There are very few women CEOs in Google image search, except Barbie of course

13 Apr 2015

A study in the US has found that Google image searches tend to under-represent women, which is highlighted when you look up ‘CEO’ – Barbie is the first woman found, way, way down the list of search results.

In a report that looks at image search results for a number of reasons – including whether gender ratios in image searches alter users’ perception of professionals in those roles – on average women are underrepresented across all professions.

A cursory ‘CEO’ search lead to the most exaggerated result, where we had to scroll and scroll and scroll before you got near any actual women. Today Barbie was in the top 80 searches (just), with Debbie Cavalier of Berklee Online appearing a good while later.

Researchers in the US suggest that 7pc of people’s opinions about how men and women work in a particular field are altered after viewing the image search results.

“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,” said Sean Munson, University of Washington assistant professor and co-author of the report, which looked at data from a couple of years ago.

However there are some peaks and troughs throughout. The example of CEO, discussed earlier, actually had 11 women in the top 100 back then (at the time 27pc of US CEOs were women).

When looking from, those figures plummet.

A quarter of ‘authors’ in image searches are women, compared to over half in real life, while almost two-thirds of ‘telemarketers’ are women, vastly higher than the actual percentage in real life.

What’s interesting is Google’s image search, or anything automated by Google really, is not impacted by one human’s choice. It’s all based on carefully constructed analytics that often reflect popularity.

Now what that means about society is far more convoluted…

Barbie dolls image, via Shutterstock

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Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic