The world is designed for men – is the workplace guilty of this too?

8 min | Anne-Marie Walsh | Article | | People and culture

Gender inclusion workforce

We live in a world designed – mostly – by men, for men. Caucasian men, at that. Throughout history – and still to this day – the lives, statistics and perspectives of men have frequently been used to represent the entirety of the human race. This phenomenon is known as the ‘gender data gap’ and it impacts most aspects of our world, including the built environment, medical research, technology and the workplace.

For a woman living in a world designed to meet male data requirements, this means she’s more likely to face inconveniences in her day-to-day life, some of which can even jeopardise her health and safety.

In 2019, feminist author, Caroline Criado Perez, created waves with her groundbreaking book Invisible Women, which shone a light on the gender data gap. So, how does the gender data gap impact women in their day-to-day lives, including in the workplace? And what can we do to address this issue?


Don’t overlook the progress we’ve made so far

The Gender Equality index ranks gender equality with a score of between 1-100, with 100 meaning full equality between men and women has been achieved. This score is based on metrics including work, money, power, health and knowledge. Ireland currently has an overall score of 73, a solid improvement of 7.6 since 2010. This impressive progress should certainly not be overlooked; we’re a long way from where we used to be.

Notable progress has been seen within the metric of power, which measures gender representation in decision-making roles across politics, economic and social domains. This category alone has increased significantly by 27.5 points since 2010. Gender equality in the category of knowledge – partly measured by looking at the number of men and women who have reached third-level education – has also increased since 2010 by 4.2 points.

However, despite seeing significant improvements since 2010, it should be noted that Ireland’s score has in fact decreased since 2020 by 1.3 points. It’s clear that we must celebrate the wins, but also be aware of where we still need to make progress before we can achieve true gender equality – and the gender data gap is one area that needs to be addressed.


The barriers women face in a male-designed world

Many smart phones are designed to be the largest they can be – for optimum screen viewing experience – while still comfortably fitting into the ‘typical’ hand. But that ‘typical’ hand is a man’s hand, and ‘typical’ (a word we use cautiously) male and female proportions vary significantly; the average male hand is almost one inch longer than the average woman’s! So, it follows that smart phones are often too big for women to hold securely in one hand.

And we’ve all noticed the disparity between male and female public bathroom queues. Men walk straight into the toilet, while women often wait in a queue that extends far beyond the bathroom door. This is because male and female bathrooms are usually allocated the same floor space, failing to consider the fact that it takes women an average of over two times longer to use the toilet and that a greater number of men are able to use the bathroom concurrently (as urinals take up less floor space). We could go on…


Underrepresentation of female data can have grave consequences

The issues extend far beyond daily inconveniences. In fact, a recent study found that women are more than twice as likely to die after a heart attack than men. The study noted that atypical heart attack symptoms in women could be a factor – could this be because their symptoms have not been studied as extensively? Given that approximately 85% of participants in clinical trials for cardiovascular disease are men – and the women who do participate are generally postmenopausal – this could well be the case.

“Women are more than twice as likely to die after a heart attack than men.”


Further, there’s an alarming gender disparity in serious injury and fatality rates following car accidents – women are 73% more like to be seriously injured and 17% more likely to die. This is partly as a result of male dummies being used as the standard for testing vehicle safety. In fact, the first female crash test dummy was only created in recent years: a much needed step in the right direction.


The workplace is an ideal environment for men

This disparity also infiltrates the workplace. For office workers, most air-con systems are designed based on a so-called ‘typical’ worker’s body temperature and metabolism. This ‘typical’ worker, however, is an 11 stone, 40-year-old man, meaning office environments are an average of five degrees colder than the ideal temperature for women.

Outside of the office environment, ill-fitting PPE – as a result of PPE being standardised to male measurements – impact some female employees’ ability to work, and even their safety. Unfortunately, women working in industries such as construction, emergency services and the police force are subject to ill-fitting equipment and safety gear designed for the male anatomy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only one-in-twenty (5%) female emergency services workers said their PPE had never hampered their work.

Aside from office temperatures and PPE, the workplace is designed for men in countless other ways: open office layouts that are disproportionately unpreferable for some women, adjustable desks that are ideal for an average-height male worker, archaic working hours that don’t allow flexibility for traditional caregiving duties, and more all contribute to the gender data gap within the workforce. Clearly, more needs be done to address these issues and make the workplace a more equitable environment for women.


Diverse leadership teams encourage different perspectives

Only one-third (33%) of workers in Ireland believe their organisation has equal gender representation within the senior leadership/C-suite team, according to our recent LinkedIn poll. How can we expect to foster a workplace that caters to everyone’s needs if there aren’t enough leaders giving their perspective through a female lens? Diverse senior leadership teams allow the voices of underrepresented groups to be heard, so issues can be uncovered that may have otherwise remained a blind spot, allowing companies to grow.

“Only 33% of workers in Ireland believe their organisation has equal gender representation within the senior leadership/C-suite team.”


Our data shows that more than one-third (36%) of professionals in Ireland believe their current organisation doesn’t offer equal opportunities for men and women to succeed. A lack of flexibility or remote working options could be a factor in this, with almost half (44%) of workers believing women had fewer barriers to progression during the pandemic when remote working was prevalent.

If your organisation is lacking female representation within leadership roles, consider if your female employees may be facing more barriers to progression that their male counterparts, then try to alleviate these barriers where possible.


We must drive change all year round

Annual awareness events such as International Women’s Day shed light on gender inequity and encourage change-driving conversations, but that’s not enough. We must keep these important conversations going beyond just awareness days and shed light on these issues all year round. It’s vital that we don’t stall on the progress we’ve made so far. Stand up and speak out if you notice or experience gender disparity, whether that be in the workplace or not. Challenge the bias we have historically accepted as the norm – or perhaps never even considered. Together, we can continue to push for true gender equity and inclusion.

To ensure your workplace is an inclusive, equitable and welcoming place for all, then talk to us today. In the meantime, take a look at our DE&I Advisory Services.


About this author

Anne-Marie Walsh, Business Director, Hays

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