How gender bias in website content influences what users think
Content marketers hoping their creative energy can help to sway the views of their target market will be encouraged by research that shows a link between visual content and views on gender.
Researchers at the University of Washington found the gender bias in the results of some Google Image searches had a noticeable impact on user perception. If users saw mostly images of men when searching for particular job roles, they were more likely to think that those professions were male-dominated.
The researchers found that women tended to be slightly under-represented in each of the job titles used in the study, including “CEO”. More than a quarter (27 per cent) of US CEOs are women, but only 11 per cent of the people featured in the top 100 Google Image search results were women.
The gap in other professions was more significant. Only 25 per cent of search results for “author” were pictures of women, but more than half (56 per cent) of US authors were in fact female, according to government statistics for the same period.
The researchers found that by manipulating image search results they could have a small but noticeable impact on how job roles were perceived.
“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,” one of the study’s authors said.
[pullQuote position=”right”]Is your brand challenging gender stereotypes in the workplace or feeding the preconceptions of your target audience by creating the type of content they expect to see?[/pullQuote]
The fact that search results can influence what people think in this way appears to support the claim content marketers make about the need for brands to build their own presence through good blogging and social media activity.
By producing relevant, high quality content that your target audience will find and hopefully engage with, you can have a say in what they think about you and what they think about the issues that are relevant to your brand. If you want your business to be associated with a particular technology or philosophy, you should be blogging and tweeting about it every day.
But this particular study also throws up a conundrum for content marketers. As well as suggesting that users can be influenced by the content they consume, it also suggested that they have a tendency to view people as more professional and more competent if they fit gender stereotypes.
The images you choose to illustrate your blog articles, social media posts and website content can have a significant influence over what people consuming that content think. Brands therefore need to decide if they want to help change the misconceptions about particular jobs or give in to the likely bias of their target audience.