Examples of gender bias in products
Gender bias in products and services can lead to unintentional exclusion of part of the target group. On this page, you can find a selection of products and services that present a gender bias. By clicking on the topics, more information will appear. Gender bias can surface in many different contexts. This overview of examples gives an idea of the scope of this topic.
The ergonomics of the current standard piano keyboard disadvantages people with smaller handspan. 87% of adult female pianists and 24% of adult male pianists have smaller hands than the keyboard is suited for. They are more likely to suffer pain and injury when playing the instrument. A significant amount of the more advanced piano repertoire is even physically impossible to play for this group. (Boyle, Boyle, & Booker, 2015)
The most common smartphones don’t fit the average women’s hands (or pockets), because they are designed for the average male hand size. The average woman is unable to use their phone one handed, reducing the functionality of the device (Perez, 2019).
The headsets, suits, gloves, glasses etc. used for virtual and augmented reality are often too large to work properly for the majority of women. Eye tracking headsets can have trouble when users are wearing eye makeup. The modern VR industry is overwhelmingly male, which is likely a factor in this phenomenon (the Verge, 2016).
The toys children play with effects their skill development and self-image. When we gender toys, we choose what skills boys and girls develop and reinforce old gender views. This can influence their education and career choice (Inman & Cardella, 2015).
Translation software overuses the masculine pronoun. Google translate, for example, has the tendency to change female to male when translating text in media, literature, papers and news articles (Zou & Schiebinger, 2018; Perez, 2019).
The lack of size variety in uniforms often negatively effects women. An example of this can be found in police uniforms. The design of protective equipment, and riot gear used by police officers, is based on the male body. Smaller sizes are available for women. These smaller sizes are however, not adapted to a female body shape. Difference in proportions of the chest, hips and thighs result in the equipment not fitting well, which leaves women not properly protected, and can make it impossible to execute tasks (The Guardian, 2019; Perez, 2019). The design of protective masks has similar issues. Dust, hazard, and eye masks are designed based on the average US male face shape, which results in a design that doesn’t fit with many women and men with other ethnicities. Even when uniforms are female specific, this is not always done properly (The Guardian, 2019). The absence of usable pockets in women’s clothing has led to the female Oakland police officers wearing their male co-workers’ uniforms, despite a female uniform being available (Trufelman, 2018).
The design of Pinterest was mainly focussed on women. By the time they adjusted their website to interest both male and female users, they already had lost some of their potential market to competitors (Schiebinger et all, 2011-2018).
Diaper changing tables
There is often no diaper changing tables in the men’s toilet for fathers to use to change the diaper of their child (RTL-nieuws, 2020).
Chemicals in products
The acceptable toxicity levels of chemicals are decided based on data of men, and assumes that only one chemical is used at the same time. However, the chemicals which are present in cleaning products and cosmetics, are often not used in isolation.
It should be noted that, men can be safely exposed to bigger amounts of toxins than women. Women and men differ in how they absorb chemicals, due to differences in immune systems, hormones, skin thickness, body size and body fat percentage. There are several work environments in which multiple chemicals are used simultaneously, for example by employees of nail salons and by cleaners. These occupations are dominated by women. It is unknown how these women are affected by using multiple toxic chemicals on a daily basis (Peres, 2019; The Guardian, 2019).
Gender stereotypes apply to how robots are perceived too. When robots are perceived as male, they are treated and judged differently than when they are perceived as female (Eyssel & Hegel, 2012). Even when robots are not explicitly gendered, they can still be interpreted as male and female. The way robots are designed might unintentionally reflect and strengthen gender stereotypes.
Video games are often designed and developed by men, resulting in a product that is male orientated. Most gamers are men, but gaming is becoming much more popular among women. Women are poorly represented in videogames, both in the number of playable female characters and the variety of roles, they portray (Dill & Thill, 2007; Gao, Min, & Shih 2017). The masculine design of videogames reinforces gender stereotypes. Since gaming is becoming a way to socialize, addressing this problem is important. Furthermore, making the gaming industry more gender inclusive will increase the potential audience (Schiebinger et all, 2011-2018).
Most common fitness monitors greatly underestimate the steps that are taken, and calories burnt, during activities women are more likely to partake in, such as housework and pushing a pram (The Guardian, 2019).
Cars are less safe for women than for men. The main reason for this is that cars are designed based on measurements of the average white male and are tested with crash test dummies that represent this group. Due to a difference in size, weight and build, this dummy is not representative for the majority of women. Women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, 71% more likely to me moderately injured and 17% more likely to die when involved in a car crash. The design and placement of the seats, the placement of the airbag, the design of the seatbelt, the hight of the dashboard, and other elements, all contribute to these figures (Perez, 2019). Cars are even less safe when they are used while being pregnant. Seat belts don’t fit pregnant women properly. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of foetal trauma and death. Even in small car crashes (at 56 km/h) 75% of foetuses are damaged.
Female voices are less likely to be accurately processed by voice recognition software and artificial intelligence assistants, because these programs are trained on datasets in which women are underrepresented (Perez, 2019). Google’s speech-recognition software, for example, is significantly more likely to accurately transcribe male speech, compared to female speech (Tatman, 2020). A similar pattern has been found in voice recognition software used to automatically score clinical trials, to select job applicants and for the voice command system in cars (The Guardian, 2019; Tatman, 2017).
Many “neutral” icons are interpreted as male, for instance traffic signs and streetlights. Gendered icons are still in the majority representing gender stereotypes (Kim, 2019). Until 2016, emojis have been overwhelmingly stereotypical. Gender was not assigned to emoji code, which resulted in platforms interpreting most icons as male. Following changes made, male and female versions of all professions and athletes are now available (Perez, 2019).
Clip-on microphone packs
Wireless clip-on microphone packs are often used for presenters and public speakers. These packs are designed to clip on waistbands or fit in pockets. However, women’s more formal attire often doesn’t include waistbands or belts, making it hard to mic a woman (Perez, 2019).
Cockpit design physically discriminated against the majority of women and smaller statured men. Both defence and civilian cockpits have traditionally been designed on specifications based on the measurements of the average male body which resulted in this exclusion (Weber, 1997: Schiebinger at all, 2011-2018)
The long line in front of the women’s toilets is caused by the difference in the behaviour of toilet users and is amplified by in the design of the toilet space.
The average toilet visit of a woman takes 2,3 times longer than that of a man. This difference occurs due to a number of factors. The majority of elderly and disabled are women. Women are also more likely to help elderly and disabled people during a toilet visit and are more likely to be accompanied by a child. When women have to change a pad or tampon, this takes extra time too.
Women also need to use the toilet more often, due to pregnancy and a higher likelihood to have a urinary tract infection. Due to these factors, it would make sense to offer more toilet space to women, but this is seldomly done. Traditionally, the floorspace of toilets of men and women has been divided equally. However, the amount of functional space is not equal, because cubicles take up more space than urinals. The men’s toilet spaces that provide both cubicles and urinal often offer more places to relieve oneself, compared to the women’s toilets that just offer cubicles in the same size space.
The trend of converting gendered toilets into unisex toilets is not without problems either. When these toilets still have urinals, the options for women stay nearly the same, and only the options for men are enlarged. The gender-neutral toilets also often lack sanitary bins (Perez, 2019).
The design of virtual assistants strengthens gender stereotypes. In 2019, UNESCO released a report about gender bias in artificial intelligence. This report describes how the programming, voice, and name choice of the assistants, who are mostly female, are strengthening gender stereotypes. The link between female names and voices and an assistant that is submissive and accept verbal abuse, can increase sexist views (West, Kraut & Chew, 2019).
Gender was overemphasized in knee prostheses, which led to reduced attention to other, more important factors (Schiebinger et all, 2011-2018).
Medicine and healthcare
Women are underrepresented in medical knowledge, education and research (Verdonk, Benschop, de Haes, & Lagro-Janssen, 2009; Perez, 2019). This has led to women being misdiagnosed because their symptoms differ from that of the average man, they receive medicine and treatments that has not been sufficiently tested and adapted for their bodies, and are missing out on new medical innovations due to the lack of female oriented research (Perez, 2019).
Due to their menstrual cycle, medical research with women is often more complicated than with men. Because of this, medical research often doesn’t include female participants. Medicine is criticised to incorrectly assume the bodies of women and men to be generally the same, with the exception of their reproductive organs. (Verdonk, et all, 2009). However, is has been proven that women and men also differ when it comes to their muscles, bones, centre of gravity, reaction to medicine, health risks, size of organs and limbs, symptoms of disease and disorders etc. (Perez, 2019; Schiebinger at all, 2011-2018). Therefore, both women and men should be involved in medical research.
Construction site equipment and farming tools are often designed based on the standard male body. The resulting size and weight of many power tools are excluding women from safe and easy use (Perez, 2019).
Public transport and infrastructure are designed around male travel patterns. Men and women have different needs for their public transport because they have different travel patterns. They also experience a difference in safety when traveling.
Public transport and infrastructure are typically designed in such a way that quick an efficient travel from living to working areas are possible. This means that people who travel directly to and from work traveling without stops in between, can travel efficiently.
However, travel for caring work, including caring for children and elderly and upkeep of household, that is done alongside paid work, is not considered in this design, and often takes much longer than traveling a longer distance in one trip. Making stops on the way to and from work, for example, to drop of children at day care or to pick up clothes from the drycleaner, is called trip chaining. This travel pattern is more common among women, in contrast to men who tend to travel to and from work in one trip (Schiebinger et all, 2011-2018).
Additionally, sexual harassment, mainly directed at women, is a common problem of public transport. Many women adjust their travel patterns, or avoid traveling at all, due to fear of harassment. For instance, the design of dimly lit bus stops in quiet areas is not helping this problem. There are several design interventions that can be done to improve safety for women, such as improving lightning, increasing entry and exits points, increase the number of functional and visible help desks etc. (ITF, 2018; Perez, 2019)