The gender data gap. Why women don’t see every day sexism

by Jan 30, 2020

The sexist secrets hidden in the gender data gap

We know that the world is designed by men, but the gender data gap shows  more complex  undertones.

At the end of a training or coaching session, there are always women who will approach me. Often they say: “I have been very fortunate. I have never experienced sexism or harassment myself”.  Usually this is followed by a sympathetic smile for those who have suffered. Sadly, the reality is that they too probably have had those experiences, they simply are not aware of them. Statistically more than 90% of women recognise they have been subject to sexism in the workplace and even harassment. Maybe those women are in that happy ten percent. But sexism is so deeply embedded into our culture that we are frequently unaware that we are surrounded by it all the time. The reason that women don’t see every day sexism is for exactly that reason –  because the gender data gap is so pervasive, they don’t even realise it.

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We are bombarded on a daily basis with sexist ads, images and products. We see gender imbalance in politics, news, business and movies. But on top of that, women are also factored out of other less obvious areas of discrimination. Invisible Women: A World Designed for Men, written by Caroline Criado Perez, is this year’s top business book. In it she shares the impact of discriminatory data that disadvantages women.

Unfortunately, it contains what seems like a never-ending list of gender blind statistics. This is based on a one size fits all approach to many things – which is a male size. We know that organisations are designed by men, for men. Now we have the data to back it up. Perez demonstrates how gender inequality is well “baked into” the home, the workplace, public life and healthcare. It is so systemic that it’s hardly surprising that such high numbers of women are oblivious to the level of sexism they are experiencing, have no idea this is going on and the reasons behind it.

Gender data gap

Perez provides background information to some of life’s gender mysteries. It’s now clear why women don’t have “potty parity,” as the Americans call it. This is the way there are always queues for women’s’ loos. Essentially women take longer to pee and as architects have traditionally been men, they haven’t factored that in. Women use stalls and men use urinals which are easier to pack together. Bottom line –  footfall through a man’s bathroom will be faster.

Amongst other things, we discover why office temperatures are kept 5° too cold for women. Plus we learn, as we already know from yelling at our GPS systems, that voice recognition software struggles to identify softer and lighter female voices. In addition, we find out that cars are designed around the body of “Reference Man.” The results of this are startling; although men are more likely to crash, women involved in collisions are nearly 50% more likely to be seriously hurt.

There was a further study on heart disease. It found that women “were less likely than men to be treated with many of the evidence-based therapies that should be used…. and were also less likely to go for cardiac catheterization and receive coronary stenting.

Data is the basis of design. 70 years ago the first computer programmers were women who crunched numbers during World War II. Today the balance has changed dramatically. Women make up a mere 11% of software developers, 25% of Silicon Valley employees, and 7% of partners at venture capital firms.

As Apple found out when it designed the iPhone, there were apps for every bodily function known to man (quite literally). Yet there were no apps for the menstrual or menopausal cycles. Why? There were no women on the team. In a study of six million journal articles, male lead authors were 21% more likely than female lead authors to use superlatives like “novel”, “first”, “excellent”, “remarkable” to describe their work. Papers that used this positive framing were cited 13% more often.

The future of gender data

As the future of design will be AI led, the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society has launched the Women & AI Daring Circle. They aim to develop “concrete steps” to increase the participation and visibility of women in creating artificial intelligence systems. This is to ensure the promulgation of research and data standards that are accurate, reliable and non-discriminatory. The biggest challenge is that women represent only about 22% of all AI professionals worldwide.

All of this is not to say that every day men get out of bed intending to be sexist. Some sadly and clearly do, but for the vast majority,  they don’t even know they are being sexist. They often don’t even see what is going on around them. This is their normal. It is also the status quo for women many of whom don’t see it either.

So if a woman suggests that she personally has not experienced sexism, rather than putting it down to her good fortune, use it as an opportunity to raise her awareness on the gender data gap.

Unconscious bias is a business issue. Create a more inclusive culture with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshop.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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