Speaking Up-date: 2014 So Far, and Google’s Renewed Efforts

Recently, Google has been getting (and seeking) a lot of press and attention, both for their dismal gender track record and for their new-found efforts to make changes. The New York Times covered Google’s new initiatives to combat bias within the company. Google went so far as to write and contribute a piece to Scientific American about the genesis of their recent changes. They say that they started addressing Doodles over a year ago: “Over the past few years, we discovered some pretty ugly news about our beloved Google Doodles . . . Gender equality champions did the math and called us out.”

As part of these efforts, Google also posted this video from their venture capital branch, Google Venture, which shows an hour-long lecture from Dr. Brian Welle of Google’s People Analytics group:

This video is chock-full of tremendous empirical research, including discussions of stereotype threat and the implicit biases that lead to women’s accomplishments being judged differently than men’s. I wish every single person on the planet, and especially anyone who doesn’t think women’s achievements are undervalued, could see this video and benefit from the knowledge it contains.

And at the 31:40 mark, this video is also full of something that I have been waiting so long to hear or see. The speaker shows my findings (from my 2013 wrap-up post) identifying the dismal gender record in Doodles, and points out that this was a wake up call. I’m thrilled to hear someone affiliated with Google acknowledge that my analysis got through to them. I want to be clear: never before has anyone from Google reached out to me, made contact with me, or mentioned Speaking Up For Us in the media. (To answer the obvious question: yes, I have attempted many times to make contact with various representatives, through various venues.)

Of course, what the video is not full of is any clue that links that information to me – no mention of my name, of my project, of the blog, or of the fact that I made those images shown in the slideshow, and Google did not. I’m also not cited in the Google Ventures page that lists “all” references from the video. “Somebody” tracked these stats “and it was a bit of an embarrassment.” As a result, I’m disappointed and discouraged. (After all, my name and contact information are publicly available here – and they could always have Googled me!)

In my end-of-year 2013 wrap up, I wrote:

“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.”

I remain of several minds, because while I am glad to see Google making strides, I think it’s also important for them to acknowledge the help that they got. I don’t think it’s a good sign that they are proclaiming their own, new dedication to parity and equity . . . while using the words, work, and images created by a woman without attribution. Of course, this concern of mine is not about this single presentation – I don’t think it was malicious and I am sure I have made the same mistake in presentations in the past– but overall, about the fact that my work hasn’t been credited by them in this or any other venue. I didn’t do this work for a thank you, but a thank you would have been so easy to send.

In their video above, a representative of Google says that “somebody” tracked the statistics they weren’t tracking. I’m not “somebody,” I’m Ann Martin – a woman working in a STEM field whose contribution to Google’s current path has not been given credit (and whose image, specifically, was not given credit). Credit is not as important to me as the real change, but I think it’s important as a feminist and a worker to say: I am here. I worked. My work mattered. It took time and energy, from which Google benefited. Dr. Welle’s words are powerful: “If we didn’t have that data point, we never would have tried to do it.”

Since I wrote the words above, I believe Google has continued to show true, lasting dedication to making some changes. I want to take this moment to acknowledge that. The statistics for 2014, tracked through October 1st, show significant increases in the number of women represented in Doodles. However, the team at SPARKSummit, and Google themselves, point out that gender is only one dimension of diversity, and people of color are still sorely underrepresented. To help address this, Doodles this year have honored Althea Gibson, Nelson Mandela, Percy Julian, Dorothy Height, Harriet Tubman, and Zora Neale Hurston in the U.S. – and others around the world.

First, let’s take a look at the Doodles shown in the U.S., compared with previous years.

U.S. Doodles - click to see full size.

U.S. Doodles – click to see full size.

To date, an incredible two-thirds of 2014 Doodles have celebrated women. That’s 10 women represented for the 5 men who have been honored this year. Of course, the years of male-focused Doodles mean Google has even more catching up to do. Since 2001, Google users in the U.S. have been presented with 120 Doodles celebrating men’s achievements, and only 34 celebrating women. The 10 women celebrated this year, indeed, make up a significant fraction of all of the women Doodle has ever thought to include.

A similar story is told by a chart showing related data, but for all the Doodles shown anywhere in the world.

Worldwide Doodles - click to see full size.

Worldwide Doodles – click to see full size.

When considering all Doodles shown around the world this year, men are still outpacing women – 54% vs. 46% representation. In terms of counts of actual Doodles, worldwide, Google has honored 44 men this year and 38 women. Since 2001, counting every single Doodle that was ever posted to celebrate an individual creator or innovator, Google has found 482 worthy men but only 119 worthy women (19.8%).

As the profiles of historically significant women here have demonstrated for the last 3 years, these numbers aren’t due to a lack of accomplished women. And as Dr. Brian Welle explains in his talk, the solutions are not easy, but they are simple. Addressing these widespread biases demands nothing more than attention and effort, always asking, “Am I being fair? Am I going out of my way to be different from the status quo?” As my dear friend and colleague Sabrina Stierwalt wrote on this very blog in 2012: “Think about how you are deciding whom to honor with your Doodles. If the answer is, ‘we just think of the first people who come to mind,’ and you haven’t managed to come up with any women, then you’re thinking about it wrong.”

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