Koan Book Club: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
For our latest Koan Book Club selection, the team picked up Caroline Criado Perez' “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,” which inspired a thoughtful discussion and introspection of gender bias at Koan and beyond. In her book, she argues that the world we all inhabit is designed with a male-default point of view which puts women at a severe disadvantage.
We learn that this is a man’s world because those who built it didn’t take gender differences into account. For example, most offices are several degrees too cold for women, because the formula to determine their temperature was developed in the 1960s based on the metabolic resting rate of a 40-year-old, 70kg man. As a technology company that relies on data, we were shocked to learn that a fundamental reason for this systemic gender bias is a failure to account for women in the data that inform design and decision-making. Data is either not collected on women, or when it is, the data is not disaggregated by sex.
We’ve recapped some of the discussion highlights from our virtual book club meeting.
The Impact of Gender Bias with Remote Work
Before the global pandemic of COVID-19, women were already held back in the workplace, being underrepresented in the C-suite and paid less than men in equivalent roles. But our new context inspired a new question: how will the existing bias impact how women are represented in a predominantly virtual setting? How will this increase in remote work influence gender bias overall?
Gender bias remains endemic to the tech industry. It’s easy for men at tech companies to “hire what they know,” whether writing a job description using masculine words, or favoring a male candidate with a familiar personality, skill set, and experience. Since tech is already a predominantly male environment, it only perpetuates men hiring more men.
But as companies embrace remote work, it may become even easier for organizations to embrace diversity. Whether expanding the talent pool or allowing more flexible schedules, offering remote work is a huge benefit for many.
According to the Harvard Business Review, women with children are viewed as less competent and less committed to their work than both women without children and men—even fathers. They also miss out on the “fatherhood premium” that praises fathers more highly than mothers in caring for their children, regardless of how active the parent is. This biased praise stems from the social expectation that women should take on all parenting responsibilities, resulting in men being celebrated for completing any parenting task, while women are often chastised for not completing all parenting tasks.
In a remote setting where the home-life is much more exposed and visible, workers will need to confront this unconscious bias, and foster a transparent environment of juggling home and work-life responsibilities.
The inequities in workplace meetings are well-documented, from being interrupted or simply not invited to the meeting. With the increase in remote meetings, it is easy to forget to include someone or intentionally retract their seat at the virtual table. Several studies show that women’s ideas are more likely to go unrecognized in meetings; in a virtual setting, it’s even easier to glide over their contributions if no one is mindful of acknowledging them.
The new reality of remote meetings and video conferencing makes it crucial to prioritize inclusivity and transparency. While it’s more difficult to read non-verbal cues and navigate longer pauses while participants un-mute themselves, recognizing these challenges and fostering an inclusive virtual meeting environment will ultimately lead to employees feeling like they’re being heard and valued.
Awareness and the Value of Collaboration
The challenge is that many people – women and men – don’t realize that 50% of the world’s population is excluded when design, engineering, and construction only consider the masculine body. Excluding women may not be intentional, it is just what is often seen as objective or gender-neutral is actually male-based. Now that we’re conscious of this point, and especially now that we have access to more data, we need to be deliberate in creating and using more inclusive data sets.
We all have unconscious biases. It is easy for us to get caught up in our own world, keep our heads down with tunnel-vision, or think that everyone thinks like us or values the same things that we do. Through collaboration and listening, we can attempt to replace them with conscious thoughts that will positively impact our decision making.
The Influence of Data and Koan’s Commitment to Inclusivity and Progress
Data not only describes the world but shapes it. At Koan, we strive to make data-driven decisions, rather than relying on hunches or theories. Data isn’t always available, but whenever we can use it to inform decision making, we do.
When it comes to gender bias, collecting inclusive, sex-disaggregated data is the easiest thing to do to help create more balanced, accurate decisions. The same logic can be applied to goals: by collecting data from everyone on the team and giving each individual a voice on their confidence of whether the goal will be achieved, smarter work is enabled, resulting in better decisions over time. Koan’s Confidence Index keeps metrics associated with every goal and provides a glimpse into the future, keeping teams aligned and moving in the same direction.
This book was a positive reminder to ourselves that we should connect with customers who are using Koan’s platform in different ways to gauge how we can improve. When we listen to our customers, we discover the visible and invisible barriers keeping Koan from growing and being the best tool for goal management.
We always welcome any feedback -- from product feature requests to improvements or bugs, we want to hear your thoughts on Koan and how we can help you be more successful using the platform. If you want to talk about anything we’ve covered in this post, feel free to reach out on Intercom or schedule a meeting.