In her book, Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez cites numerous examples of how women have been forgotten in a world designed by men, for men. From speech recognition software not trained to detect female voices to office air-con which is generally around five degrees too cold for women because it’s designed for male bodies; there are countless examples which demonstrate the ways in which women have been simply forgotten when it comes to designing the world they also live in.
The book explained that data collation is a system, and like all systems it is vulnerable to the impacts of bias. Unlike overt sexism which actively aims to exclude or belittle women, bias is subconscious and often unintentional. But even unintentional, these oversights have very real consequences. And while some of these examples – such as overly cold air-con - might seem trivial on their own, the cumulation of being forgotten across multiple systems, from government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, and the media, has a profound impact on our lives.
When a system is designed with these biases in place, it continues to impact people well after these biases have been recognised. When this occurs within systems designed by men, but applied to all genders, it is often referred to as second-generation gender bias. Unconscious biases such as second-generation gender bias must be addressed – and for those of us responsible for designing the world around us, it’s up to us to address them.
Walking the walk
We talk a lot at Hames Sharley about inclusivity in design and our teams actively aim to address second generation gender bias when designing for our clients. But when we realised our Perth studio needed an upgrade, it was time for us to walk the walk and design a new, more inclusive office space that would cater to the needs of all Hames Sharley staff, current and future.
The first step was consultation with our teams to evaluate which things were important to them and what they thought was missing in our current studios. In doing this, we learned that our female team members chose not to cycle to work because there were no female showers available. Such an oversight was something we needed to rectify, so the new Perth studios will include both male and female locker rooms, complete with showers and a makeup bench, so all employees will feel comfortable cycling to work if they choose.
Ensuring a seamless return to work for new parents is a core focus for Hames Sharley – we’ve recently announced an industry-leading parental leave package to reflect this – and this was reflected in our approach to the new Perth Studio design process. When the new Perth studios open in April, there will be a meeting room that doubles as a wellness room, complete with block out curtains, a lockable door and comfortable lounge seating enabling breastfeeding, with enough space for a significant other – and even other children – to sit and spend time together. We also included a small fridge in the female locker room for breastfeeding mothers to store expressed milk.
Rising to the challenge
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Choose to Challenge’, which aims to call out gender bias and inequality to help create a more inclusive world. We are incredibly proud to say that at Hames Sharley we actively strive to create a more inclusive world every day. We have a dedicated internal working group, Champions for Change, who regularly meet to find ways to make Hames Sharley more diverse and more inclusive. Similarly, our teams make a point to challenge any unconscious biases – both with each other and within ourselves – that may influence our designs.
Designing in a way that’s inclusive to different genders, sexualities, ethnicities and religious groups, in a way that takes into account different lived experiences and different needs, is the only way to create spaces that are welcoming for all of our community. From public spaces to our very own offices, inclusivity in design is at the heart of what we do.