Saturday, January 18, 2014

Google Doodle Honors More Women, But There's Still a Long Way to Go

Almost three years ago I wrote an open letter to Google regarding the dearth of women honored by their creative homepage Doodles. At the time, the number of men versus women was beyond ridiculous. My original post was inspired by this article on Feministe. It prompted me to collect and look at the data. From my original blog post:

When I searched through years of Doodles and counted, Google has honored 160 “notable” people. Only 16 of those people were women.  10%.

I analyzed further, focusing on Global and US Doodles. There were 49 notable men and 3 notable women. Really? Only THREE? That’s not even 6% of all US and Global Doodles.

Until recently I haven't had the time to redo the numbers, but I'd kept an eye on the Doodles. Some of my favorites from the past few years include American choreographer and dancer Martha Graham, Queen front man Freddie Mercury, and Indian "mental calculator" Shakuntala Devi.

But let's get down to brass tacks. How has Google Doodle done since my last count back in April 2011? I'm happy to say they have improved in their representation of women.

Let's look at the gender distribution in all countries since Doodles began back in 2003. In April 2011 I counted all the Doodles that honored a specific person, always on their birthday, and always someone who was deceased. As mentioned above, only 10% were women. Since then, there have been 359 new people-specific Doodles, 71 of which were women. The totals in the column for January 2014 are cumulative so they include the April 2011 numbers, therefore the percentage of women-specific Doodles rose from 10% in April 2011 to almost 17% today. Still not a great number, but an improvement nonetheless.

Next up, if we zoom in on the Doodles that were either Global (meaning, they showed on the Google homepage in every country) and those shown in the US, we see a marked improvement. In April 2011, only 3 out of 49 Doodles honored women, compared to today, 28 out of 138. This is an even larger shift from about 6% in 2011 to over 20% as of today. We're on the right track, and better new lies ahead in the annual breakdown of the past three years.

These numbers are not cumulative. Instead, they look at the ratio of men vs. women in a given year. This demonstrates the rate of  improvement in the representation of women. I did not include any Doodles from 2003 to 2010 because they were less frequent. Starting in 2011, the annual Doodles broke 100. While there was a decrease in the percentage of women-specific Doodles in 2012 compared to the previous year, last year saw the highest numbers yet. In 2013, (slightly) more than 1 out of 5 Doodles gave props to the ladies who have shaped our culture, lead political movements, inspired us with paintings, choreography, and musical prowess, pushed the boundaries of science and medicine, and blazed trails in many fields dominated by men.

Now, Google still has room for improvement. What they really need is a year focused on equitable representation. When I look at the numbers for 2013, I counted five instances of 10 or more consecutive Doodles dedicated to men. The longest consecutive streak for women-specific Doodles is 3 in a row. I mean, you managed to make a Doodle for a dog last year (yes, I counted him in the male numbers), and while I have nothing against Hachikō, I do think that before you start paying homage to canines you should try just a teensy bit harder when it comes to female human beings.

Come on, Google. Is it that hard to think of women to honor? There are thousands of writers, activists, musicians, chemists, painters, anthropologists, and more. How about singer Nina Simone on February 22nd? Or Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral on April 7th? Anne Frank's birthday is June 12th. Certainly you have enough time to plan for Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low's birthday on October 31st, or author Madeleine L'Engle's birthday on November 29th. Why not dedicate a month or two in 2014 to women-inspired Doodles?
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