How is equality and diversity changing in technology today?

How is equality and diversity changing in technology today?

Posted on Jul 17, 2015

Equality and diversity in technology seems to be much further behind than in other areas. An example being Gamergate, where a group of extreme ‘hardcore’ gamers across the world attacked and threatened independent female game developer Zoë Quinn after her ex-boyfriend (also a games developer) fired up a rumour about her sex life. He suggested that she cheated on him with 5 other games developers, all to promote her new game, Depression Quest, a text-based game based on her own experience with depression. Zoë was harassed and sent death threats and told that Depression Quest wasn’t a ‘real game’. Intel, who were following the events through the media, began to buckle to the pressure and pulled ads from websites promoting gender equality amongst the gaming industry.

 If you follow the chatter amongst the gaming world, you will quickly realise that the harassment, and subsequent reaction from Intel, originated from the fact that she is a woman, not because of her game and not because of her alleged love affairs. Intel later realised that a company ditching female (or male) developers because of cruel, public harassment, started by a spiteful ex wasn’t the best idea for brand publicity, and issued a public apology for their actions.

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When talking about sexism and racism, where else can you see this in technology? Could it be that we’ve been witnessing this inequality right under our noses and not even noticed?

Trying to represent people using one icon can be a very difficult task, and can sometimes unintentionally cause offence or isolation.

Let’s take the update that Unicode (the computing industry standard that has enabled us to decorate our text messages and WhatsApp messages with a whole host of pictures) released earlier this year for Apple’s iOS8 update. They included over 300 new emojis to make the popular characters more diverse after users of the messaging app protested.


And now Facebook have followed form by updating some icons that are used on the social media site. Designer Caitlin Winner, without any prompt from Facebook, took the task of re-designing some of the icons the company uses to represent all gender and race in an equal manner. Her work quickly spread through the company, and will now become part of the social media giant’s latest update.

Facebook Like- Thumbs Up

With an estimated 1.4 billion users worldwide, the way that Facebook encourages us to use and interact with icons is astounding – think of the ‘Like’ button, a simple thumbs up that has become an indicator of appreciation, popularity, agreement and amusement. In this vain, the way they choose to represent men and women in their icons matters a lot.

In an interview regarding the changes, Winner said:

“As a result of this project, I’m on high alert for symbolism. I try to question all icons, especially those that feel the most familiar. For example, is the briefcase the best symbol for ‘work’? Which population carried briefcases and in which era? What are other ways that ‘work’ could be symbolized and what would those icons evoke for the majority of people on Earth?”


Take a look at the old vs. new icons below. What are your thoughts on them? Do you ‘Like’ the new versions, or are you indifferent?

 Facebook Icon

Old Facebook ‘friends’ icon (left) and new version (right)

 Facebook 'Friends' Icons

Old Facebook ‘groups’ icon (left) and new version (right)

As expected, not everyone is happy with the updates Winner has designed, with some online users commenting that putting the woman in front is just as sexist as putting the man in front. Either way, using images and icons to illustrate people opens up a huge dialogue for discussion.

So what’s next to come? Will Twitter change their infamous birdie icon? Probably not. But it is interesting to think how the small details that make up the applications or features of the technology we use every day – even something as small as a ‘friends’ icon – can become such a distraction or ‘put off’ because of its design.

One thing we can all look forward to are the next round of emojis that are planned for release next year. A bit of research suggests that the 37 new emojis will include a unicorn, popcorn, a crab and a lion's face.

Let us know your thoughts on equality and diversity in technology – and your favourite examples by tweeting us at @FlickLearning or share them via our facebook page – and whilst you’re there, give us a like.

Winking Face

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