The Student
A Mathematics equation showing that the male and female symbols are not equal.
Features
Bridging the gender-data gap
by Ellie Daglish, 3/09/21

People who identify as women make up more than half of the people on this planet. They do everything that cis men do. They commute to work, buy houses, go shopping, provide for their families, etc. Why then, do they face more problems in their day to day lives than cis men? Women are more likely to have longer commutes to work after taking children to school, are more likely to feel uncomfortable on public transport or feel the need to share their location with friends, but these points aren’t the crux of the argument. Women, every day, navigate their way through a world designed by cis men, with only cis men in mind.

This is the gender bias as a result of the data gap, the phenomenon in which results gathered before the launch of a new product are not separated by sex, or female data is not gathered at all. Most products are designed with cis men in mind, so there are many considerations that simply aren’t taken into account because cis men wouldn’t think of them. For example, in 2014 Apple launched “HealthKit,” their health app that can monitor a user’s heart rate, blood pressure, how many steps the user has taken, etc. The app didn’t contain a period tracking feature. A year later, as part of the IOS 9 software update, a period tracking feature was introduced to “HealthKit.” Again, when Apple launched Siri, she could direct users to buy Viagra or offer to call the emergency services if a user suffered from a heart attack, for example. But if a user asked Siri to find the nearest place they could receive an abortion, there was nothing Siri could offer.

Let’s talk about cars. In 2018 there were an estimated 34.7 million cars on UK roads, around 1/3 of these were owned by women. EU regulatory crash-test requirements don’t require the use of a crash test dummy that is shaped like a cis woman. There is one test that does require the use of a cis-female crash test dummy, however, the dummy itself is just a smaller version of the cis-male dummy and it only needs to be tested in the passenger seat. This means that there isn’t any data revealing how cis-female drivers would be affected in these tests. This is especially problematic given that cisgender men and women drive using different seat positions. Cis women are, on average, shorter than cis men so tend to be sat more upright to see over the dashboard as well as being sat closer to the steering wheel in order to reach the pedals. This repositioning of the seat is viewed as irregular, or not the standard seating position. Because cars are designed for cis male drivers, who aren’t as close to the steering wheel and tend to sit in a more relaxed posture, when cis women are involved in car crashes they’re 17% more likely to be killed in an accident, in the USA.

Similarly, becoming pregnant, and starting a family is one of the most natural processes a person can go through, and arguably one of the most important. This isn’t reflected in how pregnant people are treated by employers. Parental leave and parental pay statistics are shocking. Despite studies that show a positive relationship between paid parental leave and people remaining in the labour workforce (both in terms of the number of parents who are employed and the number of hours parents work and how much they earn), there isn’t a single country in the world that offers paid leave for the perfect amount of parental leave (7 months- 1 year). Instead, countries dance along the spectrum; Portugal offers 100% pay for just 6 weeks of leave, Australia provides 42% pay for 18 weeks and Ireland offers up to 34 weeks on a meagre 34% of earnings. Here in the UK, you are offered 39 weeks at around 30% pay. This stat is set to get worse as the UK leaves the EU; in 2012 now-Brexit Minister Martin Callaman described maternity leave and other bills under the umbrella of the Pregnant Workers Directive as something “we could scrap.” Unbelievably, things in the USA are, currently, even worse. The USA is one in only four countries that don’t promise any kind of paid parental leave. Although twelve weeks of unpaid leave are guaranteed under the Family and Medical Leave Act, there are lots of hoops to jump through to be eligible, such as you have to have worked for an employer with a minimum of 50 other employees for at least 12 months. Consequently, only 60% of the female-identifying workforce has access to unpaid leave, meaning there’s nothing to prevent the remaining 40% from being fired. Does this not reflect the importance of paid parental leave? When will we finally start to value pregnant people and parents for the work they do, before and after having children?

To finish on a more positive note, here are a few countries that are doing things right. The Gender Pay Gap is currently 37.8% globally, varying drastically across the world; at 59.6% in Angola, 23% in the USA, and 18.1% in the UK. However, Bolivia is making good progress to bridge the gap. By addressing the amount of unpaid work that women carry out, in caring for children and completing housework, Bolivia has introduced a pension scheme such that women receive a year of pension contributions for each child they have.

Sweden remains the feminist paradise everyone dreams of by offering paternity leave consisting of 3 months at 90% pay. This leave can only be taken by the father and if they chose not to take it, the couple loses it altogether, and stats show that 9 out of 10 fathers take the 3 months leave. Properly paid and enforced paternity leave is important in the long term, a Swedish study in 2010 “found that the mother’s future earnings increase by an average 7% for every month of leave taken by the father.” Iceland has also introduced this policy.

Ultimately, we have to start collecting data for men and women separately. We cannot keep assuming that what fits and works for a cis man will work for cis women, never mind trans women and women of all races. Remember: just because something is gender-neutral, it doesn’t mean it’s gender-equal.

To read more about the gender pay gap, I cannot recommend this book highly enough: Invisible Women, Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. This book won the Science Book Prize in 2019 and inspired me to write this article.

Image via Wikimedia Commons