Governments create for everyone. That can’t be successfully accomplished without gender equity at every step.
By Amanda Daflos, Executive Director, Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation
Imagine a stretch of city sidewalk that doesn’t have street lighting.
On any given night, a man walking down that street may not even notice he’s walking in the dark.
But a woman walking down that same street has a completely different experience. To her, a dark street makes her feel unsafe. If she braves walking through, she feels vulnerable doing so. Her alternative is avoiding the area altogether – adding time and distance to her route.
Other women feel the same way. Because the poorly lit stretch of city street offers only two undesirable options – feel unsafe or avoid it entirely – the city’s women avoid it. As a result, the area can’t benefit from the women who might otherwise walk through it, and the city’s women are pushed further away from being served in ways that meet their needs.
When I was the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Los Angeles, we had these considerations in mind when we added more street lighting to more areas.
We also saw the bigger picture: we understood that any issue, challenge or opportunity facing cities can be addressed successfully only when gender equity is fully valued.
Gender equity is when any organization – a government, business or institution – focuses deeply on having all gender perspectives equally present in the design, decision-making and delivery of a good or service. Because different genders have different needs, gender equity seeks to understand those differences and tailor solutions to provide equal access to opportunities and services.
Approximately half of all people are women, and common sense alone means women should make up half of the voices that go into creating our public services and spaces.
Street lighting is one example of how men and women experience all products and spaces differently, but the same is true in everything from public transportation to public parks to shopping for healthcare. As government innovators and city leaders, if we want people to use and value what we make, then what we make must be considerate of their true behaviors and experiences. Creating relatable outcomes for all people can only be achieved by having as many of those voices as possible informing the creation process, and gender equity is critical to involving those important voices.
Cities and organizations can be more intentional and strategic about making gender equity a priority. They can start by knowing the data of their own makeup and personnel, which will allow them to deliberately bring more female voices into discussions where design and decision-making are happening.
Here at the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins University, we have a team that proudly manifests this value, and we champion the women public servants who drive impact from prominent leadership positions at the Center. Diversity of perspectives – of which gender equity is a key component – is a true priority at the heart of our work. Our intentional commitment to diversity is present in the makeup of our team, the equitable and inclusive design of our programs, and in the actions we take every day to help cities and their people.
The topic of gender equity is not limited to expanding opportunities for female-identifying persons; we must also recognize the importance of including people of all gender identities. How are we broadening representation of gender perspectives so that it’s not just binary – men and women – but more expansive and inclusive?
Governments are the only entity on the planet that makes products and services for everyone. Not everyone can buy sneakers or electronics or experiences – but the mission of democratic governments is to serve all people.
By valuing gender equity and being informed by the greatest number of perspectives possible, governments give themselves the best chance of creating systems and services that benefit everyone.