A Second Open Letter to Google Doodles

This Speaking Up post is part of the 2012 Midpoint Series. See all of the posts in the series here.

To Google leadership and the Google Doodles team,

Speaking Up started after months and months of conversations with my friends and colleagues, which started anew with the posting of each Doodle. At first, we thought the pattern we were seeing was a little strange, but it persisted and deepened, and I wondered why nobody at Google was fixing it. Others had called attention to the lack of gender diversity in the Doodles, and I wanted to pitch in. You need to hear this, loud and clear.

Clearly, I started writing because I thought there was a problem, but even I didn’t think the problem was quite as extensive as I have found it truly is. I honestly didn’t expect to get several months into writing this blog and tracking the Google Doodles to find us halfway through 2012 with no Doodles for women posted in the United States. Until I started tracking the statistics for myself, I just thought the Doodles included somewhat less than 50% women, but didn’t expect that the numbers would reveal a rate closer to 10%. I’d imagine that’s a perception that many people share, and that’s a big part of why I’m here, doing what I’m doing, speaking up for at least one segment of the population that appears to have been forgotten.  Does Google know that women make up only 9-12% of the Doodles —  0% in the United States thus far in 2012? Is that figure acceptable at Google?

When I started this project, I was coming from the perspective of someone interested in education and communication about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), fields where women are severely underrepresented, especially in the higher ranks. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life and a lot of my passion focused on increasing the participation of women and girls in these areas. As I dug in deeper, though, I realized that my interest in this issue covered much broader ground than that. Almost regardless of field, the real, known, quantifiable and qualifiable achievements and contributions of women (and other minority groups) are somehow just not as visible. This isn’t a STEM issue; it crosses the boundaries between STEM and the humanities, and reaches into the media, into politics, into advocacy, into the arts. It reaches, in fact, into all of the areas that Google Doodles cover — all of those areas where people can change the world.

Speaking Up has tried to include women from a broad cross-section of these fields. When that lack of visibility is so broad, so pervasive, it’s not about what women are or aren’t doing. It’s about what our culture is or is not recognizing and valuing. Google Doodles are part of that culture, but Google is also in a unique position to bring about change. As I wrote in my first open letter to you, I remain disappointed that you have not taken the opportunity to use your world stage more responsibly.

I haven’t spent a lot of energy here at Speaking Up trying to convince you that this cause is important, or that diversity is intrinsically valuable; I hold that particular truth to be self-evident. What I want to do, rather, is convince you that you can do better. The tools are there. The women exist. The choice is yours.

There’s something else, though, that I want you to know: this is fun! If you look through the Speaking Up archives, you’ll find a really fascinating array of cool women who have done very neat stuff with their lives — and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. That sense of fun, of innovation, of creativity, of exploration, that the Doodles initiative is all about? That would be greatly enriched by casting a wider net. This is a problem I think Google should be somewhat embarrassed to have, but from another perspective, fixing it would be a really fun and incredibly rewarding experience for you — and for the Google users who encounter each new Doodle.

Let’s say you want to start addressing this issue. What can you do to take positive steps? Read about gender equity and bias. Think about it. Start by taking it seriously. Start by thinking about what you value. Start by thinking about the message you’re sending. And then, start talking about it and taking an honest look at how the situation arose. Brainstorm just a few women who have made the kind of change that Doodles want to honor. Start small, with concrete steps that the Doodles team can take.

You have the resources, including blogs like this, and many people with the expertise and the will to help you figure this out. Addressing your gender diversity problem would be fun, it would be rewarding, it would bring a valuable perspective to your work and approach, and it would be the right thing to do.

Again, I ask: are you in?

– Ann Martin, PhD
Gmail: amartin10
Twitter: @Annie314159
Blog: Speaking Up

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22 thoughts on “A Second Open Letter to Google Doodles

  1. I’m wondering if you have a chart that includes inanimate objects as part of the percentage, like yesterday’s 4th of July doodle. Or does that count on the male side because it was made from lyrics to a song that a man wrote?

  2. I don’t include those, because the vast majority of them aren’t “gendered” (4th of July, elections in various countries around the world) and those that are (like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, International Women’s Day) don’t focus on individuals. In some sense, too, those aren’t the “fault” of Google — St. Patrick’s Day, for instance, isn’t a case where Google went out of their way to choose someone male. I only use the Doodles that are meant to honor specific “creators and innovators” on their birthdays, which the Doodles team does specifically select for recognition. I do keep tabs on the full set of Doodles, personally, so I do feel confident that I’m being conservative in the right direction — including the gendered holidays/celebrations would skew things even FURTHER toward male honorees, in a way that I don’t think is quite representative of the problem I want to address. I go through my methods, and you can see the spreadsheet where I track things, here: http://speakingupforus.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/midpoint-series-united-states-google-doodles-as-of-june-24th-2012/

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      • I’ve left the comment as an example of the kinds of attitudes that lead to situations like this in the first place, but if you feel strongly about it, I can remove it.

      • Did you notice that he is incorrect?

        What were the Founding Fathers (for a male example) doing if not complaining about the treatment given by the crown?

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