Building peace in the minds of men and women

To build a more equal future, women should be involved in designing technology

04 November 2019

Did you know that digital voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are often framed in a way that degrades women? When Siri was just rolled out, it would answer “I’d Blush If I Could” after being insulted by users. This gendered submissiveness and servility expressed by Siri and so many other ‘female’ digital assistants illustrate the gender biases coded into AI products.

Female voice assistances might send a signal that women are obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers, who are available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like “hey”.

UNESCO’s Director for Gender Equality, Ms Saniye Gülser Corat, was invited to a Fireside Chat to open the DeepTech Stage of the Web Summit to talk about gender bias, sexism and digital voice assistance. This Fireside chat was moderated by Ms Esther Paniagua from El País and attended by more than 600 participants. The Summit, known as the world's largest gathering of entrepreneurs, and gathered over 70.000 participants this year, took place in Lisbon from 4 to 7 November 2019.

During the conversation, Ms Corat explained that at a moment when every sector is becoming a technology sector, these gender equality concerns are becoming very alarming. For her, “to build a more equal future, women need a seat at the table. They need to be involved in designing tech, so that they can play a role in steering them”.

Right now, women are lagging far behind. They represent less than one third of those working in science research and development, and even less in ‘frontier’ technologies. Women make up only 17.5% of the tech workforce worldwide, and hold just 5% of leadership positions! In the G20 countries, they produce only 7% of information and communication technologies patents.

Ms Corat also highlighted that it is important to remember that there is nothing predestined about technology reproducing existing gender biases or spawning the creation of new ones. Voice assistants, like many technologies, are new enough that consumer expectations are still malleable.

Ms Corat during the Fireside talk at the DeepTech Stage of the Web Summit last 06 November

After the Fireside Chat, Ms Corat had interviews with different media outlets, such as El Pais, Lusa News Agency, ZAP.aeiou, Jornal Econômico, and Condé Nast. Her Fireside Chat was also mentioned in articles online, such as Ingenuity (Siemens), Espalha Factos, Exame Informatica, TechAoMinuto, Heise Online.

To know more about gender bias, sexism and digital voice assistance, please click here: https://en.unesco.org/Id-blush-if-I-could