“The World of Work Needs a Wholesale Redesign.”

This is a Feminist argument for escape from Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez:

Women have always worked. They have worked unpaid, underpaid, underappreciated, and invisibly, but they have always worked. But the modern workplace does not work for women. From its location, to its hours, to its regulatory standards, it has been designed around the lives of men and it is no longer fit for purpose. The world of work needs a wholesale redesign–of its regulations, of its equipment, of its culture–and this redesign must be led by data on female bodies and female lives. We have to start recognising that the work women do is not an added extra, a bonus that we could do without: women’s work, paid and unpaid, is the backbone of our society and our economy. It’s about time we started valuing it.

I have sometimes wondered if the workplace is a male-orientated space and that this is part of the underlying problem with it. After all, many of the things I hated about office life (lack of privacy, too much noise, the “bullpen” concept, plastic everything, hopeless food, extrovert worship, the idea that we should tolerate discomfort, pranks, high-fives, nicknames, hostility towards the health and safety department, hostility towards measures of equality and diversity, inflexible hours, resistance to working from home, obsession with car-parking facilities over convenient access to public transport, the conversion of a Quiet Room into a “Situation Room”) could without much stretch of the imagination be seen as the vestiges of a male world. Would offices have looked like this under a matriarchy? Maybe. But a hunch–a suspicion–says no.

I remember hearing years ago about “sexist air conditioning” that leaves female office workers uncomfortably chilly while their male colleagues are as happy as can be.

This book actually has the answers. In the case of air conditioning, nobody in the office said “it’s important that men are comfortable and women are not,” but rather it’s because the settings of office air-con really are based on data derived from the study of men and not, as one might imagine, equal numbers of men and women. This is only the beginning though, as the work chapter of Criado Perez’s book explains, and there are endless examples of systems and technologies failing women (and ultimately everyone) because of this data gap.

Essentially, the world was built on the premise that “the male” is the default human while “the female” is some sort of aberration or “alternate” rather than, as the case obviously is, naturally half of the population. Why exclude? It’s amazing. (The “default male” concept is explained succinctly in the book’s intro which you can read online).

Invisible Women is a brilliant, glistening book, extremely readable despite being data heavy, and each case study presented is there for a good reason. Each one proves so many points and, if the world would only respond to this book, it would be win-win-win: better for women, better for men, better for everyone. (In case you’re wondering, the book and its author are not “down on men;” the author is keen to point out that many of the inequalities being discussed are a result of the data gap, which results from decisions badly-made long ago, rather than individual, conscious acts of misogyny — though, actually, it makes little difference since the result is the same). It’s a brilliant, challenging, extremely important book about the consequences of ignoring half the population. Read it!

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

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