Welcome to the April issue of the Close the Data Gap blog. Each month, we interview either a member of our group or a guest speaker about their passion for gender equity and what they are doing to close the data gap in their corner of the world. This month, Kirsten Madeira-Revell interviewed Sophie Hart, a Close the Data Gap member.
What is your role and what career path are you currently following?
I’m currently doing a Master’s by Research (MRes) at the University of Bristol, which means my degree is entirely research-based. The MRes looks at Human Factor aspects of hybrid autonomous systems. This involves any sort of system where a human works with some form of automation. The goal is to find a way to create a partnership between the two.
In terms of my career path, I’ve been working in Human Factors for two years now, having initially started as a technician within the Transportation Research Group at the University of Southampton. That’s also how I came to join Close the Data Gap (CtDG). When I finish the MRes, I’d like to continue working in Human Factors and potentially do a PhD.
What aspects of the job give you the most satisfaction?
For the MRes, I was given complete control of what my project would be on. As the degree is entirely hinged on the thesis, it had to be something I found exciting and worthwhile. I must admit, I found it daunting at first to find that topic because there’s so much that could be done. However, I’m a few months into the course now and the chosen research area is of genuine interest to me. In that sense, I feel really lucky to work on something I enjoy every day!
You are also a part of our Close the Data Gap group. Could you tell me what your role is?
My role in CtDG is pretty varied. I’ve helped out here and there on several mini-groups. When I initially joined the group, I worked with the website team and helped to get our site launched. I was also a part of the guidelines paper which looked at gender issues related to transport and work. The paper really shone a light on areas of future work that need doing to close the data gap. That was really exciting to be a part of, and the collaborative nature of it was good fun. I also transcribe and upload our blog posts. I’ll be transcribing this blog post, so I’ll try not to cringe too much when I listen back to my voice! I enjoy transcribing (less so when it’s my voice), so I was more than happy to take on that role, it’s a bit of a sad hobby.
More recently, I’ve taken the lead in the Social Media mini-group. My aim is to make it as easy as possible to share what the group has been doing with the world of social media and just really make ourselves heard.
What is your favourite thing about being a part of CtDG and any other organisations you are a member of?
I joined the group about a year ago now, and it’s something I’m really proud to be a part of. The group itself is very proactive, it’s not just a group of people sitting around a virtual table complaining about the gender data gap. There’s actually work being done across the group to actively approach the data gap issue, like the guidelines paper among lots of other initiatives!
I also like being a part of the conversation and hearing other people’s views. When it comes to issues like the gender data gap, it’s so important to hear as many voices as possible to fully understand and appreciate how it affects everyone differently.
To you, what is gender equity, what does it really entail, from your perspective?
I view gender equity as an approach that seeks a fair treatment for all genders by providing opportunities and solutions that accommodate everyone’s needs. I think gender equity, as an approach, evolved from the one size fits all approach. We know that approach doesn’t work and has contributed to systemic failures that have let down mostly women because the world is designed to favour males. Those failures have very much been captured in Caroline Criado-Perez’s book “Invisible Women” across various applications, transport being just one example. Gender equity recognises that this approach doesn’t always work and provides a way forward to suit everyone. Essentially, equity provides a means for achieving gender equality.
Why do you believe gender equity is so important within the research process?
As research is used to inform and back up why we do things in the world, such as policy and design, it’s critical that you have gender-equitable research to ensure that gender differences can be accurately captured and accommodated for. I think across any domain of research, it’s important to plan for gender-equitable research by collecting a representative gender sample and ensuring your data collection process suits the lifestyles of both men and women. Also, when research hasn’t considered gender as a factor, it can fall victim to previous failures that perpetuate the unfair design of the world by overgeneralising research findings. One example that comes to mind is the crash test dummy, whereby only a male dummy has been used to test the impact of a car crash on the human body, despite physiological differences between males and females. This means that cars have been designed based on average male bodies. It has since been found that females are more likely to suffer injuries in a car crash compared to males. That example shows that it can be really dangerous when gender equity is not factored into the research process.
In what ways do you want to ensure your research is gender equitable?
My first study for the MRes will be recruiting subject matter experts. Unfortunately, that means I’ve lost an element of control over the sample I can recruit. Although I can advertise directly to males and females depending on what the sample needs to get an equal gender split. I’m keen to be as proactive as possible, but if it doesn’t work out, I will be sure to write that up as a limitation of the study so that the recognition is there.
What do you hope for the future in your field regarding gender equity?
I hope that gender equity becomes a central theme within research and is treated as an important variable. I think gender can be considered as an afterthought, which has resulted in so many research gaps, as highlighted in the guidelines paper.
I also hope that gender equity is taught in lectures and colleges. When I was an undergraduate student, gender in research was only briefly discussed. I can remember writing in exams and essays about unbalanced samples but as more of a tick box for that extra mark, rather than really considering the consequences of over-generalisation. If gender equity was taught to students, you’d hopefully see a knock-on effect by encouraging future researchers sitting in the audience to produce gender-equitable work.
What do you think will be the next big thing in your field?
Having sat in on a lot of these blogs, I know my answer will probably repeat our other members. Still, automation and artificial intelligence are both huge research fields and will continue to be for years to come. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what AI and automation can do for humans. The reality is that these technologies are intended to assist humans rather than replace them. I think that automation and AI provide an opportunity for researchers to address the limitations of past work by producing gender-equitable work that feeds into the design of a world for everyone!
Outside of your work role, could you think of anything that is a big gender data gap issue that you face in your day-to-day life?
My biggest issue is safety. I’ve experienced cars slowing down and catcalling when I’ve gone out for walks, making me feel very powerless. I once got a taxi home from work because it was dark, and I didn’t feel safe enough to walk. The driver started saying really inappropriate stuff to me, so I had to get out and walk anyway! It’s always a frustrating experience when things like that happen, especially when you’re alone.
That’s an extreme example of the gender data gap issues I’ve experienced. A less extreme example, which is more of a funny anecdote, happened when I was having a meal with an old housemate. He ordered a diet coke, and I got myself a beer. The bartender automatically gave me the diet coke, and when I asked for the beer, he looked genuinely shocked. I guess if I’m not closing the data gap in my own work, at least I’m doing it with my alcoholic tendencies.
Do you have any advice to give to anyone who also wants to make a difference to improve gender equity in their corner of the world?
My piece of advice to someone who wants to improve gender equity would be to get involved with groups like CtDG and do what you can to be a part of the solution, even if that’s in small ways. Also, when you are not sure how to achieve gender-equitable research, don’t be put off seeking help. There’s some great resources out there like the Sex and Gender Equity in Research (SAGER) guidelines and PhD training produced by the education mini-group!
Thank you so much Sophie, I hope we can have you back in the future to hear more about your work and how you are closing the data gap!
Next month, we will be hearing from Senior Research Fellow, Henrietta Howarth. She will be discussing the gender equitable work that is being done by her project, the Mobility as a Service Group.