On a casual Tuesday night, amidst the hum and bustle of central Fitzroy, ‘nerds’, in other words students, IT professionals and anybody willing to further their knowledge, informally gather at a vibrant and quaint bar to eat, drink and discuss ideas.
I was unsure of what my expectations should be as I slowly and slightly nervously walked up the stairs, the enthusiastic and animated blur of voices becoming increasingly resonant. On arrival, I was pleasantly surprised. The bar was crowded, with people sitting in groups at round tables along one side; others were standing alone, quietly observing the situation surrounding them, their minds ready to absorb any innovative information on offer. I spoke to the friendly man at the top of the stairs who welcomed me warmly, briefly outlining the proceedings of the evening. I then made my way over to the opposite side of the room, positioning myself to ensure I was standing within good view of the large presentation screen.
After ten minutes, the speakers for the evening were introduced. First of all, neuroscientist Dr Naotsuga Tsuchiya would be talking about his latest research on consciousness, followed by data journalist Kim Doyle, who would be discussing the meaning of data journalism and helpful ways in which data is used. The final speaker would be Ri Liu, a data visualiser who would be talking about her research on gender disparity and presenting some of the artwork she creates from motion data.
I listened intently to all of the speakers, filtering and absorbing all the information I could and taking notes, despite the dim lighting and lack of available hard surfaces. All of the speakers were excellent and I both recognized and appreciated their work and research. However, it was Ri Liu who undoubtedly captured my interest.
Ri introduced her presentation, Making Numbers Beautiful, with a brief dialogue about her career history and current research. She is a highly successful data visualiser who lives in Melbourne and is the creator of the Web Colour Data Tool; a tool used to visualise different colour schemes for any website. Over the past couple of years, Ri has worked on projects for well-known web companies and posts – Google, Facebook and The Washington Post, to name a few. At the beginning of the year she became the Editorial Developer for Guardian News and Media. A statement from Ri’s own website about her work is as follows, ‘In her work, Ri focuses on expressing data in novel ways and exposing social injustices; from creating art out of motion captured dance data, to exploring the gaps between men and women around the world.’ As an individual who fully supports gender equality and corresponding rights, I was both fascinated and drawn to Ri’s work.
Ri presented several different graphs identifying the gaps between men and women from all over the world, in both labour and Parliamentary work forces. The graphs focused on the ratio of men to women in these industries. Ri also delved into why this was the case, taking socio-economic status and culture into consideration.
You may ask why the focus is on gender disparity in the workplace instead of other social situations. This is because it is becoming an increasingly concerning, highly debatable, and controversial issue. In an interview with Chartio from April 2014, Ri talks about gender disparity in the tech industry, stating, “There has been a lot of ongoing debate and drama in the tech industry over gender issues…I wanted to use my skills in data visualisation to allow people to see what the disparity actually looks like…”
According to statistics, the biggest gaps in the labour workforce are in countries known for their extremism and chauvinism, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, where women are treated of lesser value than men, whereas the smallest gap in the labour workforce is in Uganda, a low socio-economic African country with a strong agricultural influence. In Uganda, both men and women have the same work expectations and being able to afford the simplicities of life is paramount. When discussing Parliamentary positions, Ri used a graph to show Europe as having the smallest gap, and Bolivia and Rwanda having the highest percentage of women in Parliament.
However, the most shocking statistics were revealed about a first-world country with a generally high socio-economic status – Australia. You would expect gender disparity would not be a concern for us ‘down under’, right? Well, statistics show that last year in Australia, 73% of those in Parliament were male, leaving only 23% female. This means that Australia is majority run by males and significant life-changing decisions are influenced by a relatively male-only input.
We must ask ourselves, is this just another supporting argument for those committed feminists out there or is there a much deeper meaning to all of this? Sure, there are social, economic, cultural and religious factors which play a part, but is it really necessary for gender disparity to deplorably manifest itself in Australia?
Closing the gap worldwide is imperative. Through her research, Ri has discovered that this ‘gap’ is in fact narrowing over time, providing hope for global workplace parity. We must be thankful for people like Ri Liu who use their work to make these improvements and potentially create a safer and less damaging work environment for future generations.
Nerd Nite is a wonderful event. It brings to the forefront the amount of hard work, research and dedication required by those who are willing to make societal changes. It also gives people the opportunity to meet and socialise with those who are studious and like-minded and are constantly seeking to further themselves by expanding their knowledge, while providing support to their peers through the sharing and elaboration of brilliant ideas.