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Getting more women at the standardization table for a safer, more efficient world
Date: 2024-03-29    Source:IEC   

When women are not present, we need to ask: why not? This was a key theme running through the recent IEC Academy webinar on the vital role that women play in cultivating innovation and progress in the electrotechnical sector.

Held on the eve of International Women's Day (IWD) on 8 March 2024, the webinar featured views, debates and discussions with successful women experts in the industry, focusing on this year's IWD theme "Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress."

Moderator Veronica Lancaster, the Vice President of Standards Programs at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and member of the IEC Board said: "The more we participate in standardization, the more our voices are heard. In 2024 we are still seeing standards that are based on male anatomy and we can only change this by making sure all of our voices are heard."

The need for gender responsive standards was illustrated with the example of the crash test dummy in vehicles. As they are typically designed using male dummies, women are 73% more likely to be seriously injured or die from a car accident than men, and two to three times more likely to have whiplash. Historically, most standards of any kind have also been developed based on a Caucasian man aged 25-30 years old and weighing 70 kg.

To address issues like this, IEC together with ISO, published a guidance document providing standards developers and all technical committee and working group participants with important considerations and questions to aid them ensure the standards they develop are gender responsive.

Professor Sofia Scataglini is a biomedical engineer and renowned expert in human digital modelling and simulation. An expert in IEC TC 124 (Wearable electronic devices and technologies) she outlined efforts the committee is making to ensure standards help users design products for the end users, including men and women.

"It is very important we design products for the entire population, whether they are male, female or have a disability, for example. This is what we are trying to do in our standardization, to reduce risks and make them safer for everyone."

Given that women generally make the vast majority of consumer purchasing decisions, gender responsive standards are also highly important when it comes to everyday items such as household appliances.

Irma Rustemi, Chair of TC 61, the IEC technical committee for household appliances outlined the vast breadth of standards in their portfolio for the safety and performance of 126 products, and the efforts being made to consider women's physiologies and needs when developing them.

Test probes, for example, are being expanded to include anatomic specifications based on women as well as men, such as hand size and force when using steam pressure cookers.

"Our standards work is still largely male-dominated, with a lot of engineers coming from manufacturing, laboratories and regulatory bodies, but we are seeing an increasing number of women participating in the work. And this is important, especially as more and more we are considering gender responsiveness in the standards we develop."

The challenges of women in this male dominated industry were illustrated by Principal Engineer at Panasonic Corporation, Takako Aramaki, such as a scarcity of women in leadership positions, a negative perception of women in the workplace and workplace conditions that are incompatible with parenting that affect women directly.

"It is crucial to actively promote women and set numerical targets for their appointment, and recognize and celebrate their achievements to change the culture. By promoting women's rights, leadership can be achieved by changing mindsets and working environments to remove barriers.

"By increasing opportunities for women to excel and providing the right support, we can accelerate innovation in the field of electrical engineering," she said.

Biomedical engineer and Mexico's representative for the IEC Young Professionals Programme in 2022, Diana Rojas pointed out that everything should start with a why.

"In standardization, we all have a goal in mind, which is safety and efficiency. And we should always start with a why: why are we doing this? But if we have the same people in the room, the response will always be the same. So let's go and encourage participation from women in every geographical region."

Progress is being made - but more needs to be done

The webinar also highlighted where progress was being made.

Head of the Engineering Industries Division/Standardization Department at the Jordanian Standards and Metrology Organization (JSMO) and Secretary of the IEC Jordanian National Committee Fadia Abdel Ghani said gender equity is crucial for the electrotechnical industry in Jordan.

"In Jordan, and the region in general, women involvement in the electrotechnical sector was uncommon 20 years ago but lately they are becoming known as competent and skilled in both presence and leadership. The industry has adapted to global best practices in response to the increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusion by international organizations. This has improved its standing, drawing in new foreign investments and partnerships, as well as driving innovation, enhancing productivity and ensuring long-term competitiveness in the global marketplace."

But more needs to be done, which is why the value of mentoring was also discussed as an effective and powerful way of increasing women's participation in the industry.

Claudia Sirch, Chief Engineer, Global Engineering at the leading Total Quality Assurance provider Intertek and a member of the IECEE Peer Assessment Committee said a lot of effort has been made to encourage women to enter into the electro-engineering sphere but many leave early on. Effective mentoring can help to give women confidence to overcome the challenges and progress.

"I think the key to success in mentoring is to be available and share experiences, and that includes mistakes. You need to get to know them, understand their strengths and weaknesses and then an effective strategy can be developed."

The IEC is committed to improving gender equity in standardization

IEC Secretary General and CEO Philippe Metzger said trust, inclusion and collaboration are key themes of the IEC global strategy, and are increasingly important to meet the huge challenges ahead of us.

"Whether it is helping to mitigate climate change or adapting to the digital transformation of our world into all-electric and connected societies, we need the best talent, coming from a variety of perspectives, to prepare our future. We are dedicated to encouraging diversity and favouring more inclusion, moving forward."

To this end, in 2019 IEC signed the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's (UNECE) Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards and in 2021 published its own diversity statement, committing to formally recognize diversity at all levels of the IEC.

The IEC is committed to help raise awareness of the value of gender diversity with its NCs and stakeholders.

(Source: IEC)



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