Many of us have seen those hilarious maps showing us “The world according to americans”, “The world according to Hungary” etc… You can even buy the maps at sites like Alphadesigner or Zazzle. Great fun and a friendly reminder about bias – in maps and life in general.
Who we are, what we do and what we know are determinants for our perception of the world. If we are asked to draw maps based on this knowledge we end up with biased maps. In one of my first geography classes the professor asked us to draw maps of where we would walk through town from the students fraternity house and to a particular spot on a late evening. It turned out the women chose different paths than the men. -Why are so few of the girls choosing the backroads and alleys, the professor asked rhetorically.
Today I incidentally ended up on the OpenStreetMap foundation webpage about its officers & board. Well qualified persons, no doubt intelligent, knowledgeable, resourceful and with excellent networking skills. But why are they all men? Of the +50 members of different working groups I ended up finding four women (correct me if I am wrong)! My next thought was – does this represent some kind of bias for the processes prioritized for OpenStreetMap. I think it might. Not by intention or because of power-play. Good engineers and creative spirits found together and created something amazing. We now have to make sure it shines equally bright for all of us.
Wikipedia, on the other hand, has both women and men in their Board of Trustees and their Advisory board. They had women entering their boards at a very early stage. All in all their organization is a much more professional one.
Does it matter who sits in a board? Or even in a working group? Having been a member of the board of directors for one of the bigger NGOs in Norway I know it matters. It matters if you are a man, and it matters if you are a woman. Your background as a man or a woman might influence your opinions. Gender is a bias. Since OpenStreetMap is for both women and men it matters that such differences are represented in a board. If you are making maps it also matters.
This posting is not so much about providing the answers. But the question is important for many. Being both a contributed and user of different OpenStreetMap products it is important to me that the bias in these products is controlled and of not out in the open. On a good day bias shows you something you could not possibly see without. On a bad day bias distorts reality and leaves you with a poor understanding of the realities of life.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I am a man, I guess this could be a good campaign speech. So I will do the next best thing – I will become a paid member of the OpenStreetMap foundation. At the next election I will vote for any qualified woman running for election.