Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez is an incredibly important and intelligent read. I cannot recommend it enough. In fact, I feel that anybody in a leadership position in the Automotive industry MUST read this book to understand the consequences of data biases and the importance of correcting them now.
I have many passions in life but two of them have guided the last decade of my professional life as a CEO of a technology business:1. data integrity and 2. ensuring we create an equal playing field for men and women in the workforce. I was therefore naturally drawn to Caroline’s book.
Criado Perez states: “Most of recorded human history is one big data gap … the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall”. Basically, Women disappear from history, from medical textbooks and ultimately from big data on digital platforms. This means that women are also invisible throughout research, R&D processes and product development.
Having worked with algorithms for years, I know that data is generally biased towards men. But I had never realised the full consequences of that bias on the well-being of women and ultimately society.
Some examples in the book were well known to me as a CEO in a male-dominated industry. Criado Perez cites an analysis of performance reviews for staff at a variety of tech companies. Women are criticised for being “bossy, abrasive, strident, aggressive, emotional and irrational”. Men are not. Indeed, men are exhorted to be more aggressive. I see this every day.
Criado uses hard data and detailed research as her evidence. However, what makes this book so interesting is the originality of Criado Perez’s research across so many diverse and international examples.
As a Canadian running a Swedish company, I particularly liked the chapter named “Can Snow-Clearing be Sexist”. A simple fact like prioritising whether streets or sidewalks get snowploughed first has a direct impact on women’s welfare and the rate of accidents. An insignificant fact like snowploughing schedule can have a direct impact on injury and family well-being. Caroline demonstrates how something that seems insignificant is actually very important for society.
One of the big issues highlighted is that we do not disaggregate data by gender, thus creating a world of average rather than a real representation of society. In a data-driven age, the prevalence of a male data to drive decisions means that women’s needs are overlooked or misjudged. This is obviously ethically wrong but more importantly, it is dangerous. When those who design seatbelts and bullet-proof vests ignore the realities of women’s bodies, women’s lives are put at risk.
Caroline writes extremely well and has a wicked sense of humour. The attendees of the UK Automotive conference had the pleasure of discovering her great use of language and anecdotes to demonstrate her point.
I recommend you read this excellent book packed with practical information. But more importantly, I recommend we all consider how we will change things both in our firms, communities and more broadly as a society.
Review by Anne de Kerckhove, CEO, Freespee
Anne recently interviewed Caroline at the Automotive 30% Club Conference where they discussed Caroline’s book. You can view the interview here.