How to Fix Gender Bias on Flickr: STEM Careers

Gender representation on Flickr has always bothered me. Women, like in many fields are woefully underrepresented and often over sexualized.

I am not as worried at the blatant images of sexism I find, such as the one below when I used “hack” as as a search term. The bias is not that overt. It is more the unaware bias that reinforce the ideas of what it means to be a scientist or engineer.

And it is partly my fault.

Last night I needed an image for a post on design research. This methodology often draws on the metaphor of engineering. So I searched Flickr, filtering for creative commons only, and all I got were pictures of white men. I had to scroll down quite a distance for any reference to a female engineer.

So I decided to try all the letters in the STEM acronym. What I quickly discovered was I helped to create the gender bias. For when I signed out the results weren’t good, but they were better. Just by favoriting and following photographers I am reinforcing gender roles.

Here are the results:

Scientist

This search result was not that bad before and after I signed out. Yet it did improve some once logged out. Women represented 6 out of 13 pictures of real life human scientists. All of the images celebrated science.

Some of the top results were posted by people I already follow (which is very few) as I saw the same picture.

Technologist

The results for technologist were also more  gender neutral and some of the smartest voices in the field, many who happen to be women, showed up in the results. Given that “technologist” is a new term in the lexicon I decided to search for computer scientist as well. Still there are so many voices I respect in the field I do not see in the photo stram

A female was in the first picture, followed by screenshots, and then math valentines that, while humorous, could be construed as a method of sexualizing the efforts of women in the field. These are followed by a wonderful poster of Grace Hopper and a women studying in algorithm book poolside.

Engineer

Engineer is by far the worst. There is a picture of a woman on a slide about engineering 2.0 but that is about it. You have to scroll far into the stream if you want images of female engineers. Really far if you want an image of a woman leading a team of engineers.

Mathematician

I am happy to say that mathematician presented a hopeful picture. Images of women far outnumbered those of men. The second picture was of Ada Lovelace and a woman name Mary Ellen, who seems to have many fans.

How to Help

We need more creative commons of images of women in STEM fields. Especially in Engineering. If you have a Flickr account and have images of women, females, girls, or those who don’t fit the gender dichotomy please share. Please license your work with a Creative Commons license that allow others to use this work.

Be weary of algorithms. I was unwittingly reinforcing bias in the people I chose to follow. Be deliberate in the spaces you curate.

Our goal should be to make it so anyone searching Flickr for images in the STEM fields should see real-life people, regardless of gender, doing real life work. This will require us to be deliberate in highlighting images of the underrepresented.

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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