Encouraging action on standards

In 2017, the secretariat of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe worked to mainstream gender into one of the Commission's core activities: the development of standards and norms, which are behind almost every product and, increasingly, behind most traded services as well.

A first preliminary estimate of the participation of women in the bodies tasked with developing standards – both national and international – averages between 10 and 30 per cent participation (with large variations).

In addition, there are no guidelines for these bodies to assess whether a standard is gender-biased or to correct any possible bias. Neither are there any guidelines to determine the impact of a standard on different genders.

Gender Responsive Standards

Over 50 standards organizations worldwide signed the landmark Declaration on ”Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development” at a meeting organized by the Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies (WP.6) in May 2019 (1).  The Declaration’s objective is to support more gender-balanced and inclusive standards development processes, as well as to strengthen the gender-responsiveness of standards themselves.

More information can be found here.

The Big Idea

National standards bodies / standards development organizations:

Acknowledging Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls;

Acknowledging the pervasive and influential role of standards in society;

Acknowledging that representation of women in standards development is almost always below parity and that the outcomes for men and women are not explicitly addressed during the standards development process;

Recognizing that the content of standards and engaging in the standards development process are opportunities for women’s empowerment;

Recognizing that different national standards bodies (NSB) and different standards development organizations (SDO) operate in different ways and within different infrastructures

Would express our resolve to work towards:

  • gender inclusive standards development organizations;
  • gender responsive standards;
  • gender balance at all levels within wider infrastructure (including in governing bodies);
  • enhanced expertise to create and deliver gender inclusivity;

And therefore, affirm:

  1. The championship of Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development
  2. The creation and proactive implementation of a gender action plan for their organization
  3. The tracking of progress; the collection and the sharing of data, success stories and good practices.

Nota Bene:

We will host a living Annex of actions that NSBs and SDOs can include in their gender action plan for gender responsive standards and standards development.

It is for each organization to decide what they can / should include in their gender action plans. The list of actions is not exhaustive; it is intended to provide suggestions and inspiration for gender action plans for standards development organizations of any type.

The Annex

  • Work towards gender balanced / representative and inclusive standards development environments
  • Strive for a representative number of women in all phases of standards development
    • assess the gender balance of committees and determine if there is an opportunity to improve;
    • connect with organizations and informal networks within industries and professions so as to improve the gender balance of technical committees;
    • collect sex-disaggregated data on participants in standards development (overall and by industry) and compare this with employment statistics;
  • Strive to create a standards development environment which enables gender inclusivity and equality
  • Ensure the leadership supports striving for a gender inclusive environment and for gender responsive standards
    • conduct yearly research with committee members to learn about any differences in experiences in standards development based on gender
    • develop and implement policies, procedures and activities which support gender inclusivity (e.g. raising awareness; training for committee chairs, programme managers, members; distributing this declaration to all those involved in standards development, etc.)
    • review the gender balance of the chairs / senior roles within standards making and seek to improve it where it is imbalanced
  • Support individuals who want to be gender advocates by encouraging and enabling them to take action within their areas of standards development
    • encourage programme/project managers and chairs to promote gender inclusivity on their standards development committees and provide them with tools and resources to do so
    • share (within and between organizations) information / data / experiences about internal or external gender inclusivity projects in order to identify and share best practice
  • Strive for gender representative participation in other phases of the standards development process including making proposals, commenting on proposals and commenting on drafts
  • Ensure organizational and individual gender actions plans include relevant objectives so that progress can be monitored and measured

Creating gender responsive standards

  • Strive to develop a network of gender experts to provide a resource to support standards development committees in their work
  • Contribute to the development of a tool(s) suitable for conducting gender-based analysis of all standards in any form of active development (new or revision) to ensure standards are gender responsive in their content and implementation. This tool could be based on GBA+ or others
  • Provide training for any new tools which may be developed and ensure you are measuring the participation in and impact of this training
  • Use existing frameworks (e.g. ISO, CEN-CENELEC, regional standards organizations etc.) to work collaboratively and share resources / expertise
  • Ensure committees have relevant expertise, tools and resources to strive to develop gender responsive standards
    • provide committees with any necessary training to develop their gender expertise
    • ensure committees include a gender expert or have access to gender expertise (e.g. via a network of gender experts)
  • Strive to institutionalize successful and effective practices, procedures and policies to ensure the future / sustainability of gender responsive standards development

Creating gender responsive standards bodies

  • Assess existing and develop / obtain as required the skills and expertise needed to create and implement a gender action plan
  • Collect data on the gender ratio of employees at all different levels
  • Develop training tools to enhance the gender awareness of employees
  • Monitor and record the participation in and impact of any training provided

Setting Gender-Responsive Standards on the Agenda

The secretariat raised awareness of the International Gender Champions initiative among the heads of the other standards bodies in Geneva:

  • The General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the International Electrotechnical Commission, Frans Vreeswijk, became a Gender Champion in 2016 and the new Secretary-General of the International Organization for Standardization, Sergio Mujica, joined us in early 2018.
  • The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe also convened bimonthly webinars as well as two meetings and two round tables for government representatives and standards experts. These discussions resulted in a proposal for a “pledge for action on gender-responsive standards”, suggesting examples of commitments that standard-setting bodies can make.

(1) Signatories include international standards bodies (such as ISO, ITU, IEC, ASTM International), regional standards bodies (covering Africa, Europe and South Asia), and national standards bodies (including China, India, Thailand, Canada, UK, Spain, Mexico, Senegal, Morocco).

Change Management Standards

Gendered Innovations

"Gendered Innovations" is a Stanford University, European Commission, and National Science Foundation project analyzing science, health, medicine, engineering, and environmental research from a gender perspective. It offers transformational resources on best practices, institutional changes, and gender based analysis.