It's Time for the iGIANT

Saralyn MarkThe searing pain came seconds after I heard the popping noise in my left foot. At that moment, I knew that I had seriously injured my foot by just taking a step in my low-heeled sandals. Now, the injury was not due to the shoes I wore to work that day, rather the damage began a few days prior. I had purchased new hiking boots that were supposedly designed to fit a woman's foot. Interestingly, other than the more vivid colors, the boot looked just like what was available for men. My feet felt a bit sore after hiking/climbing for a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains. I expected a few blisters from new boots but not the foot stress that I felt. All it took was walking a short distance in my usual street shoes to tear the ligaments in my midfoot.

We want to believe that what is branded for use by women is designed to improve function and safety, and not just appearance. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The irony to this story is that I had just launched the iGIANT program with roundtables at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health in July 2015 — a week before my hiking trip. iGIANT stands for the "impact of Gender/Sex on Innovation and Novel Technologies." The goal of the iGIANT program is to accelerate the translation of research into gender/sex-specific products, programs, policies, or protocols. For example, in health care, we know that men and women can have different disease symptoms and responses to therapy. Understanding these differences can improve disease prevention and health promotion strategies.

It's not just in health that these differences play a role. Research has shown that men and women interact with their environments differently. This is reflected in safety profile reports that show that women are 47% more likely to suffer more severe injuries in car accidents compared with men. This may be due to differences in neck strength, seating, and head restraint positions.

I want the iGIANT program to transform the way we look at and use our environment. Take a moment to consider whether the technology and innovation that are a part of your life are designed to truly meet your needs as a woman or a man. Are your athletic gear and shoes, your computer or phone, your car seat, and most importantly, your medications and medical devices really designed for the way your body moves, metabolizes, or interacts? When you buy something, ask your sales rep if it was designed to meet the needs of a woman. They may not know, but at least the conversation has begun. Through our voices and credit cards, women are powerful consumers.

When we start looking critically at how being a man or woman impacts our access to and use of innovation and new technologies, the world will never look the same again. Once we start to see the world through this lens, we can develop gender/sex-specific products that will improve our work performance and the safety and quality of our lives. It's time to begin this iGIANT journey together.

The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.