Originally published in Pittsburgh City Paper.
In March, my partner and I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon University’s Ethics for Technologists lecture series on the impact of the controversial anti-trafficking law FOSTA/SESTA on technology. It was there that I met Alison Falk, founder of the monthly digital publication Sex Tech Space (STS) and the platform Women in Tech PGH. At the time, Falk was getting ready to launch her special issue of STS on FOSTA/SESTA. I reached out to her to ask about what she is doing to platform women in tech and why sextech is important.
How did you get into the field of sextech?
I didn’t have a traditional background into technology. I have a degree in international business and then got a scholarship for a Master’s in brand management. I moved back to Pittsburgh and couldn’t find a job. While I looked, I enrolled in a coding boot camp because I was inspired by the women on the hashtag #womenwhocode on Instagram. I got hired as an app developer, and as I explored new sectors of the tech industry, I still felt lost. After discovering sextech, I really felt like it was an area in which I could contribute because sex positivity is something so important to me.
Why did you decide to start Women in Tech?
I wanted to show that there is so much more to the tech industry than just being a programmer or learning to code. Everyone has a story to tell about how they got where they are; their voices deserve to be heard and will inspire those who may be just one step behind them. Beyond this, I wanted to create a platform and hold events that eliminate the feeling of having to wear a professional mask. In most tech spaces, people can’t show up as their authentic self. When you create a space where someone doesn’t have to dilute or change who they are, the connections you make a more genuine, which I believe contributes to a stronger community and more unique innovation.
What perspectives, insights, or approaches do you think that women bring to tech that is different than men?
As minorities in tech, women bring their different life experiences and thus are able to provide more inclusive solutions to issues. When you have a group of people who come from a similar background, either they aren’t aware or don’t care to be aware of obstacles individuals from other demographics face, and that’s how bias gets woven into the algorithms. As a byproduct, tech becomes harmful.
You also started STS. What were your motivations for doing that?
I got really frustrated that many people in tech had never heard of sextech — and if they did, they thought it was all sex robots. I decided to create a platform to bridge the tech community and the field of sextech. My goals with the publication are to eliminate the stigma surrounding the discussion of human sexuality, and to give people permission to discuss sex. The aim is to eliminate this view of professional risk that comes with being associated with sextech.
You just put out an issue on FOSTA/SESTA. Why do you think it is important to pay attention to the way that sex work is being legislated?
SESTA/FOSTA legislation is not backed by accurate data and most importantly was not established with all stakeholders involved. It was created under a guise of morality when in reality it is a war on bodily autonomy and puts human lives at risk by dehumanizing an already marginalized population (sex workers). When our laws or beliefs allow us dehumanize anyone, it’s time to check those beliefs.