Caroline Criado Perez’s book “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” (ASIN: B07CQ2NZG6) delves into the ‘absent presence’ of women and the gender data gap. It shows how we ignore half the population in a world that has been designed and built principally by men. The gender data gap has resulted in a widespread and invisible bias which has affected, and continues to affect, women’s lives every day. There are many examples in the book and numerous others to add to the ever-growing list.
From public toilets to seatbelts, to military uniforms
Some topics, such as public toilets, are now relatively well-known. An equal male/female split of floor space has long been the norm for architects, the construction industry and plumbers. Yet, with a little thought, it is obvious that more urinals than toilet cubicles can fit into a given space. And the long lines outside women’s toilets should be a pretty obvious clue. The equal floor space split is not quite so equal after all.
Car seat belts have until very recently been designed to protect a human body of average adult male proportions. This is still the case in the US where the battle is far from over. A new bill has just been introduced to the US Congress requiring that car crash test dummies be modelled on both male and female bodies. (2)
This change is needed because it will save lives. A 2011 study by the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics found that when a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured. She is also 17% more likely to die.
There are similar serious potential consequences in other spheres. Imperfect design of protective and security equipment used by police, improperly fitting military uniforms and poorly adapted safety harnesses are among the known examples.
Women’s voices are very literally not being heard
It is not just physical objects. There is also an impact on the latest technology. Rachael Tatman, a research fellow in linguistics at the University of Washington, found that Google’s speech-recognition software was 70% more likely to accurately recognise male speech. This has consequences across multiple sectors where voice-controlled equipment and services are becoming widespread and, in some cases, essential to navigate the everyday world.
The transport sector has also historically followed male-oriented design. If there should be any gender bias in transport, it should be towards women. The numbers tell us that if a household owns a car, it is the men who are more likely to have access to it. As a result, women are more likely to walk or use public transport. The fact that women make up only a fifth of transport sector employees across Europe fuels this bias in transport planning towards typically male modes and patterns of travel.
A UK Department of Transport study found stark differences in the perception of danger between men and women after dark. Three out of five women felt unsafe waiting on a railway station platform and walking from a station. Half of women surveyed felt unsafe travelling on a train, waiting at a bus stop and walking to the bus stop. Men surveyed reported at least half the percentages of women.
It is not women’s fault
Women adopt strategies to avoid feeling unsafe and adjust their behaviour and their travel patterns to accommodate this fear. Rather than addressing the problem, the blame is often placed on the women, instead of planners who have created unsafe spaces.
Attitudes are changing and some steps are now being taken. But existing infrastructures, methodologies and procedures must be adapted urgently. It is not simply a question of convenience but of individual safety and in some instances truly a matter of life and death.
WAVE – WoMen and Vehicles in Europe is an association aimed at everyone (men and women) working in the automotive and mobility sector and has two interdependent goals: among women – to promote automotive career opportunities, among all those in the mobility sector – to open up the sector so that women can provide complementary expertise and a new dynamism. WAVE contributes to the use-case definition and requirements in terms of employment in the sector, as well as inclusion of gender needs in the design of cars.