The Invisible Women

by Jun 6, 2019

The Deadly Case of Invisible Women

While men dominate positions of power, and are used as the standard model, invisible women suffer the consequences.

From sexual harassment to the ‘pink tax’, gender bias affects women’s lives in many obvious ways. A new book, Invisible Women, lays bare some surprising examples which you may not have noticed. Using data and graphs, author Caroline Criado Perez shows us the sexism which is hiding in plain sight.

Part of the issue, Criado Perez suggests, is that men’s bodies and experiences are seen as standard.  And it’s not just about minor daily inconveniences – like too-big smartphones made for men’s hands, or an office thermostat which was set for men’s warmer metabolisms. Earlier this year, NASA had to scrap plans for the first all-female spacewalk. Why? Because they only had one spacesuit small enough to fit a female astronaut. Despite the fact that they did invent a makeup bag for female astronauts. Yes, because that’s what is needed in space.

invisible women

Credit: NASA

The world is designed around men

A gender-blind approach doesn’t always work in a world which is designed around men’s needs. Less than a quarter of university professors are female. This is largely because the workload piled on academics is unrealistic for anyone without a supportive partner at home. It’s the same for most high-powered business positions. Anyone with outside responsibilities will struggle to make it to a 7.30am breakfast meeting, or stay til midnight to deal with an unexpected crisis.

This leads to a spiraling effect. The lack of representation means that it’s harder for female staff to push back on unreasonable demands. They fear seeming like they “can’t handle it”.  There’s a widely-quoted statistic that when women in a mixed-gender group speak for 20% of the time, men judge the gender division to have been equal. Yet when they talk for 50% of the time, women are judged to have dominated the discussion. This leads to a situation with invisible women.

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This failure to take into account women’s needs doesn’t just affect women’s careers: it can be deadly.

A UK survey survey found that 75% of women used protective equipment which was designed for men, leaving them vulnerable to injury. Women are 50% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. This is because the usual crash-test dummy is based on the “Standard Man” model (170cm, 70kg). Only in 2011 did car manufacturers start testing with female-shaped dummies.

Women are also under-represented in medical research.  A surprising number of common drugs – Valium, for example – have never been properly tested on women. This means women are more likely to suffer side-effects or accidental overdoses from prescription drugs. Invisible women are suffering at the hands of easy-to-fix negligence.

Symptoms of medical conditions often present differently across genders, and women are under-diagnosed with everything from autism to heart failure because they’re more likely to present with atypical symptoms. Of course, these symptoms are only ‘atypical’ because most medical literature is based on men’s experiences.

The gender gap perpetuates the concept of invisible women

Until researchers, leaders and policymakers start taking the gender gap seriously, women will continue to struggle for a place in a man’s world. If their needs are so broadly and blatantly ignored in a practical sense, it is hardly surprising that they continue to be invisible in other ways especially in the workplace.

Our corporate cultures are male coded. Gender stereotyped job titles and job listings are the norm. They discourage women from applying  for jobs and reduce their sense of belonging. Male leaders frequently overlook women for stretch assignments. This is usually based purely on biased assumptions about their family situations or career ambitions. They are not invited to participate on panels or at conferences. Women are not mentored or sponsored in the same ways as their male colleagues. In some sectors, they are invisible women because they are not physically there. In others, they are present but unseen.

The absence of women from senior positions in the hierarchy is directly related to their invisibility elsewhere. With women influencing or making 85% of consumer decisions, male leaders need to understand that taking women’s needs into account and making a commitment to gender balance should be part of their business model.

A lot of these issues are done unknowingly. Tackle them with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.

Staff Writer: Career Contributor
3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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