On the occasion of International Women’s Day, ISO would like to highlight some of the outstanding leadership and work of women standardizers. Below are the stories of 5 remarkable women with very different roles and experiences in a domain that has traditionally been male dominated.

A sincere thanks to all the women of ISO!

Sophie Clivio (France)Breaking taboos - Sophie Clivio (France)
ISO Technical Group Manager

What are the challenges of being a woman in standardization?

Historically, standardization has been a traditionally male-dominated environment. Many product standards were, and still are developed by technical experts and engineers involved in fields which are predominantly represented by men.

And here I would like to pay tribute to the person (a man!) who had the courage to recruit me (a long time ago now), breaking taboos by inviting a woman in a man’s world. It was my first experience as a Technical Programme Manager (TPM), and I was going to work with the committees on photography, automation systems and integration and other technical areas, and take over a position previously held by a man. To be honest, I found it difficult at first to establish my credibility in standardization, and I had to resort to a few artefacts.

But I tackled this challenge to the best of my abilities. Having a solid background is essential. A TPM needs to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of procedures (our role is to be experts in procedures and processes). By working hard to promote and facilitate the work of my committees, I established my credibility and gained their interest. It is a win-win situation.

How does participation in standardization empower you as a woman?

I am not sure that I feel empowered! Yet the chance of having participated in many different areas through standardization has broadened my mind and awoken the urge to embark on new adventures.

I am often told that I talk too much of my experience with ISO 26000 on social responsibility (SR), and it is true! Yet, the development of this standard undeniably had an impact on me. I learnt a lot from a professional standpoint of course, but also (and more importantly), from a personal one. It was an extraordinary life experience.

Gender balance (or at least a 40-60% ratio) was ensured in every respect (stakeholder representations, regional representation), and this was an unprecedented situation in ISO, especially given the monumental number of participants, some 660 experts and observers.

And this is an interesting fact: did you know that difficult disputes and issues that came up during the development of the standard where addressed within special “task forces”. And that some of them, and highly respected ones, were successfully "led" by women?

I would not be so bold as to say that this standard owes its success to women (this would sound as staunch feminism), but without women, the standard would not be what it is today!

How can we attract more women to standardization?

Perhaps this could be done through the promotion of ISO’s work and of standards development. Many people in the public are not necessarily aware of everything we do, and that many officer positions are open to women, including at the ISO Central Secretariat in Geneva.

My advice to women: come and join us! This work is rewarding, different from what you know and, above all, fascinating.

Mojdeh Rowshan Tabari (Iran)One woman, 6 ISO roles – Mojdeh Tabari (Iran)
Secretary of 3 ISO TC and Convenor of 3 ISO WGs. Working at the ISO member for Iran, ISIRI.

At first, getting involved in standardization was not simple. There were a lot of unforeseen obstacles, which required an immense amount of work and effort. But it was worth it, for the empowerment and experience gained from managing standardization at an international level, but also for the opportunity to make a difference in areas of importance to women.

I am referring to the establishment of the ISO technical committee on cosmetics. These products have traditionally been a concern of women, though many are also used by men and children. Cosmetics are applied directly on the skin can have many adverse reactions if they do not meet the highest standards. The ISO standards developed by this committee are used by industry to ensure the safety and quality of these products.

I can proudly say as a woman that I proposed and contributed to setting up this technical committee, successfully managing its Secretariat, leading standardization projects and promoting the reactivation of two other ISO committees which were on stand-by for more than 10 years.

I have learnt a lot from these experiences, and feel quite comfortable in standardization and management at an international level.

I believe that the successful involvement of women in the management of ISO secretariats and projects builds-up women’s self-confidence. I hope that my experience will encourage other women who also wish to make a powerful contribution to increase their participation in standardization.

I am proud that in Iran, several women are participating in the development of national and international standards through the Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran (ISIRI).

My message to women: Work hard, do not be afraid of obstacles and problems. Be confident and trust in your capabilities. Get involved!

Ziva Patir (Israel)Reaching the top – Ziva Patir (Israel)
VP Standardization at Better Place. Former ISO VP and former Director-General of the ISO member for Israel, SII.

What are the challenges and advantages of being a woman in standardization?

When I started my career in standardization, the number of women was not only limited, but almost non-existent in high level positions. Yet the right ingredients were there for women to excel since hierarchies were increasingly flatter and the system was more about building consensus than about giving orders.

Of course, generalizations usually over simplify the situation, but there are some characteristics that are globally recognized in women. These include a knack for collaboration, understanding cultural gaps and creating a good atmosphere, together with patience, precision, dedication and long-term commitment. All of these make women great standardizers!

For instance, in many occasions all it takes to move forward on a difficult issue is to ask the right questions.  Often most men are just too embarrassed to ask. It is an opportunity for women to create an innovative approach to “business as usual”.

On International Women’s Day, we should recognize the remarkable contribution that women standardizers make to building a sustainable future. A landmark example being the massive impact of so many young women on the development of ISO 26000 on social responsibility, one of ISO’s most influential projects to date.  

How does participation in standardization empower you as a woman?

It empowers you as a leader in your community. Your womanlike behavior isan advantage!

How can we attract more women to standardization?

There are many women already involved, but it is time to let them manage standardization, that is, let them into the high level roles. In some European countries, you hardly see women in standardization work, while in others the work may be only done by women!

What advice would you give to women considering getting involved in standardization?

Jump into the water! Enjoy and explore the variety of cultures celebrating humanity.

Norma McCormick (Canada)Fighting for consumers – Norma McCormick (Canada)
Chair, ISO Committee on consumer policy (ISO/COPOLCO).

I became involved in standardization because standards are very important in my field of occupational health and safety. It was a logical path for me to broaden my interests to consumer health and safety, and this led me to ISO.

I have been Chair, Convenor and member of several national and international standardization committees. I am now the Chair of the ISO Committee on consumer policy (ISO/COPOLCO). And I am very proud of the long history of women's contributions to issues of consumer concern and of their achievements in standardization.

ISO/COPOLCO, which provides ISO with advice from a consumer viewpoint on current and potential standardization and conformity assessment work, has a strong record of female participation and leadership. In its almost 35-year history, there have been 9 chairs, 5 of which were women!

Even in 1978, at our initial plenary, a large percentage of the 40 delegates present from 17 countries, were women. And today, many women are participating in national and international technical work.

As a member of 3 Canadian and 3 ISO technical committees, I am pleased to observe that increasingly women are coming forward to contribute their expertise.

Perla Puterman (Venezuela)ISO 26000, a turning point – Perla Puterman (Venezuela)
Expert at ISO Working Group on Social Responsibility, 36 years in standardization.

Today, women’s involvement in standardization is more and more relevant. For example, in several Latin American countries, and perhaps in other countries, the work of national standards bodies in both national and international standards development is conducted predominantly by women. Some of the most remarkable cases are that of Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela.

In ISO, women have also had prominent roles. Ziva Patir, for instance, was President of the ISO Technical Management Board, as well as the initiator and promoter of what became ISO 26000 on social responsibility.

In order to reinforce the participation of women in the development of ISO 26000, ISO promoted as far possible the requirement of an even number of men and women in the working group, as well as in all subgroups and any other groups (e.g. the Chair Advisory Group and the Integrated Drafting Team).

The participation of women experts and observers increased from 33% in September 2005 to 42% in May 2009 which is a remarkable target.

Even though we were still not the majority, our voice was strongly taken into account, particularly in issues related to human rights and labor practices, for example, in the:

  • Definition of gender equality: “equitable treatment for women and men”
  • Section on “Gender equality and social responsibility”
  • Human Rights issue: Discrimination and vulnerable groups
  • Labour practices issue: Employment and employment relationships, and human development and training in the workplace
  • Consumer issues: Promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women

We hope that ISO 26000 has set a benchmark to encourage participation of women in all areas of standardization!