The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) has issued a very detailed report on how standards affect gender, particularly when it comes to safety issues. According to the report, When one size does not protect all: understanding why gender matters for standardization, standards often fail to protect women as well as men, leading to unintentional fatalities.
SCC carried out a global analysis, using data from 106 countries, of the impact of gender on standardization. “Across countries and considering all age groups, we find evidence that the relationship between standardization and unintentional fatalities is indeed gender-specific. Men are benefitting more from the protective effects of standardization,” the report states.
The report cites several examples: personal protective equipment used in hospitals is largely based on male anthropometry, failing to protect women as well, a situation which had an impact on the health of female medical staff during the Covid pandemic. Another case in point is testing processes implemented by automotive manufacturers: typically, crash test dummies are not designed on women’s morphology. One of the results of this oversight is that women are 73% more likely to be seriously injured or die from a car accident than men.
Yet another example is voice-activated devices: many of them are more responsive to male voices than female ones which can also lead to accidents, in self-driving vehicles, for instance.
Not enough women in technical committees
The reason for this male bias has partly to do with the lack of female representation inside standardization technical committees. “The failure of many standards to account for women may boil down to two inter-related factors: the lack of female representation in the development of standards and the lack of gender expertise in standards development,” the report argues.
Figures were not always easy to come by, but the SCC tracked down the numbers of women in the Canadian IEC and ISO mirror committees, comparing them to the overall labour force. While women represent 50 % of the Canadian labour force, they only represent around 20% of the ISO mirror committee members and 10% of the IEC ones.
Changes could be on the cards however: on May 14 2019, SCC joined international organizations, national standards bodies and international standards development bodies to join the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development. Signatories committed to, among other things, “aknowldege that representation of women in standards development is almost always below parity and that the outcomes for men and women are not explicitly addressed during the standards development process.” They also committed to take action to ensure that standards are gender responsive.
Sign up to receive selected stories