February Issue

Published 28/02/2022

Welcome to the February 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 Katie Parnell, a member of Close the Data Gap.

What is your role and what career path are you currently following?

I am a Research Fellow within the Transportation Research Group. Currently, I am working on the REASON project within the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems programme, which looks at resilience within future transport systems. Specifically, my role on the project focuses on the interactions between autonomous vehicles and vulnerable road users, such as cyclists, by looking at how the two can communicate for more resilient future road networks.

What aspects of the job give you the most satisfaction?

I enjoy developing knowledge about what future worlds might look like and having the ability to have a small impact on this outcome in regards to the technologies designed, developed, and integrated within future societies.

You are also a part of our Close the Data Gap group. Could you tell me what your role is?

I’ve been a member of CtDG since the beginning. The main thing I do is lead the Guidelines sub-group, which aims to develop guidelines for research in terms of how researchers approach their work and how to be more inclusive to gender. We’ve just completed a literature review looking at key gender factors related to transport. This review found there was little guidance on how gender could be relevant to research, representing a gap in current literature because once you know how gender is relevant, you can then account for it within the data collection and analysis processes. Defining these key factors means we can understand how gender is relevant across different transportation modes.

What is the best thing about being a part of CtDG?

I enjoy working alongside like-minded people. The group is also very positive; everyone is there because they want to be there, not because they have to be. We are also not confined or constrained by limitations that you might find in normal research projects as there is the freedom to focus on your’s and other people’s interests. This means we can collaborate in ways that aren’t always possible in academia.

To you, what is gender equity? What does it entail?

I’d say you have equity and equality of equity, which makes sure that everybody has the same access to the same things in the same way. So there might be some people that find some tasks more challenging. Therefore, they might need more help or assistance in some ways than others. There is also the aspect of enabling them to have the same equal experience as other users. Therefore, we can design things in certain ways to enable everyone to have the same experience.

Why do you believe gender equity within the research process is so important?

I think it’s because you need to understand how people can have a shared experience when they come from different backgrounds; you have to account for the user. A lot of the work I do adopts a user-centred design approach, which ensures designs come from the user’s needs, and you have to appreciate that not all user’s needs are the same. Therefore, when considering the research process, you need to understand the users and account for their needs in your research approach. That doesn’t just mean within the data analysis itself, but also considering user access to taking part in studies in the first place and enabling more inclusive recruitment processes or targeting specific genders or user groups.

In what ways do you want to ensure your research is gender equitable?

I have just finished an aviation project which worked with some quite big industry companies. I found it hard to achieve gender-equitable research within that project, particularly as we wanted to work with pilots as the end-user. We tried to recruit an equal number of male and female pilots. However, often advertisements received more responses from male pilots than female pilots. This meant we had to specifically target females by directly contacting them on Instagram. We found they were very welcoming and happy to participate once we got in touch.

I’d also like to take forward and implement the work done by the Guidelines group into my future work and projects by using the framework of gender factors in transport and developing it further to see if it is relevant to future transport systems as well as current

What do you hope for the future in your field regarding gender equity?

I think it would be good for people to take gender equity seriously. I have noticed over the last few years that there are more women in transport groups, and discussions being had around the subject matter. I think it’s important to understand where the problems lie. Again, we have been doing this in the guidelines group by identifying these gender factors, their importance and having them taken seriously. Its important to consider when we design future transport systems, such as autonomous vehicles, if they are what women want, or are they just suited for a male and their trip to work on the motorway. Women need to make more trips that involve driving closer to schools, where autonomous vehicles aren’t necessarily the best option, and they might be travelling at different times of the day. It comes back to thinking about the user and what they need, rather than designing for technology by considering it’s purpose and how it can help society as a whole.

What do you think will be the next big thing in your field?

The field I’m working in on my current project is automation, and actually, a lot of other projects are looking at automation, big data, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to gather information about people and automate certain tasks. I think what really needs to be focused on now is how we interact with automation and how we think about it working for us rather than taking over us. That involves being able to control automation and allowing it to help us. I know with AI, some aspects sound scary, like the idea that they might develop minds of their own and getting too ahead of themselves. I think from this field, a lot of interesting questions will arise.

Outside of your job, what is the biggest gender data gap issue you face?

When I go out running, I occasionally hear certain remarks shouted and people calling out to me in ways they wouldn’t do if I was a male. Also, I have to go running before it gets dark as I don’t feel safe running at night. This is particularly difficult in the winter as it gets dark around 4 or 5 o’clock, so that then interferes with my workday. If I was a male, I might be able to feel more confident running later at night, but as a female, on my own, I don’t feel safe. There have also been some devastating stories about women travelling alone over the last few years that don’t make you feel safe.

There’s also day to day things too. I’ve noticed that whenever someone in our family has a birthday, it’s always me that has to do the gift buying and take on the mental load to think about these things which males may not necessarily consider.

It’s been fabulous talking to you and we’d love to have you back in the future to hear more about your own work and progression with the guidelines group.