Gender Distribution in Google Doodles: 2013 Year in Review

2013 came to an end a little over a month ago, but in that time, the Google team has kept me plenty busy with a series of Doodles honoring women. And that’s an interesting start to a new year, following one in which Google really improved their record on gender representation — but they still have a lot to do. I’m of several minds here: I’m genuinely pleased with the improvement, but well aware that it takes conscious and long-term effort for projects like the Doodles to make lasting change when it comes to gender bias. And I’m also well aware that the strides made in 2013 still fall far short of 50% gender parity, and that 12 years of Doodles was too long to wait to make a commitment to equity. This is a step in the right direction, but the work is not done.

Let’s look at how Doodles dealt with their dismal gender record in 2013, both here in the U.S. and around the world.

(For more information on my methodology and approach to counting male and female individuals honored with a Doodle, check out this post from summer 2012. There is one significant update: this year, there were some Doodles that were shown in most countries except in the United States. Google’s “Finder” service has recently started categorizing some such Doodles as “Global,” adding a complication to my stats — in the past, only Doodles that were truly shown on every Google homepage were listed that way. I’ve tried to carefully keep track, but it’s possible I’ve made a mistake or two! Contact me if you are interested in the dataset that I use to build this site’s gender statistics.)

Click below the fold for the 2013 year in review.

First, let’s look at the gender distribution of all Doodles posted in 2013 — anywhere in the world that Google has a presence.

The number of men and women honored with Google Doodles in 2013, including all Doodles posted anywhere around the globe to honor an individual's birthday.

The number of men and women honored with Google Doodles in 2013, including all Doodles posted anywhere around the globe to honor an individual’s birthday.

This year, including all Doodles posted around the world, Google honored 119 men and 36 women, so that women made up about 23% of honorees. That’s a significant increase over last year — when only 12.8% of honorees were women — but it still means that the people Google chooses to honor don’t represent the full spectrum of people who use their service.

Like last year, the Doodles posted in the United States did a bit better in terms of gender parity than the worldwide total:

Gender distribution of Google Doodles shown only in the United Stats.

The number of men and women honored with Google Doodles within the United States, including only Doodles honoring an individual on their birthday.

In the U.S., 20 men were honored — one fewer than last year — but 12 women were included among the honorees, meaning that 37.5% of honored individuals were women. Compared to 2012, when 6 months of the year went by before U.S. users saw a single woman on the Google homepage, that represents a significant improvement.

How do these numbers stack up to the gender distribution of Doodles in the past? As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I maintain a comprehensive record of Google Doodles, and my dataset goes all the way back to include the very first Doodles. In that context, women are getting a lot more attention from the Doodles team.

Gender representation of Doodles, worldwide, comparing this year to last year and to the overall totals since 2001.

Gender representation of Doodles, worldwide, comparing this year to last year and to the overall totals since 2001.

The chart above shows that only 81 women have ever been honored with a Doodle, and more than half of those have been honored since the start of 2012. 2013 was, by a significant margin, the best year on record.

Here’s the same chart, showing only the Doodles displayed in the U.S. over the same time period:

Gender representation of Doodles, in the United States, comparing this year to last year and to the overall totals since 2001.

Gender representation of Doodles, in the United States, comparing this year to last year and to the overall totals since 2001.

Since 2001, only 24 women have ever graced Google’s homepage for users in the United States — and 70% of those have been included only in the last two years! As someone who uses Google within the U.S., that means I spent the last year seeing more women being honored than ever before.

Again, I want to place all of this in context: women make up about 50% of the world’s population. Google’s efforts in the last year are to be commended, of course, but they also show that making projects gender inclusive requires just a little bit of effort. The women honored this year were incredible, standout creators and innovators, and around the world, the team has been able to identify household names that they spent the previous 12 years simply ignoring. Looking above, there hasn’t been a single year when the gender distribution of Doodles approached anything like an equitable division.

So that is my call to action for the Doodles team in 2014: more, more, more! Keep up the good work, but don’t start to think that one year of stats slightly over 30% mean that your work is done. This is worth doing, and it is worth doing well.

Speaking Up will be here throughout 2014, keeping track of Doodles. I’m working on a lot of fun ideas for series and posts to highlight even more women, too, so if you have ideas or would like to become a contributor, Tweet me @Annie314159.


9 thoughts on “Gender Distribution in Google Doodles: 2013 Year in Review

  1. Hi,

    You need to know that the reason why white men have a higher representation on Google doodles is because they DID invent/discover most things, but more importantly, their stuff was recorded in history. If NON white men/women had recorded their inventions/discoveries in history books, then perhaps they too would have been mentioned!

    Look, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but superficial populist criticism of google doesn’t do you any credit, believe me when I tell you that many people who have read the dailymail news article about your criticism are not supporting you for the reasons I outlined above. Do some history first; learn about why things are and how they’ve become the way they have before you start criticising minorities (like myself; I’m a white man, yeah, shock!). It’s not our ‘fault’ that we recorded our discoveries and inventions, but perhaps the other ‘guys’ should have brought a notepad to the party, eh?



    • Lee,

      As you might imagine, I vehemently disagree, for reasons outlined here, in my second Open Letter to Google.

      The bias of history, and whose contributions were recorded and whose were tossed away, is absolutely a contributor. But, first of all, Google (as an extraordinarily forward-thinking and innovating company) is not in any way forced to follow the tide of history. They can, and should, choose to proactively seek out those contributors who have been tossed aside.

      Secondly, though, and I think more convincingly, Google Doodles have been posted to honor men who have made such contributions to culture as the invention of Gumby and the creation of the Addams Family. And yet, extraordinary, and incredibly famous, women like Helen Keller and Georgia O’Keeffe have not been included.

      Your argument might make sense if Google had posted lots of Doodles honoring the incredible women I write about here, and then had “run out” because of the biases of recorded history. Instead, they’re totally willing to highlight quirky, fun, lighthearted contributions of men, but couldn’t even be bothered to consider Harriet Tubman until just this last month. That speaks volumes.

      • Hi Ann,

        I understand your point of view, but Google don’t have to do ANY doodles if they choose not to. There’s no monetary gain for Google in doing them, so any doodle they create is completely up to them as they see fit. If you and your ilk start complaining about how they should actively seek out the ‘tossed aside’ notes of history’s missing contributors, they’re going to say ‘no’ because it is just that; a doodle.

        Not mentioning Harriet Tubman speaks volumes? Does my not mentioning Harriet Tubman to a friend speak volumes? I didn’t even know who Harriet Tubman was until you mentioned her above! I took the liberty of looking her up online and, yeah, she did some nice things, but was she a solo world changer? Nah, not even close. If you’re asking Google to doodle people like her, then you’re asking Google to doodle tens of millions of people. Google does the world changers; the inventors; the discoverers; the grand cultural influencers, etc. Tubman was none of these, she contributed in a very small way, but there are millions of others who would have exceeded her exploits.

        My cardiovascular surgeon friend has saved more than 300 people (the amount of slaves Tubman helped escape), but do you think he (yes, a white man) will get mentioned in a doodle? Probably not. Does he care? Highly unlikely. The fact that your focus on getting Google to put more non-white female doodles on the search engine’s page is more of a politically correct agenda suggest to me that you don’t realise the purpose of a Google doodle, it’s an arbitrary thing. Treat it as it was designed to be treated, as a bit of fun; and not as a political platform which is what activists like to do.



      • Absolutely: Google doesn’t need to post any of these. They made a conscious choice to start the program and to grow the program in a huge way. They also chose the people that they highlighted. So I am well within my rights to be critical of those choices, and to point out the bias within them.

        I’m not even going to argue about Harriet Tubman’s significant, life-changing, world-changing, life-saving contribution to history. It’s simply not worth my time to treat that argument like it deserves any attention at all.

    • Though I am late in pointing this out, I guess it is still relevant. Please check the following video from a workshop conducted by Google, where they accept that there has been a bias, an unconscious one- . The Doodles are just not “arbitrary things” (If it was an arbitrary thing and just for fun, they can put up doodles of a dog singing or a cat surfboarding). The purpose of google doodles is to acknowledge and celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists. This is actually the most innovative way of giving knowledge to kids. So, this unconscious mistake, when corrected will go a long way into inspiring young girls and help our boys and girls grow out of the stereotype.

      Another mention of a women who has been missed out by google is Mother Teresa. At the time of her death she was involved in 610 missions in 123 countries has not been mentioned even in regional doodles (I wonder if I should mention that she is also a Nobel peace prize winner). Does this compare to your cardiovascular surgeon friend? (Who is by the way 1 in 10,000 cardiovascular surgeons in the US alone). But if he actually “invented” a radical and more efficient procedure to save more lives, he deserves a doodle too.

      It is true that it is “completely up to them as they see fit”. Ann is just pointing out that they should do more research and acknowledge deserving women too. She did not nominate herself to maintain the 50% ration!

      Kind regards,

  2. Pingback: Speaking Up-date: 2014 So Far, and Google’s Renewed Efforts | Speaking Up

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