Blog: Invisible Women

Written by Millie Towner

Caroline Criado Perez is an author, broadcaster and feminist campaigner. She won
the Liberty Human Rights Campaigner of the Year Award in 2013 and was awarded an OBE
in 2015 for her services to equality and diversity. Caroline has staunchly advocated for the
female voice and was prominent in the campaign for women to appear on British
banknotes. Invisible Women is her second book which explores the shocking data gap
between men and women.

I have arrived at the University of Sheffield’s Octagon Centre, standing in a winding queue
from the Student Union. Once inside, I manage to find a seat as the talk begins. Caroline is
greeted onto the stage by a huge round of applause, followed by an audible “aah” from the
audience, as tucked under her arm is her sweet little dog Poppy, who sits quietly beside
Caroline for the entirety of the talk.

Caroline is witty, cutting and hilarious. Her presence is bold as she laughs and swears her
way through the hour, with dry humour and quick quips. She gets the audience roaring with
laughter when she jokes that the Apple HealthCare app was “introduced in 2014, before
women existed” as she discusses how the app allows you to track your copper intake (“Am I
ingesting copper?”) but fails to let you track your period. Yet Caroline still consistently
administers the shock factor with facts and figures. Her answers are littered with the data
she recalls from her book (equally fascinating and disturbing to hear as a female) as well as
personal anecdotes. Caroline recalls her mother shouting at her iPhone as she struggled to
get Siri to understand her, as she informs us that voice recognition software struggles to
understand women, as the software is trained using male voices. Shockingly, Google’s voice
recognition software is 70% more accurate for men than women.

As a student, I find Caroline’s digression on sexism within students particularly interesting.
She notes that within end of module assessments, there is a difference in the way students
view tutors who teach anything about women. Students appreciate men who discuss
women within their modules yet feel that the women are talking about women too much.
Caroline stresses the importance of including women in research and data collection by
those studying at university, to help break this data bias.

As the hour draws to a close, the latter part of the talk opens up to questions from the
audience. A researcher asks what she could do to close the gap, and Caroline reiterates the
importance of new research including female data. A crying baby interrupts, to which
Caroline poignantly says, “I’m sorry, I’m trying to make this better – I wrote this book for
you!”

If you haven’t already read Invisible Women, I strongly recommend that you do. As a
woman I have always been aware of gender bias, but after attending this talk, my eyes have
been stretched wide open to the extent of this data bias ‘in a world designed for men.’

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