Gender-Responsive Standards Development Addressed by Joint Strategic Advisory Group

Standards and Engagement, Fire Safety
  • News

March 8, 2022


Female engineer in protective gear flips a switch on a panel in an industrial facility

The International Electrotechnical Commission and International Organization for Standardization group focuses on meeting the specific needs of women in standards development 

In 2019, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created a Joint Strategic Advisory Group (JSAG) to focus on the development of gender-responsive standards. Through its efforts, the IEC/ISO JSAG on Gender Responsive Standards is working to develop tools for ISO and IEC committees that will help ensure that the specific needs of women are taken into consideration during standards development.

These needs include the physical and societal differences that exist between men and women, including body fat percentage, peripheral vision, sensitivity to sound, pain tolerance, hormones, and various strength characteristics such as upper body strength and grip strength.

Sonya Bird

"Simply put, one size does not fit all" – Sonya Bird, director of international standards, Underwriters Laboratories

Sonya Bird, director of international standards at Underwriters Laboratories, serves as a member of the IEC/ISO JSAG and leads the deliverable work group responsible for the development of guidance for technical committees. She notes that while some standards already consider the needs of women, the work of the JSAG is necessary due to gender differences that have been overlooked.

“In our work on the first deliverable, we realized that many standards already do consider gender, including physical considerations, as well as differences due to social or cultural norms,” Sonya says. “We also recognize that the individuals participating in the work of the IEC and ISO are experts in their respective fields, but are not necessarily experts on gender differences. As this working group develops the checklist, we want to provide guidance to help all experts understand the value of gender-responsive standards, while also encouraging them to think about gender implications for new and revised standards.”

The checklist the JSAG is developing will be used to help committees understand and assess how a new work item or revision project for an IEC or ISO standard may be affected by gender. Other outcomes anticipated by the work of the JSAG include recommendations for the incorporation of gender diversity and inclusivity in the work and language, guidance on the use of gender-responsive data in standards development, and a comprehensive communications plan on how to achieve gender-responsive standards. The JSAG is also working on a baseline for measuring progress, which the IEC and ISO can use to track the effectiveness of the recommendations.

Our commitment to developing gender-responsive standards

At Underwriters Laboratories, our commitment to developing gender-responsive standards can be seen in the recent publication of ANSI/CAN/UL 3741, the Standard for Safety for Photovoltaic (PV) Hazard Control. Because physical characteristics such as body weight and skin sensitivity could have a direct effect on certain threshold limits for electricity, both male and female firefighters were considered in the calculations of the potential current that could pass through a firefighter’s body during various firefighting interaction scenarios with a damaged PV array.