women are still receiving the same advice that they were given in the nineteen-twenties: lower the pitch of your voice, and don't show too much emotion. By following that advice, women expose themselves to another set of criticisms, which also have a long history: they lack personality, or they sound 'forced' and 'unnatural.'"


----

So as we continue to grapple with implicit biases against women, from what it means to be "presidential" to who's considered an "innovative leader," let's remember the importance of diversity in tech.

Had a woman been involved in researching/setting the standards for radio frequencies, she might've been able to steer the industry towards a voiceband that would allow men and women to be heard equally well. And perhaps had a more impartial voiceband been established, I'd have heard a more diverse range of female speakers growing up, and internalized fewer biases myself.

That's why we care so much at PowerToFly about making sure cutting-edge companies have diverse teams.

Times were different then, sure, but the fact that Depression Era standards are still impacting how we hear (or don't hear) women's voices is a vital reminder that what we do today impacts our world for centuries to come.

Agree?

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