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Photo via Wikipedia/Marissa Mayer
Photo via Wikipedia/Marissa Mayer

Who are you more likely to see when you google “CEO?”

According to this University of Washington study, which examined how accurately genders are represented in Google image search results, CEO is one occupation where “women were significantly underrepresented.” While women account for 27 percent of CEOs in the United States, only 11 percent of the top 100 Google image search results returned images of women.

Images via University of Washington/Google searches conducted in April 2015.
Images via University of Washington/Google searches conducted in April 2015.

And that, according to researchers, can impact searchers’ views on gender and work. Overall, they found that “across all the professions, women were slightly underrepresented on average.”

“You need to know whether gender stereotyping in search image results actually shifts people’s perceptions before you can say whether this is a problem,” study co-author Sean Munson, UW assistant professor of human centered design and engineering, said in a statement. “And, in fact, it does — at least in the short term.”

The UW researchers, along with researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, discovered that “manipulated image search results could determine, on average, 7 percent of a study participant’s subsequent opinion about how many men and women work in a particular field.”

Why is this a problem? Well, in addition to promoting gender stereotypes in the workplace — women go into nursing, men become engineers — the study found that if the person in the image matched the perceived gender for that job, they were ranked to be “more competent, professional and trustworthy” by the viewer. Conversely, genders not typically associated with those jobs — the woman construction worker — were more likely to be ranked as “provocative or inappropriate.”

Photo via University of Washington/Google searches conducted in April 2015.
Photo via University of Washington/Google searches conducted in April 2015.

To gather the data, the researchers looked at the percentages of women in different careers represented in Google image search results from July 2013. They then compared the percentage of women who appeared in the top 100 images returned to the actual 2012 U.S. Bureau of Labor numbers of women in that field.

“Our hope is that this will become a question that designers of search engines might actually ask,” Munson said in the release. “They may come to a range of conclusions, but I would feel better if people are at least aware of the consequences and are making conscious choices around them.”

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