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May 25, 2023

Presenting the IEC/ISO Guidance Document for Gender-Responsive Standards

On May 24, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) hosted an informative webinar on gender-responsive standards (GRS) and its 2022 GRS guidance document, published in collaboration with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Rachel Miller, project manager for Capacity Building at ISO, hosted the discussion; speakers included ISO Programme Manager Nathan Taylor and UL Standards & Engagement (ULSE) Vice President of International Standards Sonya Bird, who is one of the founding members of the IEC/ISO joint strategic advisory group that authored the guidance document.

During the presentation, Bird and Taylor explained how the GRS document provides standards developers and technical committee (TC) and working group participants with important considerations and questions to aid their development of gender-responsive standards. Bird provided background information on the need for gender-responsive standards, explaining that a standard may not protect women as well as men if the gender differences of end users are not taken into consideration during the standard’s development.

Sonya Bird
Sonya Bird

“Standards are everywhere and are essential to ensuring the safety of the products, processes, and environments that we use every day. However… standards can often be designed for men due to biases to view men as representative of society as a whole. We recognize that this was not an intentional decision, but rather something that simply wasn’t considered.”

Bird shared examples of gender-responsive standards that do consider the physical needs of both men and women to help ensure that they provide equal benefit to all users. She reviewed ISO 15027-3 Immersion Suits – Test Methods, which specifies the test methods for constant wear suits, including helicopter transit suits and abandonment suits. When this standard was adopted for use in the U.S. and Canada, Bird noted, a national difference was included to increase the number of human test subjects and for the subjects to include an equal number of men and women. Bird also presented UL 3741, the Standard for Safety for Photovoltaic (PV) Hazard Control, which provides requirements for the evaluation of rapid-shutdown PV arrays designed to keep firefighters out of hazardous current paths when responding to emergency situations in homes and buildings with PV systems. As research was collected for this standard, Bird said, researchers noted that physical characteristics such as body weight and skin sensitivity could have a direct effect on certain threshold limits for electricity, and women tended to have lower threshold limits than most men. As a result, the standard uses DC body resistance data as modified for females, which is roughly two-thirds the limits for males.

“These information sessions widen the knowledge about GRS in the IEC community. We always planned to explain the guidance document and how TCs can use it, and these sessions provide us with an opportunity to do so,” Bird said.



In 2022, UL Standards & Engagement signed the Declaration for Gender-Responsive Standards and Standards Development from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), reinforcing its commitment to creating gender-responsive standards and achieving greater gender balance, representation, and inclusion in its standards development process.

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