Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men

Cover of the book "Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men." by Caroline Criado Perez. Red background with green male full body icons.

Invisible women by Caroline Criado Perez is an incredible read. I binged this book in a day! And have been talking about it to everyone I’ve encountered since then.


Invisible women by Caroline Criado Perez is a detailed analysis of how data regarding women has been at best not collected and at worst wilfully ignored since the beginning of time. This absence of data has subtly shaped and influenced the world over time to be unaccommodating of the unique needs of women.


For the most part, Invisible women discusses subtle and unspoken biases. Choices and decisions that seem unimportant at the time eventually create enormous divides if they are systematically repeated. After many years we end up in a world where, for example:

  • crash test dummies are male
  • new medications are tested on males exclusively
  • standard pianos are designed for the average-sized male.

The world defaults to male and we don’t question it.


We are then presented with evidence that when the bias has been identified, it’s not rectified. Maybe because women’s bodies and hormones are too complicated? Or perhaps because women’s needs are seen as a low priority.


From my perspective as a project manager and process improver, something really stood out. Perez cites multiple examples of situations where a lack of consultation with the end-users has resulted in poor solutions.


A striking example of this occurred in 2001 when Gujarat was hit by an earthquake. Thousands of lives were lost, and over 400,000 homes were destroyed. New homes were needed, but Gujarat’s rebuilding project had a major data gap: the planning process did not include women. The result: the recovery project built houses without any kitchens. Even more shocking, the same mistake has been repeated in subsequent disasters in other parts of the world.


At times, Perez struggles to balance the female perspective on gendered expectations such as the above example without perpetuating stereotypes. I feel that this is more a function of where we are as a society than of any bias in the writing. The book has also drawn criticism for its failure to include trans people in the discussion. This might also be due to a data gap (wherever we lack data for women, multiply that exponentially for every minority group – I doubt that disaggregated data exists for trans women.) However, when a book deals with gender as its primary subject matter, I believe acknowledging nonbinary gender is not too much to expect.


Criticism aside, read the book and get angry! Either at the things you’ve known about all along but resigned yourself to, or about those that had never even occurred to you. There are plenty of both here. Be warned though: talking about this book may put you at risk of defending the existence and validity of feminism to straight, white, middle-aged men, which is rarely a pleasant experience.


If you’ve read Invisible women, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comments below.


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