Women for FHIR
8 Min Read

The Importance of the Female Perspective in the Interoperability Community

Michaela Ziegler

For the past year, the topic of Women for FHIR has occupied my thoughts to varying degrees. This initiative kicked off at FHIR DevDays 2023 with a panel discussion followed by stimulating conversations with other women — and, of course, men.

Why Women for FHIR?

I am often asked by male colleagues in the FHIR/standardization/IT community what the motivations and goals of this initiative are. To be honest, this question surprises me a little every time.

Even though I personally live and work in an environment that is characterized by fairness, and I experience little discrimination, I can point out numerous areas where many women around the world still face major challenges: Pay inequality, underrepresentation in clinical trials, and limited professional development and career opportunities as a result of taking on a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work are just some of them.

Even if the situation has improved in some areas and I can see greater awareness and increased efforts for equality, the injustice remains clear. Women make up almost half of the world’s population, after all, which makes these injustices particularly serious and highlights the need to actively work towards equality. That I get asked the question about Women for FHIR at all tells me how absolutely necessary the initiative is.

That said, (and I do want to emphasize this) I appreciate such questions because they demonstrate an interest in the topic. One of the initial goals of the initiative is fostering awareness in everyday life and within one’s own environment — and this kind of question gives me a chance to do just that.

Personal Perspectives and Experiences

When I was preparing for that panel discussion at DevDays 2023, I was lucky enough to take part in some very honest and very enlightening conversations. I heard life stories from remarkable individuals who faced a tough road just because of their gender. Special thanks are due to everyone who delved into these often emotional topics with me.

I also became aware of numerous examples in which I personally encountered obstacles as a woman, despite my relatively privileged position. As a structural draftswoman, I was simply not taken seriously on construction site visits. As a physiotherapist, I was asked whether I had enough strength for the job. In one case, I didn’t get an apprenticeship simply because the company had no women’s toilet on the premises. And at a job interview I was told that I wouldn’t get the position if I was planning to get pregnant any time soon.

With this back catalog of experiences, I was afraid that becoming part of the FHIR community would be more difficult simply because I am a woman. My first presentation at the DevDays was particularly anxious, as my background is in physiotherapy not IT and I had only recently become part of the FHIR community. Like many women, I’d heard plenty of comments about ‘women and technology…’ that I had taken on board without even realizing, which didn’t necessarily boost my confidence.

In the end, my concerns were unfounded, and I was warmly welcomed by the community. But all these experiences underscore how prevalent this issue truly is and highlights another goal of the initiative: promoting the openness of the community, both towards individuals and to topics related to gender equality and the challenges women face in the technology industry.

What FHIR Should Know About Women’s Perspectives

It is crucial for all of us — and I include women here, as well as men — to be aware of the challenges women face in a predominantly male-dominated environment. Understanding women’s perspectives and committing to equality and inclusion are essential for building a supportive and just world.

Involving women in standardization lessens the chance that gender-specific issues that solely affect women will be neglected. One very obvious example is the representation of the menstrual cycle in the FHIR standard. In fact, the absence of this specification was one of the reasons for introducing the Women for FHIR initiative in the first place.

But also consider the way we think about the symptoms of a heart attack. For decades the symptoms and warning signs we have been told to look out for are all about the male experience. Women’s symptoms can be very different.

Allowing for these differences in the standards, means there’s hope that women will be better represented in clinical use cases in the future. That’s great news for women as individuals. But it should also help improve health outcomes for all over time because it allows for improved access to relevant data, which hopefully promotes greater inclusion of these issues in medical research.

All of which gets us to another goal of the initiative: FHIR not only defines technical standards but also ensures that the diverse aspects of women’s health are captured and integrated.

Giving More Voice to the Female Perspective: Opportunities and Challenges

Incorporating women’s voices and experiences into a community that isn’t used to hearing them can bring both opportunities and challenges.

On one hand, it enables a more diverse and inclusive perspective that can lead to more creative solutions and innovations as women can bring unique insights and experiences that might otherwise be overlooked. This fosters the development of technologies and standards that take into account all of our needs.

On the other hand, integrating women into a predominantly male community can also bring biases, stereotypes, or resistance to new perspectives to the fore — among other challenges.

To promote the involvement of women, we need targeted actions for active support and encouragement. This includes creating safe and inclusive spaces for exchanging ideas, promoting women in leadership positions and in project teams, and implementing mentoring and support programs. Raising awareness of gender-specific inequalities and discrimination is as important as involving women in decision-making processes and events.

What Can We and the FHIR Community Do?

It is vital that we promote diversity and inclusion in our community to ensure that all voices are heard and that technologies and standards consider the needs and experiences of everyone equally. Some of my favorite ideas include:

  • Organizing workshops and panels on gender diversity and inclusion topics.
  • Promoting women as speakers and moderators.
  • Establishing networking events for women in the FHIR community.
  • Engaging in active dialogues in the Women for FHIR stream on Zulip.
  • Most of all, let’s continue to openly discuss it!

Women’s participation in the FHIR community is essential for its long-term success and relevance. By including women and their specific needs, we can ensure that our technology leaves no one behind and creates a fairer future for everyone.

Let’s work together to give women a stronger voice in the interoperability community and drive sustainable change.

Reposted with permission. You can find Michaela Ziegler’s original blog here.