IEC actively supports gender diversity

Embracing the female perspective in standardization

By Antoinette Price

Gender equality is essential for achieving peace, defending rights, fostering economic growth, and promoting global well-being. In standardization, it is important to include female insights for everyone’s benefit.

SyC AAL group photo Participants in the SyC AAL plenary meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, that took place during the IEC General Meeting

Importance of the female viewpoint

A pertinent example is the crash test dummy. Swedish traffic researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, were able to demonstrate that women weren’t properly protected against whiplash injuries caused by rear-end collisions, because all the crash test dummies used were based on a male driver's relative weight and anatomy. As a result, they have created the world’s first female crash test dummy to help manufacturers make vehicles that protect women, as well as men, from such injuries.

Improving the status quo

It is well-known that societies have not encouraged women to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering. While there are no complete global statistics, a report by the US Congressional Joint Economic Committee shows that only 14% of engineers are women. This holds true for the IEC technical community, however the Central Office has a large share of women and parity, including at the head of the Affiliate Country Programme, Young Professionals (YP) and Marketing and Communications.

The IEC is also a participant in the International Gender Champions initiative, in which it undertakes to impact the work culture and integrate gender equality in the sphere of influence of the IEC around the world, by:

  • Reaching out to all IEC Members to increase their awareness regarding the importance of participation of women in technical committees and to consider gender balance when sending participants to the IEC YP Programme.
  • "Training" IEC CO Technical Officers to encourage technical committees to adopt a more gender balanced approach in all relevant Standards.

Leading by example

Another great example of where IEC has enhanced the gender balance is the IEC Systems Committee for Active Assisted Living (SyC AAL), which has a predominantly female management, and 24% of female experts, who complement the work of its male experts.  The development of Active Assisted Living is driven by the demographic evolution of aging populations and an increasing desire for convenience, comfort as well as active and independent living. This Committee prepares the many Standards that are needed to increase the interoperability of devices from different manufacturers.

What is AAL and why is it important?

Our world is becoming smarter. Intelligent technology, including AAL devices, systems or services, is being incorporated in cities, infrastructure, buildings and homes, to improve the quality of life of AAL users. While benefitting all who use it, AAL technology particularly helps people living with a range of disabilities. It enables them to remain at home independently for longer, as well as facilitate access to transport and other places outside the home. Find out more about the technology in the October 2016 e-tech article Smart Cities for golden years.

Female participation from the Chair...

Established in 2015, the IEC SyC AAL is chaired by Ulrike Haltrich and comprises two coordination advisory groups (CAGs) and four working groups (WGs).

Haltrich has worked for 20 years at Sony on diverse standardization projects.

She is also involved in IEC Technical Committee (TC) 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, and eventually co-chaired its project for Ambient Assisted Living related to audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment and in 2015, became the technical secretary of its Technical Area 16: Active Assisted Living, Accessibility and User Interfaces.

 “AAL users of products, services and systems may require a bit of help at home from time to time or a lot of support throughout the day. We have to consider many aspects, which can be specific to countries or regions. For example, legal implications, data protection, privacy and security, and we absolutely must ensure that everything is safe and performs well for all users wherever they are in the world.”

...to the working groups

With a background in electrical engineering, Tania Donovska has been involved with IEC standardization activities for over 10 years, covering IT, energy efficiency, electromagnetic compatibility and electrical engineering. Donovska is Secretary of the Canadian mirror committee for IEC SyC AAL.

“It’s encouraging to see the talent and commitment around the table. I believe that female champions on committees have a lot to contribute – technical expertise, a unique approach to collaboration and consensus building, and the ability to go beyond cultural differences.”

Dr Iris Straszewski is Convenor of IEC SyC AAL/WG 2: Architecture and interoperability, which works on defining AAL reference architecture based on user needs.

“In order for all the products and systems to run smoothly, the technology must be interoperable at different levels and between different domains. Our work is based on principles of interoperability integrity, security and privacy, simplicity, low operation costs and short time to market.”

Straszewski is also responsible for national committees and working groups on AAL for the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies (DKE).

Janina Laurila-Dürsch is an information technology and electrical engineer, specializing in the transmission of messages. She has worked as a project and standardization manager at DKE since 2011. She leads the project to establish AAL terminology (PT 60050-871).

Taehwa Han, Research Professor at Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, and head of the AAL delegation for the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) since 2015, is actively engaged in developing use cases which would be suited to Korean society.

“The work we are doing in AAL is very exciting. In our use cases, we see how innovative technology product and system solutions can greatly improve healthcare and how we provide it. AAL will help to ensure products and services are safe and especially in this field, that private data remains protected.”

Also participating are Guo Li Zhen of the China Household Electric Appliance Research Institute (CHEARI) and Si-hwa Bae, PhD and Professor in the Department of Architecture at Gachon University, Seoul, Korea.

Covering product safety assessment and testing

Pamela Gwynn brings over 27 years’ experience in product safety related to medical electrical devices and personal health and hygiene appliances. She is Co-Convenor of IEC SyC AAL WG 3: AAL Quality and Conformity Assessment, which deals with quality, conformance and interoperability issues related to AAL products, systems, components and services.

“It is paramount to ensure testing and certification are done so that the levels of safety, reliability, and performance are in compliance with relevant IEC International Standards.”

Gwynn also has testing and certification experience as a Lead and Technical Assessor for the IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechical Equipment and Components (IECEE) CB Scheme in the medical category through her work for IEC TC 62: Electrical equipment in medical practice.

Seeing things from the consumer viewpoint

Patricia Cunniffe represents consumers in the area of standardization at national and international levels. She has 20 years of experience of electrical safety standards in New Zealand and IEC. She is a member of the consumer panel for New Zealand Health Information Service, and a trustee of the Whanganui Regional Primary Health Organization. She runs an ergonomics consultancy specializing in workplace assessment and modification, for hospitals, health providers and other clients.

“I have been and still am the sole female on these committees, representing the consumer’s viewpoint…It’s a real pleasure to be involved with the IEC SyC AAL where the end user of AAL products and systems, rather than the technology, is the focus, and gender diversity is the norm.”

Sharon Duff is a community developer and health promotion practitioner at the Whanganui Regional Health Network in New Zealand. She works on the project for defining AAL terminology and on conformity assessment frameworks and privacy issues.

“I support end users and other actors in the areas of health literacy, ensuring product information and manuals meet health literacy guidelines. I also cover ICT expertise assessment of actors, providing education and training required by end users and also health professionals for interacting with technology.”

Understanding and addressing accessibility

Catherine Grant has a PhD Cantab, and is a multimedia and accessibility consultant. She works on projects related to standardization, broadcasting, video content analysis, sensor networks and surveillance.  She is involved in a number of IEC and ISO technical committees and is Convenor of IEC TC 100/TA 16: Active Assisted Living, accessibility and user interfaces.

“My standardization work was first in the masculine world of industrial automation with few women at international events I attended.  However committees such as ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 29 for audio, picture, multimedia and hypermedia information coding involve more women, but IEC SyC AAL is the first committee I have served on where there is a more balanced membership.”

Working for the well-being of aging and disabled populations

Yan Ling works at CHEARI, on standardization research and management of household electric (including smart) appliances, national policies and regulations related to special populations. With over 10 years working on standardization, she joined the group in 2015 and contributes to all four SyC AAL working groups.

“Our work is inspiring because it is committed to improving the quality of life for old people, children and other special needs groups through standardization.”

Yukiko Kihara is a member of the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC) Secretariat, Deputy Director of International Standardization Division at the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI), and works as secretariat to the National Mirror Committee for SyC AAL.

In Japan, Kihara leads a group in charge of standardization for aged society and is an expert for planning universal design.

"I have found that women are able to show leadership in the SyC AAL. In Japan, the fields that women can work in actively are increasing. Many of my work colleagues are women (approx. 40%), not only for the SyC AAL but standardization as a whole."

Looking ahead

Women continue to join the group. Jeanette Johem from the IEC Swedish National Committee (SEK) was welcomed at the SyC AAL plenary, during the recent IEC GM in Frankfurt.

Joanna Goodwin, a Technical Officer for IEC TC 1: Terminology, and terminology coordinator at IEC, took up as Secretary of the SyC AAL in October. Goodwin has worked in international standardization for 30 years, covering standards production management, electronic publishing, technical editing, process reengineering, business process analysis, automation and management, and lead auditing.

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