Diversity in Constructions: Who are our cities built for?


In this blog post, I will touch upon a not often thought of topic. How do architecture and physical details add to the lack of diversity in our workplaces?

I have been thinking about this for a while because for a long time, ever since I have been in cold countries, for example, Canada, UK, US and have been in a shared office, I have had to have an extra of 4-5 layers always on the back of my chair handy in case I needed them. And I inevitably needed them. Sometimes, the overall office temperature was just too low, otherwise my office mates (inevitably males) would get really hot and open the window. Now, this very innocent sounding details can be very very mischievous. Here is how. Every day, I would ask if I could close the window, once and then twice and would be too embarrassed the third time since it is hard to repeat the same things over and over again, and of course, their problem of feeling too hot was also legitimate. However, the age old adage of compromise for females usually clicked into my brain and even though I would try to push hard to stay there and work, the cold temperature would not allow me to after a bare half an hour and I would make some or the other excuse and go home for the day.

I was also very aware that this made me feel/seem like I was working less than others, so I worked weekends and week nights leading to a high level of mental stress. Not being in the office at strategic times also made me feel a little disconnected from many people who would eventually come to matter by the time I needed recommendations. This in a larger picture eventually leads to gender gaps. The gender data gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male.

So, while I was thinking this, I never actively tried to look for data to see what that problem was and how to address this problem which was clearly structural. And a few days ago, I stumbled upon this article which presented the following data:

“The formula to determine standard office temperature was developed in the 1960s around the metabolic resting rate of the average man. But a recent Dutch study found that the metabolic rate of young adult females performing light office work is significantly lower than the standard values for men doing the same activity. In fact, the formula may overestimate female metabolic rate by as much as 35%, meaning that current offices are on average five degrees too cold for women. This leads to the odd sight of female office workers wrapped in blankets in the summer, while their male colleagues wander around in shorts.

Not only is this situation inequitable, it is bad business sense: an uncomfortable workforce is an unproductive workforce. But workplace data gaps lead to a lot worse than simple discomfort and inefficiency. Over the past 100 years, workplaces have, on the whole, got considerably safer. In the early 1900s, about 4,400 people in the UK died at work every year. By 2016, that figure had fallen to 135. But while serious injuries at work have been decreasing for men, there is evidence that they have been increasing among women. The gender data gap is again implicated, with occupational research traditionally focused on male-dominated industries.”

The link to the whole article is here for those of you curious cats who want to know more.

But here you go! Now, this is an example towards a very very important realisation. I was once told by a physicist, “if you are feeling confused about something, it’s because there is something new to learn there. It’s not invalid. ” And it applies to life! If you are uncomfortable, then it is probably because of a reason, and often it might be structural and wide spread. So talking and researching about these things might actually lead us to build more diverse, inclusive and efficient workplaces rather than blindly following data. As always, the question to ask is what are the possible causations towards a correlation?

And a more immediate question. What are the ways we can go towards unbuilding our gendered city and work spaces and work towards more contemporary inclusive architecture?

Inclusive STEM, it’s time to stop being Hypocrites.


Last weekend, I was at Amsterdam representing the University of Sussex as a part of our equality and diversity team. My team comprised of Claire, who is the Vice-Chancellor of Equality and Diversity, Nicola, Katy and finally Daniel .. whose project “Grapheel/IRIS” we were showcasing. The team got ready to deploy after a lot of brain storming and a slide show showcasing all the different initiatives that have been applied and have been really successful at Sussex. But Grapheel/IRIS, was a completely different project to be showcased in the conference than any others, because IRIS is a community app designed by Daniel, who is a blind physicist, for other vision impaired researchers like himself to have the resources to understand scientific figures better. How amazing is that?

Claire started her talk talking about how Sussex has been going about building a more inclusive Sussex, not just for people who have everything “normalised” going for them in the world, but for everyone who our ancestors should have taken into account before designing the structures of this world and the essential tangible and intangible structures in the work place. This includes women, LGBTQA people, people with a wide range of disabilities, carers, people who are trying to remake themselves such as ex-prisoners with a record, less-economically able people, racial minorities and so on. Claire focussed on how we can use our research expertise and our brain power to take these steps to completion and ensure their execution and at the right moment, Daniel jumped in to talk about how he lost his vision some five years back and how he did not want to let the various frustrations push him away from his passion to do research and he combined “Be my eyes” and “Citizen Science” to create a love child called “IRIS”. You can check it out here and sign up to become one of their esteemed ambassadors here.

For me, the conference was really really amazing. And in this blog post I would like to summarise the various things I took away from this conference and what I in turn, contributed to it. The conference was amazing in the way it brought together university policy makers, university professors and researchers working on the best way forward for an inclusive atmosphere.

  1. Inclusivity in AI training. We were shown the video clip of the AI humanoid Sophia
    as well as extensively discussed how easy it has been to past and present AI’s to learn from human bias on the internet and perpetuate this much faster. AI safety and AI governance has become a big issue, however I propose that we call it AI education to start from the bottom up approach of educating AI’s on diversity and inclusivity principles, starting them off with the right questions and data sets rather than go back and correct mistakes we see in retrospect.
  2. Redefining the definition of excellence in academia. Excellence is a spectrum which should potentially include normalisation to include challenges specific demographics face. This picture says a thousand words.
  3. Inclusivity in architecture (toilets, temperature) geared towards all genders, orientations and disabilities.
  4. Using our own scientific research to further an inclusive STEM.
  5. How to take into account invisible “disabilities” such as sexual abuse, or family responsibilities, emotional abuse, even pain during menstruation and fertility treatments which certain demographics undergo as opposed to other and how a lot of this and more certainly contributes to a power distance ( along with how it depends on the culture).
  6. How to make sure we go beyond unconscious bias but also consider and address conscious bias.
  7. How to overcome bias against ex-convicts in academia and the responsibility the media has.

There was a lot of debate and discussion on how to make sure we, as human beings can fluidly put ourselves in some one else’s experiences rather than denying them as something “foreign” and “lies” since we did not experience them firsthand. Related to this is the issue of addressing backlash against liberal movements and understanding since the losing of privilege does not come easy to people.

Would an AI government be able to fix these things? Apparently not, since the present day AI technology is spearheaded by straight white men who form only the creamy layer of a certain demographic. And the question remains, how do we go ahead?

If you wanna talk to me, I would very strongly argue that we need to go beyond and above, calling all of these “women”/minority issues since this is just excuse culture. As Claire says, these are things which should have been normal in humanity since time immemorial. We have screwed up and are forced to do error correction and so, let us all call these measures as “Ecosystem management” and make it everyone’s responsibility since we all share the same ecosystem.

Here are some slides from things that sussex has done in strive towards an inclusive STEM policies which I put together and you can find here.