Welcome to the June 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 Associate Professor from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Gemma Read.
What is your role, and what career path are you currently following?
Currently, I work in academia as a researcher across a range of areas within Human Factors, including transport, safety, healthcare, defence, and sports research. So it’s a very diverse role, I really enjoy it, and you get to do a whole lot of things.
In terms of career path, I didn’t start out planning to be an academic. I actually started out in the public service working within transport safety regulation in a Human Factors graduate role. I was very lucky that I came across that. In that role, I was employed to work for a transport safety regulator and provide Human Factors advice around compliance and investigations, and also to help industry improve their awareness of Human Factors how they could integrate Human Factors into their safety management systems. I did that work for about nine years, and during that time, I did a PhD. Once I got on the hook of doing research, I really enjoyed it. After that, my supervisor had a job available in road safety research in a post-doc role at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and I’ve been there for about seven years now.
What aspects of your work give you the most satisfaction?
There are probably a few different aspects there. Having the opportunity to do research in a whole lot of diverse areas is really great. I’ve got a bit of a curious personality, so I really enjoy learning about different domains, as well as learning about different approaches and methods and how these methods can be extended further. We get to do a lot of interesting research. What I really like about Human Factors as well is that you’re working on really applied problems. Generally, you’re working on things that have an important outcome in terms of the end-users or the industry that you’re working with. I really get a lot of satisfaction out of doing things that I hope will be useful in the real world. The other aspect of my job that I really enjoy is working with others on research teams, and particularly working with students and seeing them grow and learn.
You are also a part of the Athena SWAN committee at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Could you tell me what your role is within this organisation?
I only joined the Athena Swan implementation committee relatively recently. I think I’ve been involved for about a year now. The committee was already well up and running when I joined, and we had the Athena SWAN bronze award. As part of the group, we are sort of refreshing and revisiting our action plan to make sure it is still relevant. We are also using some of our systems Human Factors methods to discuss with the university community how the system influences some of these outcomes and how we can systemically address any barriers. It’s been a really interesting process, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great group of people. It has involved a lot of learning about the university because the committee has people from different areas, so it’s nice to see all areas of the university working together.
What is your favourite thing about being a part of the Athena SWAN committee?
It is probably working with people from different areas and getting a better understanding of the university as a whole, and coming together on one issue has been really nice.
To you, what is gender equity? What does it really entail, from your perspective?
It’s an interesting question. I’ve been thinking about framing it in a couple of ways in terms of a human rights lens. It is sort of like a process – we’ve got to make sure that the processes are fair. It’s also sort of like a justice question as well that asks if we are using a just process that leads to just outcomes in the world. The other thing I like to think about when considering gender equity issues is the systems approach in terms of how a system is influencing these processes and outcomes. I started thinking about this when I worked with members of the CtDG group (Kirsten Madeira-Revell and Katie Parnell) on our paper about gender-equitable research outcomes.
Why do you believe gender equity is so important within the research process?
It definitely is an important area. It’s something that I didn’t really have a good awareness of a couple of years ago but having started to read more about gender equity in research, you can see it’s vital across so many different areas.
In what ways have you ensured your research is gender equitable?
It’s something that my colleagues and I in the Centre for Human Factors and Sociotechnical Systems have been learning more about. We definitely have more awareness now; for example, when recruiting participants we look to recruit a balanced sample, or at least represent both genders appropriately and then disaggregate by gender when it comes to data analysis, and making sure we are reporting the findings appropriately. When it comes to sampling, we try to be aware of what we can do to support an analysis that is more gender-focused. We’re also being clear about gender differences within research paper abstracts and things like that.
The other thing I’ve been doing as a peer reviewer and associate journal editor is paying more attention to whether research has been conducted in a gender sensitive way. There’s been times when I’ve gone back to the authors and asked them to consider the SAGER guidelines. For example, if they’ve used an all-male sample, then I’ve asked them to make that clear in the abstract so that the readership is aware. There are certainly a few areas where I’ve been able to provide guidance to other people, and its nice because the feedback is always really positive in terms of people saying, “I didn’t realise that, yes that’s great!”. I think that’s really beneficial because it all helps to raise awareness.
I’m also Co-editing a journal special issue “Closing the gender gap in human factors research” with other members of the CtDG group.
What do you hope for the future in your field regarding gender equity?
In terms of Human Factors generally, I hope that the message keeps getting out there, and I hope we get a lot better at supporting gender equity. I also think there is a good match between the two because Human Factors is all about designing for people and ensuring that we’re aware of differences and designing for diversity, so there’s a really nice link there. And the systems perspective we adopt in Human Factors is also very relevant. I hope that we can use our methods more to support gender equity and have an influence there.
What do you think will be the next big thing in your field?
There’s obviously a lot happening with advanced technology, which is having and will continue to have important implications for society. One of the projects that we have at the moment, led by Paul Salmon, is on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and looking at the risks associated with that from a societal perspective. For instance, if we have technologies beyond human intelligence, what does that mean for humans? How do we ensure that the design and implementation of these technologies is done in a way that’s going to be beneficial for humans rather than problematic? That work does also come with an interesting gender lens in terms of, you know, looking at bias in Artificial Intelligence. That’s obviously a big area, and then thinking about what that means when we have AGI.
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?
I guess for me, it’s probably not necessarily a gap that I know exists, but one I think about is around healthcare and the standard treatments that we use. I was just thinking about this recently as I’ve had a cold for the last couple of weeks with a nasty cough. So I went and got some cough suppressant medication to see if that could help. I went to take a dose and I was looking at the dosage instructions, which advise taking either a child or adult amount. I happen to be a smaller person, and I always wonder which dosage I should be taking, and it’s always completely unclear to me whether it’s appropriate for me to take the same dose as, for example, my partner, who is quite a lot taller and has more muscle than me. I always wonder about things like medication, you know, is it appropriate? Have we got the dosage right for the diverse range of people that we have across the community?
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 reading up on the area to get more awareness around gender equity issues and how we can make research gender-equitable is important. And joining groups like Close the Data Gap is useful to find others thinking about this area who you can talk to and learn from.
Thank you so much Gemma, it’s been wonderful to have you as our first blog guest! Hopefully, we can stay in touch to hear more about the work you’re doing and the differences you’re making at the University of the Sunshine Coast.