Gender equality in the technical workplace: Equipment matters!

space gloves-1Recently, many of us applauded Christina Koch and Jessica Meir  who made ‘herstory’ as the first all female crew to walk in space.

But this was not an intentional goal for NASA to achieve. The first female astronaut Kathryn Sullivan walked in space in 1984. Why the 35-year delay? It’s definitely not a pipeline problem. These days there are equal numbers of qualified female and male candidates vying for space missions.

It’s an equipment problem –  spacesuits only come in medium, large and extra-large sizes. Space suits are not being made that would fit women – and that’s the reason why women have less opportunities to  do space walks

The lack of intentionality to actively address the male norms for space flight limits diversity. It literally says, if you don’t fit the suit, you don’t fit in … when in fact body size and proportions have nothing to do with capabilities.

Another equally false assertion is that a large male body type is necessary since ‘there may be some heavy lifting during the mission’ but in zero gravity space conditions, this is nonsense.

NASA is finally catching on – a new one-size-fits-all  unisex spacesuit is currently under development. It’s still to be seen if the unisex option is adequate for space. It has not been the promising solution for the construction industry.

Traditionally In the construction industry, safety gear or PPE (personal protective equipment) was designed to fit average sized men. As more women started working on construction sites, large manufacturing companies introduced unisex  PPE options. More often than not, unisex gear is simply a smaller version of the existing PPE range.  While unisex safety gear may be appropriate for some limited situations, women are not just smaller-sized men, their body configurations and proportions are different. Correctly sized and fitted PPE is especially important for hazardous settings.

For example, if gloves are too big, you may be clumsy. If  your hard hat falls off every time you look up, you may need to use one hand to hold it on. If boots are too large, you may be prone to tripping or falling. Ill-fitting gear leads to both reduced safety and productivity.

But even when PPE gear is marketed for women, it does not mean that it has been tested on women. In some cases, fall protection harnesses have been adapted to fit women’s bodies more comfortably, but they have never actually been biomechanically tested on women. In deadly situations, there is no guarantee they will actually work.

Women workers, already highly visible in a male dominated industry, don’t want special attention or  treatment – they just want to get the job done like their male co-workers. Too often this means putting up with ill-fitting unisex gear their bosses bought in bulk on Amazon.

The right talent ‘fit’ for the job should not be limited by the lack of suitable equipment to adequately enable and protect different body types.

This entry was posted in astronauts, construction industry, gender, gender bias, male dominated industries, NASA, personal protective equipment, space suits, space travel, women astronauts, Women at work, women workers, Women's Economic Empowerment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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