Did you even notice how many female faces you see when you search for the word “CEO” in Google Images search? Try and the first woman CEO to appear is not the PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi or ICICI Bank’s Chanda Kochchar but an animated figure named “CEO Barbie”! Also Read - Google Images' 'exact size' and 'larger than' search filters quietly removed
The gender bias is clearly visible because women are significantly underrepresented in Google Image search results across all professions, reveal researchers from the University of Washington (UW). Also Read - Google Image Search currently under test seems Pinterest-inspired, includes captions and badges
“A number of the top images depicting women as construction workers are models in skimpy little costumes with a hard hat posing suggestively on a jackhammer. You get things that nobody would take as professional,” said study co-author Cynthia Matuszek, assistant professor from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Also Read - Google removes option to view images on Google Image to respect copyrights
The study compared the percentages of women who appeared in the top 100 Google Images search results for different occupations – from bartender to chemist to welder.
In some jobs, the discrepancies were pronounced.
In a Google Images search for CEO, 11 percent of the people depicted were women, compared with 27 percent of the US CEOs who are women.
Twenty-five percent of people depicted in image search results for authors are women, compared with 56 percent of the actual US authors.
By contrast, 64 percent of the telemarketers depicted in image search results were female, while that occupation is evenly split between men and women.
Yet for nearly half of the professions – such as nurse practitioner (86 percent women), engineer (13 percent women), and pharmacist (54 percent women) — those two numbers were within five percentage points.
“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. And, in fact, it does — at least in the short term,” explained co-author Sean Munson, assistant professor of human-centreed design and engineering at UW.
When the researchers asked people to rate the professionalism of the people depicted in top image search results, other inequities emerged.
Images that showed a person matching the majority gender for a profession tended to be ranked by study participants as more competent, professional and trustworthy.
By contrast, the image search results depicting a person whose gender did not match an occupational stereotype were more likely to be rated as provocative or inappropriate.
“Our hope is that this will become a question that designers of search engines might actually ask,” Munson added.
Getty Images last year created a new online image catalog of women in the workplace – one that countered visual stereotypes on the internet of moms as frazzled caregivers rather than powerful CEOs.
The paper is scheduled to be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s “CHI 2015” conference in South Korea this month.