An essay in the Volkskrant pointed me to this astonishing book: Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. Its subtitle is ‘Exposing data bias in a world designed for men’ and that is exactly what it is doing. The book painfully (for me as a male) describes how products and standards are still dominated by a male gender bias. For instance, crash test dummies were up till 2011 based on average male dimensions, and even the new female dummy seems to be only a smaller male version, disregarding differences in body built. Sometimes the gender bias is just the result of lack of female data: Google’s voice recognition seems to be 70% better in recognition of male voices due to the larger male voice data bank that is used to feed its learning process. However, in anthropometric data the differences between male and female dimension all well established for decades. NASA – despite its well known Human System Integration guides – failed to provide a appropriate spacesuit to astronaut Anne McClain which prohibited the first all-female spacewalk to take place. Apparently, there weren’t enough suits size M which may point to the bias for larger sizes for men. It is not clear whether the existing suits are designed for females at all. It’s my guess that they are not.
As an ergonomist I am ashamed for these situations stlll being present. And although I am certainly not bias free (who is?) our systems approach in designing should prevent this from happening. For instance, in our ergonomic design projects for new Amsterdam metro vehicles, female drivers are participating in validation tests and the 3D software used by suppliers CAF and Alstom is programmed to use Dutch male and female manikins of different body sizes to assess the design. Being aware of biases is a start for improvement, doing something with this awareness is the next step.
5 april 2019 – door drs Richard van der Weide EurErg