Good books: Invisible Women.

Invisible Women: Data bias in a world designed for men, by Caroline Cirado Periz was the winner of the 2019 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award. When the £30,000 prize was presented to Ms Criado Perez by Kevin Sneader, global managing partner of McKinsey he praised the book for its combination of ‘unassailable facts, backed by powerful stories’.

Lionel Barber, chair of the award judges and FT editor, called Invisible Women ‘a stunning book that tells people about sexism that is hiding in plain sight. The data Criado Perez marshals are overwhelming and her call for action is compelling.’

He described the book as ‘Simone de Beauvoir with data’, referring to the famous French feminist. The book shows the sometimes fatal consequences of excluding or ignoring data about women in areas from healthcare to industrial design to urban planning.

The book describes the pervasiveness of ‘the world built by men, for men’. Examples in the book are drawn from a wide range of sectors, including government policy, medical research, technology, workplaces and the media.

The publisher of the book noted that in writing this book, they author assembled an impressive range of case studies, stories and new research from across the world that illustrate the hidden ways in which women are side-lined or forgotten.  It examines the way that designers and developers have perpetuated bias towards men in the design of motor vehicles, the design of office furniture, the design of technology and in medical research.   

The preface of the book challenges readers to imagine a world ‘where your phone is too big for your hand, your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body and where in a car accident, you are 47% more likely to be injured. If any of that sounds familiar, chances are you’re a woman’, it states.

The author, Ms Criado Perez is a British journalist and activist who led the campaign for Jane Austen to appear on the new £10 note.

Interviewed by Wired Magazine, she said that the idea for the book came when she stumbled across the gender data gap in the world of medicine in 2014. She said that she could not believe that in the 21st century, doctors were misdiagnosing women because the symptoms of female heart attacks were not the same as those for men. As a result, women were more likely to die and more likely to be misdiagnosed.

‘Around that same time I also found out that we don’t tend to involve female humans or animals or cells in medical trials, and the result of that is women have less effective treatment and more side effects,’ she said.

The FT’s review of the book said that the author comprehensively made the case that seemingly objective data can actually be highly male-biased, and that public spending, health, education, the workplace and society in general are worse off as a result.

Mitchell Baker, FT judge and chairwoman of Mozilla, the software organisation, said the subject of the book was not just ‘an issue of our time, it’s an issue of every time’.

Forbes magazine wrote that ‘this intensively researched book exposes a male-biased world and successfully argues that the lack of “big data” on women is equivalent to rendering half of the world’s population invisible. The author analyses how gender politics are affected and enhanced by gaps in big data and argues powerfully that human history is comprised of a pervasive gender data gap that effectively ‘silences’ and erases women’s accomplishments, experiences, needs and daily lives.

As we the readers explore the subtle and ubiquitous nature of male-biased big data, we couldn’t find a more capable guide: Ms. Perez is a writer, broadcaster and an award-winning feminist campaigner with a number of victories to her name, including getting a woman on British banknotes, forcing Twitter to revise how it deals with abuse on its platform, and winning the battle to get a statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett placed in London’s Parliament Square’.

Wired magazine wrote that ‘Criado Perez examines different elements of the modern world that appear to be designed with less consideration for women: Transportation systems, medical devices and treatments, tax structures, consumer products, even the smartphones and voice-recognition technologies we use every day. The 321-page book is a rapid-fire delivery of data sets, making it more of an academic tome than a light and hopeful read to take with you on summer vacation. But despite the occasional meandering, Invisible Women often arrives right back at the same seemingly inevitable conclusion: There exists a real gender data gap that is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male.’

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