A Fast Company article about how “Getty Images is working to change perceptions around women in tech and men in the home with photo sets that debunk outdated stereotypes” just popped up in my news feed. As a communications consultant who uses hundreds of stock images every year, I was interested in learning more.
In the article, Lindsay Morris, senior manager of creative planning at Getty Images, noted, “Imagery has the power to influence, inspire and challenge stereotypes” and that Getty has begun to “recognize the responsibility that comes with that.”
But is expanding photo offerings to reflect a broader range of real-life images enough? I discovered Getty’s search engine was sexist a couple of years ago when I was looking for an image of a woman in a business suit. It seemed like a reasonable request, but most of the photos that appeared were of women wearing only sexy lingerie and high heels with a suit coat. And no, I wasn’t searching for a sexy secretary.
Last year, I was working on a white paper on women in tech leadership and in need of images showing professional women and technology together. I entered keywords like woman in tech, woman programmer and woman web designer for search criteria. Among a slew of photos of men at their laptops wearing hooded sweatshirts, only a few random images of women emerged.
Out of curiosity, after reading the article about Getty’s effort to make users rethink gender norms, I tested its search engine with a few simple searches.
I started with women in tech because I had done the same search a year ago. The images that appeared were quite random—from racecar pit crews to emergency medical personnel. Only two images were distinguishably women, and one of them was a woman sitting on the floor of a locker room in distress. Women in technology netted images of women on the go, looking at their smart watches, phones or tablets.
I continued the search with a few arbitrary job titles. Based on the first 10 images that appeared for each search, here is what I found:
- There were an equal number of men and women depicted for designer, salesperson or scientist.
- Six of the 10 images for baker or chef were men.
- Six of the 10 images for teacher were women.
- Seven of 10 images for web designer were men.
- Eight of 10 images for attorney, banker or CEO were men.
- Nine of 10 images for programmer were men.
- Nine of 10 images for artist, childcare worker or telemarketer were women.
- 10 of 10 images for nerd or surgeon were men.
The world according to Getty: Women have mastered technology, but only in the form of mobile devices. Women are primarily artists, childcare workers, teachers and telemarketers. Nerd is a distinction reserved for the male gender. Men are attorneys, bakers, bankers, CEOs, chefs, programmers, surgeons and web designers. The careers that represent the middle ground: designers, salespeople and scientists.
I don’t know about you, but I think Getty can do better.
About the author: A strategic storyteller and an inspired graphic designer, Chris Olsen has devoted her career to connecting individuals and organizations using the power of words, images and experiences.