The IEEE Dignity, Inclusion, Identity, Trust, and Agency Program Aims to Advance Technology for All
Dr. Reihana Mohideen, an expert on how to factor social considerations into engineering systems and models in the power and energy sector, understands the challenges women face to participate in technical fields—she has, of course, experienced many of them herself over the course of her career.
Now, in her role leading the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) workstream within the Dignity, Inclusion, Identity, Trust, and Agency (DIITA) Program, Reihana leverages her firsthand knowledge of the obstacles faced by women in technology to increase the participation of women in standards development and related activities.
Reihana and her colleagues contributing to the GESI workstream draw from their lived experiences to ensure that the gender implications of technical developments and deployments be considered, which is a key principle of DIITA and the IEEE Society for Social Implications of Technology (SSIT), a collaborating Society.
Standardization is key to addressing the socio-technical divide
Reihana says standards development is a natural outgrowth of her work with IEEE, which looked at issues of energy, electrical power, and gender. “I saw that my understanding of policy, regulation, and gender equity in industry could be applied to the process of standards development,” she says.
“For example, many women in developing countries spend several hours a day collecting water from the nearest water source, or pounding grain,” she said. “Rather than designing power systems that are really only able to provide light, if we could implement last-mile systems that will deliver a threshold level of electrical power, then water could be pumped much closer to the women’s homes, or electrical grinders could be powered to dramatically reduce the time women have to spend working with grain, freeing them to spend their time in other ways, such as earning an income to improve their lives, education, and training activities or simply having more leisure time,” she said.
“This is all very much practical, on-the-ground work that requires engagement with government ministries, utilities, consumers, engineers, communities, and others, and it becomes clear when you do that you have to learn how to effectively negotiate this social-technical divide. The policy planning process is really key to this, and standards development is important to implementing policy choices.”
Gender equality accelerates technology advancement
An IEEE SA Industry Connections activity, DIITA focuses on the fact that because many areas of human activity today are technology-based, people excluded from technology are thereby excluded from key domains of human endeavor. This exclusion may arise from gender discrimination, affordability, availability, safety concerns, or other reasons, and DIITA considers when and how these causes of exclusion can be addressed through standardization and related solutions.
The GESI workstream seeks to propose technical standards that integrate gender equality into policy, planning, and system design, based on the following key elements:
- Women and girls are drawn into the processes by which technology is designed, developed, and used.
- People regardless of gender can afford and access appropriate technologies.
- A supportive environment for women in technology is created through standards-based solutions and policies.
Launched in June 2021, the GESI workstream has begun to put together a framework to understand gender equality in a technological context, drawing on gender equity principles from the United Nations. Its output will include a white paper offering guidance on how to incorporate gender equity into technical standards.
The GESI workstream offers a wealth of cross-disciplinary and international experience. Any interested individuals from around the world are welcome to participate.