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New Google emojis tackle gender stereotypes

Posted by
7th June 2016


The technology sector is particularly affected by gender inequality. Last year, McKinsey’s study on recruiting and retaining women in technology organisations revealed that the number of young women completing engineering and technology programmes has dropped significantly over the past 30 years. The National Centre for Women & Information Technology also found that a little more than half of all US women who do enter technology fields leave their employers mid-career.

Naheed Afzal, Co-Founder of Contracts IT recognises the deficit in public perception and commented, “The world is moving on and we all have a role to play in changing unfair perceptions” These studies also show that the issue is not just recruiting and retaining women in science and technology. The problem is also how these careers are perceived.

In March 2016, Always – one of Proctor and Gamble’s biggest brands – noted:
Data from the most recent Always Confidence & Puberty Survey shows that more than half of girls surveyed (54%) feel that female emojis are stereotypical, and 75% of girls would like to see female emojis portrayed more progressively, including professional female emoji options.”

With the likes of Michelle Obama also tweeting that she would like to see the emoji of a girl studying, female emojis turned into a mainstream discussion. Earlier last week, four Google employees proposed creating a new set of emojis that ‘represents a wide range of professions for women and men with a goal of highlighting the diversity of women’s careers and empowering girls everywhere.

Funke Abimbola, General Counsel & Company Secretary, Roche UK welcomed Google’s proposal saying, “Being the largest search engine used globally means that Google’s market dominance leads to it being uniquely placed to influence perceptions and realities on a global scale.” The proposed emojis planned to tackle institutionalised stereotypes across the following sectors; Business, Healthcare, Science, Education, Technology, Industry, Farming, Food service & Music.

But is this a positive step in the right direction or too little, too late? Miranda Brawn, noted diversity champion and city barrister, said, “I think the proposal for gender equality is great, however I would like to see this applied to other forms of diversity such as race, same-sex, disability and age.” Naheed Afzal continued, “By making these available, they [Google] will impact all of our natural biases so that the image of a woman is more nuanced, in line with current day thinking, and able to impact young children who won’t balk at the idea that a woman can be a scientist or an electrician.”

Whilst this step forward is potentially raising a large public profile for these ingrained unconscious biases, it is important to not let it away from the bigger and more pressing picture of creating talent pipelines for STEM jobs for women. Roberta Liebenberg, Founder of DirectWomen and Partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black, said, “While I think it is wonderful to have emojis that depict women in STEM jobs, what we really need to work on is ensuring that women are applying and being promoted in these occupations and are having the same opportunities to succeed as their male counterparts. I hope the same creativity, energy and imagination that is being devoted to the creation of women emojis will be devoted to developing bold and innovative programs that will help create a real level playing field for women.”


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