The methodological approach to measure how gender is impacted by technological innovation

Maybe you’ve looked at our fun, busy, and colourful infographic about our approach to gender analyses, and perhaps you’ve been left scratching your head. “What does it all mean?” The purpose of this article is to accompany that image and explain the various steps illustrated in it.

From significant representational and pay differentials in public and private organisations to a meaningful lack of veracious data, gender issues abound in today’s world. Although progress has been made over the last several decades, there is still much work that needs to be done. Gender analyses are one way to move forward as they help include potentially fruitful perspectives usually left unexplored in research, business development, and the reorganisation of value chains. In other words, they offer the change not only to act equitably, but also to gain singular insights. For example, a gender analysis of public transit in Madrid revealed that the second-most frequent type of journeys were those associated with caretaking, a traditionally female task; therefore, the system required a redesign in order to better serve users’ needs (Sánchez de Madariaga et al., 2014).

In general, a gender analysis in a research project is a type of study that aims to reveal how, all things being equal, gender (i.e. the different social and cultural conditions of being male, female, or non-binary) might impact that project’s outcomes. At CyberEthics Lab., we believe that a greater understanding of whether technological innovations will be impacted by gender and vice versa can lead to greater opportunities and insight for all those involved in a project’s design. For this reason, we have developed our own analytical framework based on some of the most well-researched works out there, such as Stanford University Gendered Innovations and the European Commission’s European Institute for Gender Equality. What drew us to these intersectional approaches was their steadfast commitment to challenging stereotypes in their attempt to mainstream a conversation around gender, something that has also been echoed by the European Union’s Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025.

Our framework makes use of various techniques, which we shall describe in more detail in the following paragraphs. Overall, it was easy for us to summarise it into a single flowchart. Thanks to positive results obtained through applications of the framework in H2020 projects such as PERSIST, we are confident in recommending its usage. 

PHASE 1: SCREENING

Upon comprehending a project’s goals and disciplinary environment, our analysis begins with the preliminary assessment of whether the project conceals gender issues.[1] When we have been involved in interdisciplinary research, our experience has brought us to screen each of the following four areas:

  • Communication;
  • Consultation; 
  • Development & Production;
  • Research.

Communication

Communication is the means through which a project’s successes and lessons learned are shared with others. Without it occurring, it would be as if there had been no project at all. Because of their evident importance, a project’s communication processes are one of the first areas we audit. 

Some questions we ask

  • Are the language and graphical elements used in external and internal communications inclusive, gender-sensitive and gender-neutral, or do they present elements of gender bias?
  • In communicating, is always necessary to refer to gender given the nature of your project, or could gender be stripped away?
  • Are the channels and touchpoints used for communicating gender-sensitive suitable given local customs?

Consultation

The golden standards of project management, the PMBOK and the OpenPM2, both stress the importance of involving stakeholders throughout the project. Across sectors of research and development, their involvement is considered important, since stakeholders possess valuable information, expertise, and insights, that can help the project generate greater value (Harrison et al. 2010).

Therefore, evaluation the effective participation rate of stakeholders in project initiatives is essential. As is taking a deeper look at the numbers to see whether there are sex/gender imbalances in the representation. 

Some questions we ask

  • How much attention is given to the mapping of gender-specific interests and power in the organisational phase of stakeholder consultation?
  • What tools are used for monitoring consultation activities?

Development & Production 

If stakeholders are actively and equitably engaged, it is likely that gender issues in development and production pertain to equal workforce representation. As an exemplary clarification of what a potential issue looks like, think of the process for the development of an artificial intelligence solution in visual recognition. The majority of developers (for a series of reasons we won’t get into here, but that have to do with historically sedimented inequalities) are white men. The consequence is that these men code into the solution certain biases, such as the software’s tendency to misidentify blacks at least five times more than whites. 

Some questions we ask

  • What is the distribution of men and women working on the project?
  • Are gender concerns addressed in the project’s results?
  • Does the project intend to create objects that are targeted to a specific gender group according to biased notions of what that group desires?

Research  

What gets researched, how it gets researched, and who conducts the research, are all crucial decisions made by someone or a group of people. Certain criteria are in place for those decisions to be made. But what are they?

Some questions we ask

  • What determines research priorities?
  • Who stands to gain from the research? Is there anyone who risks being left out?
  • Are the data gathered throughout the research project truly representative of the population as a whole?

PHASE 2: DEFINITION OF REQUIREMENTS AND CREATION OF METHODOLOGY

If none of the areas screened in Phase 1 appear to present issues, we can consider the analysis complete. On the contrary, if even only one of them appears problematic, we proceed with defining the methodology of the gender analysis specific to each project and its requirements together with the interested party. At CyberEthics Lab., we know from experience that, for a successful project to generate results that are sustainable over time, it is essential that there be an interplay among experts in multiple disciplines.

Some of the various and diverse tools and methods we employ during this phase are the following:

  • Sentiment analysis;
  • Gender stakeholder consultation;
  • Participatory design.

Sentiment analysis (SA) is a set of tools including techniques such as natural language processing, textual analysis, and computational linguistic, aimed at extracting from written texts the relevant information about the psychological status and the feelings of a collective at a given point in time. SA has been applied, for instance, to give useful information during the 2012 U.S. Election (Wang, 2012). In the project PERSONA, we applied it to analyse shared perceptions of no-gate border crossing solutions. In general, we find it very useful for uncovering preliminary information to be validated at a later stage.

Gender stakeholder consultation is one method for confirming, denying, or adding to that preliminary information.  Through focus groups and questionnaires, we can further assess the cognitive and emotional attitudes of groups representational from a gender perspective of a project’s targeted end users.

This assessment allows us to progress into participatory design, a process through which all types of stakeholders are involved in an effort to “balance interests, benefits, and responsibilities between the users/subjects and the research institutions involved” and to “make the entire [design] process, from planning to reporting, transparent and accessible to all parties.”[2] The end result is that a project accounts for the claims, fears, and aspirations of all stakeholders and not just of the designers. 

PHASE 3: PROPOSAL OF RECOMMENDATIONS AND SOLUTIONS

At this point, we ask a key question: “Based on what the gender analysis has uncovered, do related risks within the project outweigh its potential rewards?” If so, we fine-tune our definition of requirements and methodology; perhaps something was missed in the previous phase. 

Nevertheless, our end goal is to present recommendations for solving a project’s gender issues. And that’s what this phase is centred upon. In accordance with the results from the previous two phases, we co-develop together with the project’s designers tailored solutions coherent with the project’s scope. For instance, in PERSIST, we put forward suggestions for making all aspects of communication gender-sensitive

CONCLUSION

CyberEthics Lab. prides itself with being on the forefront of technological innovation. But without accounting for deeply rooted societal issues, the progress theoretically possible thanks to that innovation is bound to be stumped. Our intent is to favour that progress by ensuring it is acceptable and accessible to as many people as possible. 

REFERENCES

  • Centre of Excellence on Project Management Methodology (2018), Open Project Management Methodology (OpenPM2 Guide), version 3.0
  • Harrison, J. et al. (2010), Managing for Stakeholders, Stakeholder Utility Functions and Competitive Advantage in Strategic Management Journal 31(1), pp. 58-74
  • Ortiz-Ospina, E. (2018), Economic Inequality by Gender, Published online at OurWorldInData.org.
    https://ourworldindata.org/economic-inequality-by-gender
  • Project Management Institute (2004), A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 6th ed., Newtown Square, Pennsylvania 
  • United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics Division (2016), Integrating a Gender Perspective into Statistics in Studies in Methods, Series F No. 111, New York City
  • Wang, H. et al. (2017), A System for Real-time Twitter Sentiment Analysis of 2012 US Presidential Election Cycle in Proceedings of the ACL 2012 System Demonstrations

[1] A gender issue is defined by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) as any “concern determined by gender-based and/or sex-based differences between women and men.” https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1184

[2] http://genderedinnovations.stanford.edu/methods/participatory.html