A recent New York Times opinion piece decried the application of quantitative metrics to evaluate progress toward gender equity (“Stop counting women,” Feb. 23, 2019). The author’s assertion, that such frameworks are “reductive and demeaning” and impede a “gradual organic process of moving toward a society where men and women can both pursue the work they want,” does not add up. If fairness and respect for diversity are values we hold as a society, how will we know when these aspirations have been achieved without taking stock of where we are now and setting goals for the future, against which progress can be measured? We would not ignore measurement tools available in other domains. If we have tests to measure blood glucose, for instance, we wouldn’t simply ask a diabetic person how she feels today. If we have stopwatches, we wouldn’t attend a track meet and say, “yes, it seems like this runner was faster than the one we saw yesterday.”
Granted, human relationships and institutions are complicated and subject to a variety of circumstances that contribute to their success or failure. Diversity itself is a multi-faceted concept that includes not just the question of gender (itself more nuanced than statistics might suggest) but also educational attainment, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, political allegiances, race and ethnicity, religious faith, and many other considerations. But recognizing the value of this varied tapestry of experience and perspective does not preclude the need to document where our organizations or social structures are falling short in one category among many. As the saying goes, we cannot change what we cannot measure.
On International Women’s Day, I offer a few metrics for consideration.
Zero: Lasting, positive impact of abstinence-only sex education programs on teens’ attitudes and sexual behavior over time, despite the U.S. government spending more than $2 billion domestically between 1982 and 2017 and $1.4 billion in foreign aid for such programs.
One: Day of leave taken by new fathers for every month taken by new mothers.
Two: Percent of venture capital dollars going to women-led startups in 2017.
Three: Number of countries whose parliament or legislative bodies include 50 percent or more female representation.
Four: Number out of 10 among female national parliamentarians who have received threats of death, rape, assault or abduction against them or their families via social media. Overall, women in the U.S. are twice as likely as men to be harassed online.
Five: Number of women, out of 12 selected and 18,000 applicants, in NASA’s 2017 cohort of astronaut candidates.
Six: Percent of U.S. commercial airline pilots who are women.
Seven: Estimated percent of companies offering on-site childcare.
Eight: Percent of female presidents leading doctoral-granting institutions.
Nine: Million people employed by women-owned businesses in 2016, an increase of 18 percent over 2007, a period when overall employment decreased by 1 percent.
Ten: Percent of women less likely to own a mobile phone than men in low- and middle-income countries, representing a gap of 184 million fewer women than men owning mobile phones.
Behind each of these data points lie stories of real women and girls affected by policies, habits, culture, and norms, some of which are more easily shifted than others. Aggregating and translating those stories into quantifiable, observable trends is essential for measuring progress and charting a path forward. Data—its collection, analysis, and visualization—is necessary, if not sufficient, for creating a more equitable future, one where every woman counts.
Post modified from story published on Medium, March 6, 2019. Author is co-founder of the Women in Technology Initiative at the University of California.