Reading Week – Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez

Every wannabe data scientist should read this book. Caroline Criado Perez has written a book that appears to be data driven and it is a delight to read such a thing even if the subject matter is woefully depressing.

At the start of the book the author states that “[she] can only present [one] with the data and ask [one] as a reader to look at the evidence.” Sadly if we look at the evidence we do see that across society women are routinely ignored for the male default.

The most common problems identified do appear to be that women menstruate and are physically different shaped than men. e.g. breasts and a lack of a hairy chest being obvious items to consider when designing vibrating chest gear for fighter pilots and who knew that if you create a storm shelter with only a bucket for a toilet between 1000+ people the men will be fine but that the social pressures which see menstruating women as “being dirty” means that women won’t even use the storm shelter, and so die.

A call to arms for all those involved in data collection and analysis to take the extra second to record the sex of the subject being surveyed and disaggregate by sex in your final analysis.

I would be very interested to read the academic papers which support the assertion that gender quotas typically “‘weed out incompetent men’ rather than promote unqualified women.” If one takes it as axiomatic that women and men are equally competent then this should follow logically. Of course the problem with axioms is that they are not usually subject to the scientific method.

Sitting, as I do, on a D&I forum I wonder which of the highlights in this book should be the one I invest most effort in advocating for. The author advocates strongly for flexibility in work and the common sense attack that “a workplace predicated on the assumption that a worker can come into work every day, at times and locations that are wholly unrelated to the location or opening hours of schools, childcare centres, doctors and grocery stores simply doesn’t work for women. It hasn’t been designed to” leads to “[w]omen end[ing] up working in jobs below their skill level that offer them the flexibility they need but not the pay they deserve.

There were so many insightful analyses offered that it is impossible to do justice to them without repeating the whole book. From the sexism of snow clearing, to software’s huge women problem, the real problems a lack of safe toilets create for women – doubly so whilst pregnant or menstruating and the appalling way women’s physical and biological differences are ignored in medical trials and car safety tests. If you are a man who doesn’t think there is a problem then you must read this book – you are definitely wrong.

In summary, this was an excellent book and while I have been disappointed to discover that, at least, some of the footnotes were to newspaper articles rather than the academic papers themselves the author’s righteous anger leaves one wanting to make a change for the better.

If architects of all kinds, software, ergonomic, choice and political insist on making their decision not only based on data but sex disaggregated data many things would be better. Men of the world, stop forgetting that women menstruate and their bodies are a different size and shape than men’s and remember that even if you aren’t a sexually aggressive creep yourself you probably can imagine plenty of men that are.

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