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Interview
Implementing change for women

March 8, 2022

Implementing change for women

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Interview
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Lynne Gibbens is the IEC Manager of International Standards Development at the Standards Council of Canada. She is also the National Secretary of the Canadian National Committee of IEC (CANC/IEC), and a member of the IEC Standardization Management Board (SMB).

Q.

In 2020, SCC published the report When One Size Does Not Protect All: Understanding Why Gender Matters for Standardization, using data from 106 countries, about the impact of gender on standardization. What prompted SCC to carry out such research?

A.

In 2019, SCC signed the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards. It was signed by many standards leaders around the world, including IEC. As part of this commitment, SCC created a five-year strategy to improve gender equality in standardization. To effect positive change, first we needed to understand exactly how standardization impacted women. There is a lack of literature on this topic and this gap is often highlighted as a challenge. So, conducting research became a key goal of SCC’s five-year strategy. I’m proud to say that our research has been vital in building the case for change and has put us in a great position to measure and track progress.

Q.

What has SCC done since to improve on the situation revealed by the research – for instance that standards often don’t protect women as well as men?

A.

Internally, one of our corporate objectives is to increase the representation of Canadian women in technical committees. We created an internal working group to develop and implement our gender action plan and inclusivity in the standards development process.

A significant challenge to improving gender responsiveness is the lack of awareness that this is an issue. The IEC and ISO conducted a survey of TC chairs on the topic of gender and only 25% said that they considered gender in their work. SCC has prioritized raising awareness. We leverage speaking engagements with our partners to raise awareness of the value that gender-responsive standards would bring to addressing socioeconomic issues, building back better from the pandemic, and helping industries secure a sustainable talent pool for the future. We ground our advocacy in facts and data that demonstrate how a more gender-equal approach benefits the quality of life for everyone – including men, businesses, national and international economies, and underrepresented groups.
Nationally, SCC is supporting the Government of Canada’s 50-30 Challenge. This initiative asks organizations to aspire to have 50% gender parity on boards and senior management, as well as have 30% representation on boards and senior management of underrepresented groups. SCC oversaw the development of a Publicly Available Specification to enable organizations to track their progress against the 50-30 Challenge.

On an international level, SCC is leading a working group at the UNECE to develop guidelines for gender responsive standards.

Q.

You have taken part in the IEC Board Task Force on diversity and the IEC/ISO Joint Strategic Advisory Group (JSAG) on gender-responsive standards. What did the groups decide in terms of concrete action to improve gender diversity at the IEC?

A.

IEC and ISO are both signatories of the UNECE Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards. The first step for the task force was to review the declaration. It then developed a general statement on diversity and decided to focus on three areas: stakeholder, geographic and gender diversity. An action plan was created and specific statements for each of these areas, which were approved and published for the IEC community.
To advance geographic diversity, the task force reviewed the composition of IEC Management Boards, Conformity Assessment Systems Officers, National Committee Officers and the IEC Secretariat. This analysis illustrated the low representation of women. As a result, the task force recommended establishing a committee to monitor and report on gender and geographic representation, as well as nominations to IEC management boards and their respective bodies. It also recommended using gender and geographically neutral language in terminology for IEC Statutes and Rules of Procedure, the Directives and Terms of Reference of the various management bodies and their associated groups.

The new IEC Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC) is also integrating work of the task force into its own activities. Gender diversity is now an integral part of the new IEC Strategic Plan.

The ISO/IEC JSAG mandate is to create tools for ISO and IEC technical committees to ensure standards they develop, or revise, are gender responsive. This includes developing procedures to assess possible gender implications, guidance on ensuring data that committees use is non-biased, guidance on ensuring standards are gender responsive, and proposing changes to ISO/IEC Directives on improving gender responsiveness of the standards development process. The ISO/IEC JSAG will submit its final recommendations to the ISO TMB and IEC Standardization Management Board.
The work achieved by the task force and the ISO/IEC JSAG is only the starting point. The importance of gender diversity has been recognized at governance level and will be a focal point of both ISO and IEC strategy moving forward.

Q.

How do the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 5 on gender equality, fit in with the work of the SCC?

A.

As highlighted by the World Standards Day campaign, standards are vital to achieving the UN SDGs. A lot of research in mapping the relationship of standards to SDGs already exists. IEC, ISO and the Canadian Standards Development Organizations have each conducted their own research.

At SCC, our preliminary mapping of National Standards of Canada to the UN’s 17 SDGs found that only 2% of our national standards contribute to SDG 5, gender equality. As a nation that considers itself a leader in gender equality and diversity, we need to do better. This has concerning implications. For example, research shows that the risk of being injured or killed in a car accident is 73% higher for women because crash test dummies are based on male arthrometry. Women are not small men, and the assumption that they are has led to many preventable accidents.

Q.

What are the main challenges faced by Canadian experts in the SCC mirror Committees, specifically when it comes to IEC Standards?

A.

Developing and using standards help build a more competitive and innovative Canadian economy. Studies show a clear link between standardization, labour productivity and economic growth. To ensure we meet the needs of all Canadians and under-represented groups, we must recruit and retain diverse experts to represent Canada’s interests. One of the main challenges in this is advancing diversity in Canadian mirror committees. We’re committed to engaging and recruiting more women, young professionals and new members from new and emerging technologies in standardization work.

Another challenge ties in with the pandemic’s effect on the global economy and participation in standardization. Its negative impact on businesses, especially SMEs, may result in fewer Canadian experts participating in national and international standardization activities. Organizations may face challenges in their supply chain, have limited financial and/or human resources, and have difficulty maintaining or rebuilding their business. This has the potential to limit their capacity to participate in standardization activities to represent Canada’s interests at IEC.

We also need to ensure that our members account for sustainability and environmental considerations when developing, amending or revising standards – not only in Canada, but internationally as well.

Lastly, this era of digital transformation will impact the nature of standards development, which is traditionally grounded in text-based documents. The shift towards digital content and virtual work has the potential to change text-based documents beyond recognition. The role of open-source software in standards will expand and could alter the very definition of a standard. It may affect the nature and scope of IEC standardization. Some of our members will welcome and master this transition, and others will not.

Q.

Looking ahead, what will be the main priorities for the SCC in the coming years?

A.

SCC is developing a National Standards Strategy to ensure the Canadian standards system proactively responds to the diverse needs of industry, government and consumers. Its goal is to identify the priorities and sectors the Canadian standards system should focus on in the years to come. The Strategy has a vital role in helping Canadian sectors respond to emerging technologies and build back better from the pandemic.

We’re also focused on supporting Canada’s post-pandemic recovery efforts, building a climate-resilient future, advancing data governance and cybersecurity protection for businesses.

We will continue our work in increasing the participation of women on technical committees and developing guidance on how to ensure standards are gender responsive. One of our corporate objectives is to maintain 24% representation for females on technical and governance committees per year.

This article was originally published by Catherine Bischofberger in the IEC e-tech magazine.

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