October Issue

Published 29/10/2021

Welcome to Close the Data Gap’s first blog. Each month we will be interviewing 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 interviews Joy Richardson, a member of Close the Data Gap.

What is your role and what career path are you currently following? I am currently a Specialist Technician and I work on the Solent future transport zone project which looks at Mobility as a Service (MaaS) for the Future Transport Zone in Southampton. As part of this project, we are designing a mobile app to encourage people to use more active travel and public transport, with less use of cars. It’s related to climate change and being more physically active at the same time. 

What aspects of the job give you the most satisfaction? It’s quite a new project so we are just getting going, but I love the idea that it has a positive impact on people individually by improving their health and benefiting the world by targeting climate change and bringing down emissions, which is good news for everyone!

You are also a part of our Close the Data Gap group. Could you tell me what your role is and what is the best thing about being a part of that group? The close the data gap group has been really good to be a part of. After a lot of us read ‘Invisible Women’ around the same time, you (Kirsten) had the idea to set up the group. So, it’s great that we read this book, digested it, and now we are doing something about it. What I like about the group is it isn’t just a group of people sitting in a room and complaining once a month, we are really being proactive and doing things. It was also fabulous to be a part of the first journal paper we published, named ‘Close the Data Gap in Transportation Research’, which was our call to action. I was really proud to be part of that. It’s also been interesting being introduced to other people that I wouldn’t normally work with. It has been interesting to get their insights on how data does or doesn’t affect the work that they’re doing. 

To you, what is gender equity, what does it really entail, from your perspective? I think the key issue is that people don’t realise the world isn’t as safe for women as it is for men. That can be the case when looking at car accidents as women are more likely to suffer serious injuries. There’s been a lot of interest in working out why this is. There are some suggestions that it’s to do with bone density, while other people suggest it’s to do with seatbelts and the shape of seats. It would be great to find out something as important as that, but then there’s also the aspect of walking home from work at night. Studies have shown women are much more scared when moving around on their own at night. Whether that threat is real or perceived doesn’t matter. It’s something that needs to change to make the world work and make it as accessible to women as it is to men.

Why do you believe gender equity is so important within the research process?Well, looking at the car example, if we don’t collect gendered data, gender disaggregate the data during the analysis stage and publish those results, then nobody will know it is more dangerous for a woman to be in a particular type of car than a man. If we homogenise everyone together, we can’t see where there might be discrepancies, particularly for gender, but maybe for other issues as well. That’s why it’s so important. So, I think gender equity is important in research for making everyone feel safe and in some examples, save peoples lives.

We’ve asked you on this blog because you’ve kindly agreed to put what we are talking about into practice in a case study for your MaaS project. Could you give a bit of insight into how you will attempt to gender mainstream and close the data gap within your own upcoming project? As I say, it is quite a new project so we can really start from the beginning. The purpose of the project is to design a mobile phone application to encourage people to be using active travel and public transport. Another side of this project is looking at the barriers to why people might not want to get out of their cars and use a different transport mode. I think by having the gender disaggregated data, we can look at trends on why women don’t want to use active travel or public transport, and equally why men might have different opinions on what kind of transport they want to use. It might be there are some targeted messages that we can get out to nudge people into the behaviours that we’re hoping to encourage, so that’s really what we’re thinking about at the moment. We haven’t really got an idea about what the results are going to be, so it’s all really interesting. The thing that we’re really determined to do is to make sure that we collect gender disaggregated data and publish our findings on whether there is a gender difference or not. I think that’s interesting as well because even if there isn’t a gender difference, it’s still important that you publish that. It may only be a line in a paper, but it means that somebody else doesn’t need to do the same work that you’ve done to identify if there is a gendered issue or not.

What do you hope for the future in your field regarding gender equity? I’d like for it to be the norm to work like this, it seems unbelievably sensible when you look at the world to collect this data and analyse it in these different ways. If that becomes the norm that would be great. Currently, there are only 17% of women in the transportation domain. As a result, I think equitable issues can be missed because people can’t see them, and it doesn’t match the life experience of the majority of people in the room when decisions are being made. One of the things that I found really interesting recently is the new South-eastern railway service being launched. A lot of people have complained because the trains don’t have toilets on them. It did make me wonder, how many people were in the room when that decision was made and how many of those people were women. Maybe if there were more women in the room, they might have been thinking about the fact that we have smaller bladders and that we need to deal with periods. Also, how many parents of young children were in the room? What if your child needs to go to the toilet and suddenly, you’re on a train and there’s no toilet, that could be a big problem! We also know that toilets at train stations quite often close at about 6:00 or 7:00 pm. So, if you’re on the slightly later train you couldn’t even use the toilet at the station and you could get stuck for quite a long time without access to a toilet. Although it may seem trivial, if people are uncomfortable and they don’t feel that it’s practical to use a mode of public transport because of something like that, then they’re going to get into a car instead and that’s putting more cars on the road. I think if there were more women in those boardrooms and decision-making panels, these gender issues will be more obvious.

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? As I’m quite a short female, I’ve noticed that the world is quite often designed for taller people and probably taller, male people. So quite often I find that if I have to pay for things, I can’t see the payment amount on the card reader which means I have to rapidly wave my card at the machine and hope it says the right amount because I can’t see! I also can’t use exercise bikes at the gym because they’re too big for me and quite often if I use a public toilet I can’t see in the mirror. With these facilities, it’s not that it’s just a little bit off, sometimes it’s quite a bit off. Somebody a bit taller than me would still be having problems, especially with the card machine. It’s driving me mad nowadays that I have to wave my card at the machine and hope it works! So yeah, I think sometimes the world is designed for that 50th percentile man who acts as the model for the crash test dummy, and so many other things. It would be nice if we could be a bit more inclusive for smaller people, which is more likely to be women.

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? I think it’s important to just be aware of gender equity, by having a gendered lens, you’ll see things that you didn’t initially think that were gender issues, especially if you read Caroline Criado-Perez’s book. It’s very interesting how something like snow clearing ends up being a gendered issue. Also, when talking to my friends, we often talk about trip chaining when trying to do a full-time job as a parent or carer for family members on top of a full-time job as well.  These things will more commonly fall on women. It is also very interesting to see gender equity in the real world and make a noise when you see something going wrong. I’m quite active on Facebook and if I notice people making a ‘funny’ comment that goes against gender equity, I do comment. I think it’s important to ring that bell whenever you can and say, ‘hang on this isn’t right, maybe we do this better!

Thank you so much for talking to us Joy, you’ve been brilliant. We can’t wait to see what happens with the MaaS case study. It would be great to have you back again and hear more about how you’re getting on later down the line! Yes, it will be fun to tell you what we find out!

In next month’s blog, we’ll be hearing from Dr Rich McIlroy about how he is encouraging gender equity in research design to Undergraduate students. If you want to take part in a blog interview for Close the Data Gap, please get in touch!