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Audible

Girls Who Code @ Audible 2018

Below is an article originally written by Jamy Barton, the Sr. Director of Tech Diversity at PowerToFly Partner Audible, and published on September 25, 2018. Go to Audible's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

A summer of learning and inspiration for the years ahead!

A summer rain pounded Newark, NJ in early August as a gust of 23 girls piled into the lobby of 1 Washington Place. Participants from the Girls Who Code summer immersion program had arrived at Audible! And we were ready for them!

Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization focused on closing the gender gap in technology, runs six-week summer programs across the nation. Audible is a popular visit for the girls participating in the program in several nearby locations, and we were delighted to host them on August 10.

"The girls appreciated learning highly relevant industry skills in the classroom at Audible"

For each visiting group, the day-at-Audible journey began—at the elevator whiteboard. We encouraged the girls to get creative, be bold, and tell us why they code…

The Future is Female

Up to the 12th Floor with a sweeping view of New York City in the distance, the day kicked off with an orientation about Audible, its technology, its products, and most importantly, its customers. Then, leaders from the Audible Technology team sat with the girls to share ideas and insights into careers in tech. The leaders specifically tapped into discussions about early-stage lessons learned, failure and confidence, and self-care, including confessions of daily routines that they attribute to better balance and success. Hands flew up as we opened to Q&A. We have no doubt that many of the girls in that room will be leading similar conversations as future tech leaders!

Off to the Studios!

Audible records and produces a large amount of its audio content at 1 Washington Park. It's in the Audible Studios where world-class narrators bring books to life. The Studios team provided the girls with a rare glimpse inside the people, process, and technology behind that magic.

"Alexa, ask TV Show Finder, on what channel is Young Sheldon?"

After lunch, the girls rolled up their sleeves and took to the classroom for a two-hour workshop on developing Alexa Skills. With coaching from members of the Audible Tech Team, girls paired up to develop their own TV Show Finder Alexa skill. Starting with basic skills building, the girls eventually added their own flare to the skill. One group utilized SSML tags to alter Alexa's voice to sound scary. Another group simplified Alexa's response for daily shows. For example, instead of Alexa listing all the days of the week for a daily show, the team modified the response to simply say "the show aired daily."

All teams succeeded in reaching their goal to build a working Alexa skill. A key takeaway from the workshop was that developing software may seem intimidating at first, but once a problem is broken into smaller parts, each part is not nearly as intimidating as the whole. A life lesson that goes beyond the classroom!

SWAG-OUT…

The smiles broadened with ice cream and Audible swag bags including an Echo Dot for future listening and experimentation!

"The girls appreciated learning highly relevant industry skills in the classroom at Audible. This, and hearing about various pathways that they can take in the field of technology from the panel discussion, left them excited and motivated to learn more." —Tisha Greenidge, Lead Summer Immersion Program Instructor

We wish the girls (who code) an amazing school year ahead and hope that their day-at-Audible reinforced their vision of a future in technology! We're counting on you!

Remember we are hiring! Audible is growing rapidly and always looking to add amazing people to our team. Check out our open positions and we'd love to hear from you.
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Why Female Presidential Candidates Are Still Told to Be Chill, Not Shrill

The Dated, Everyday Tech Stifling Women's Voices Shows the Importance of Diversity in Tech

"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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