News & blogs
The need for diversity and inclusion in standards

The Society for Standards Professionals (SES) 70th Annual Conference included a session for Diversity and Inclusion: Driving Change Through Action and talked about IEC activities in this area. Sonya Bird, member of the IEC Council Board Task Force on Diversity and the IEC Council Board TF on Sustainable Development Goals and representative for the IEC on the IEC/ISO Joint Strategic Advisory Group on Gender Responsive Standards, participated in the session, along with Bryce Adelstein Lelbach, HPC Programming Models Architect at NVIDIA.

“Consider other differences beside physical size that may exist between men and women. This could include body fat percentage, peripheral vision, sensitivity to sound, pain tolerance, hormones or various strength characteristics (upper body strength or grip strength). Each of these could have an impact on the suitability of requirements contained in a standard. Add to this the traditional roles played by men and women and how these are evolving today. It is clear that needs with respect to standards are changing,” said Bird.

IEC establishes Task Force for diversity

In 2019 the IEC Council Board established a task force (TF) on diversity to assess the current situation, including gender in governance and IEC activities, and make recommendations for improvement. The TF considers gender, geography, stakeholder diversity and one of its key outputs is the IEC diversity statement which speaks to the need for diversity in the IEC.

According to Bird, gender diversity is encouraged at all stages of standards work from drafting to maintenance team level to the committee level in leadership roles such as convenors and technical officers and even at management board level such as SMB of which she is a member or the Conformity Assessment Board. The TF recognizes that with more diversity in the system the standards might be more relatable for all.


The IEC also has a TF to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including SDG 5 for gender equality. “This TF is important for addressing gender issues at IEC. The work is ongoing and I’m pleased to contribute to the efforts of this group, which considers education and communication within the IEC community regarding SDGs”, said Bird.

Making progress

While there is still work to do to achieve more gender balance in IEC management, Bird highlighted the fact that over 30% of IEC Young Professionals are women, “YPs are the life blood of the future of IEC, so this is very positive. As we have more females involved at young ages this should help increase female participation and leadership at all levels.”

Working with ISO on gender responsive standards

Both IEC and ISO have recognized the need for gender responsive standards and created the Joint Strategic Advisory Group (JSAG), which is mandated to create tools for technical committees that ensure standards are gender responsive.

Historically many committees have been made up mostly of men, who have not considered unique specific needs of women when developing standards. The thought process was that standards were sufficient for all.

JSAG is developing the following:

  • Checklist for committees to understand and assess how a new work item or revision project for an IEC or ISO standard may be affected by gender.
  • Guidance and recommendations on the use of non-biased gender responsive data in standards development and what to do when appropriate data is not available.
  • Recommendation for committees on how to incorporate gender diversity and inclusivity in work and language.
  • Comprehensive communications plan on how to achieve gender responsive standards.
  • A baseline for measuring progress. This will build on the above items and suggest key performance indicators that IEC and ISO can use to track the effectiveness of the JSAG recommendations addressing gender responsive standards.

Example of a gender responsive standard

During the Q&A Bird shared an example of a standard developed by her company, that considered the needs of women. The standard was for safety for solar photo voltaic (PV) hazard control. It addressed shock hazards for firefighters responding to PVs on homes.

The shock issues for women differed from those for men and these aspects were addressed in the development of the standard. Male and females were considered in the calculation of the potential current that could pass through a firefighter’s body during firefighter interaction scenarios with a damaged PV system. It was found that the body resistance data for women was roughly 2/3s of the limits for those for men which had to be reflected in the requirements of the standard.

About SES

The Society for Standards Professionals (SES) is a not-for-profit professional membership society dedicated to furthering the knowledge and use of standards and standardization. SES provides a neutral forum where standards users and developers can come together to address mutual issues, opportunities, and interests in ways that work to the benefit of everyone involved with, or affected by, standards. SES members are primarily involved in the development, application, and use of company, government, national, regional, and international standards.  

Recents Posts

Blog digest

Sign up to receive selected stories