October 24, 1975 was Women’s Day Off in Iceland. On that Friday, the women in Iceland refused to cook any meals, care for the children, make the beds. Telephone service disappeared, newspapers and theaters closed, and schools lost 65% of their staff while banks, factories, and the airlines were down to a minimum. At the same time, sausage sales (an easy meal for the men to make) soared until the stores ran out. Instead of Women’s Day Off, some men called it “The Long Friday.”
The Reykjavik Women’s Day Off Rally numbered 25,000, close to 1/9 of Iceland’s entire 1975 population:
The goal was to spotlight women’s invisible work. By showing that women did a lot more work than what they were paid for. Iceland wanted to demonstrate, for example, that the term “working woman” made no sense. Rather than emphasizing what women do, it encourages us to ignore the work we do at home.
Where are we going? To the male-biased choice architecture that shapes public policy and product design.
Sweden’s Snow Removal
When the people in Karlskoga, Sweden became concerned with gender discrimination, one topic was snow removal. Surprised, they found inequity.
Think snow removal and the roads first come to mind. You clear the major arteries and then the side streets. Pedestrian walkways and bike paths are last.
But the data indicate that women are more likely to walk and use public transportation. Meanwhile, the men tend to drive to and from work. When women are in the car, they “trip-chain.” They take the children to school, they care for an elderly parent, they go to work. They do not use the major transport arteries.
And yet the major arteries get the first snow removal while the walkers–more female than male–slip, slide and get injured. One Swedish city reported that women experienced 69% of the injuries that occurred during winter with two-thirds of those individuals slipping on ice or snow.
Other Gender Inequity Examples
- Women suffer from “one-size-fits-all.” If you imagine a piano, the span for an octave suits men’s larger hands rather than most women’s. With voice recognition, it’s the lower pitched male voice that creates fewer errors
- Google’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg suggested that Google give pregnant women handicapped parking spaces. The omission was a “data gap.” The people who made the original policy had not experienced the female perspective.
- Physiologically, men enjoy a lower temperature than women. But male engineers set workplace thermostats. Based on a 40-year-old 70 kg man, they are at 70 degrees rather than 75..
Our Bottom Line: Choice Architecture
Whether it’s the workday, the roads, or the piano, data omissions disadvantage women. Asking why, we can guess that it’s not intentional. However, a behavioral economist (and plain old logic) would say your policies depend on your “choice architecture.” In other words, our decisions depend on the environment in which we make them. They depend on the incentives that nudge public works departments, city councils, and piano designers.
I would suggest that when public policy and product design are dominated by men, then the choices they make reflect their own life experience. Male dominated choice architecture leads to gender inequity.
My sources and more: My inspiration and many of my facts come from Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Built By Men by Caroline Criado Perez. The book is excellent. One reason though that I found it so appealing was its confirmation of our previous post Pink it, Shrink It and Gender Design Discrimination. Do also read the NY Times 1975 article on the women’s strike in Iceland. It is short and gives you a good sense of the history.
Our featured image is from Pixabay.