Role models - thinking differently and being visible
Sue Reece- 2nd March 2020
I have been extremely fortunate to have had strong female role models inspire me in my life and career. Women who have done and thought differently; from my maternal great grandmother who, as a widow and mother of eight, bought a farm and started up a number of retail businesses (today we would call it an entrepreneurial spirit but she would probably just say it was to put food on the table) to the women I have had the privilege of working with professionally and personally.
The thing they all have in common is a passion for what they are doing, the desire to push the envelope and not accept the status quo, a great sense of the need to be fair and transparent, along with an understanding that in every decision you make there is a person at the centre of it who may be affected. In addition, they possess that admirable quality of being able to admit when they have got something wrong and will work hard to put it right.
Many of my personal heroes may have been described by some as “driven” “bossy” “emotional” “difficult” “confrontational” “formidable” I have even heard the term “wires not connected properly”. However, that “thinking differently” element has been an important facet in my life, and I have always enjoyed working alongside women who have demonstrated this ability. Having recently read Caroline Craido Perez Invisible Women, I have started to understand a little more about what that actually means and it transpires that in a significant number of cases it means “thinking from a women’s perspective” and the importance of bringing the physiological, social and cultural experience of being a women into research, planning and the decision making process.
Caroline sites numerous examples of how when we research, design and plan infrastructure or services the norm used is most likely to be the average man and that there is still not enough emphasis given to application based on sex-disaggregated data and gender considerate qualitative research. For example we end up with “ women shivering in offices with heating systems set to a male temperature norm (a fact that I am sure will not have gone unnoticed by those who work in University House); production of clean stoves to support the developing world not being used because the women who need to use them were not consulted in the design ; undervaluation of the non-paid work women actually, or medical diagnostics that can miss vital symptoms of a heart attack due to differences between female and male physiologies.
There is however evidence that when teams, be it executive, management or research, do include women who are listened to and respected, there is a positive impact not only on the outcomes for other women but the wider organisation, sector and community. From small changes that for example include improving working conditions for pregnant women which reduces sickness absence, to revising recruitment language and shortlisting algorisms that improve progression opportunities for women, to cities improving public services and transport links that by default have reduced costs and facilitated further reinvestment.
An important point as we continue to rely more on big data, digital and AI solutions: gender equality in our data collection (sex-disaggregated data) and algorithms for decision-making protocols is key to ensuring a fairer and more economical successful society.
The Higher Education sector has a key role to play here, through the research we conduct and the individuals we support to become future leaders, educators, entrepreneurs, health professionals and policy makers. We can challenge stereotypes and instil the importance of ensuring that we reduce the gender gap and that opportunities are equitable for all.
So as we celebrate International Women’s day 2020 I hope we can all (women and men) take the time to think about heroes and role models, how we can emulate their positive characteristics and work towards ensuring that through our own actions, women are always included, considered, encouraged, respected, valued and visible.
Caroline Criado Perez (2019) Invisible Women -Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
Caroline is a writer, broadcaster and award-winning feminist campaigner. She is co-founder of The Women’s Room and campaigned to get women on the Bank of England banknotes, have a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett erected in Parliament Square and forcing Twitter to revise its [procedures for dealing with abuse. She was awarded the OBE in 2015.