This Gender-Tweaked Search Engine Puts Women Front & Center In Your Search Results

by Chelsea Stewart
Courtesy of Pantene.

Search engines indeed seem to have a gender bias problem. While a search of something like "CEO" or "famous engineer" will likely pull up a majority of men, you might not see too many ladies on that list. How do you fix that, though? Well, it's a work in progress, but Pantene is getting the ball rolling with its new campaign, Power To Transform, which gives visibility to women rather than shrouding them.

The campaign, launched on April 30, highlights a new search extension called "S.H.E." which stands for "Search. Human Equalizer." It completely changes the way you search online by quantifying women's visibility. Currently, search engines work by understanding a query, determining relevance, and presenting results. But for certain terms — like, say, "school girl" — what comes back can be highly warped (test it out at your own risk). But as a browser extension, "S.H.E. operates on the search back-end, filtering and re-positioning results to yield more equalized, accurate representations," according to a statement on its website.

So when you search "school girls," you'll actually see images of school girls. The distortion and irregularities you tend to find in searches are pretty much gone — just like that. In a statement provided to Elite Daily by email, a Google spokesperson says that building search engine is a "complex, dynamic challenge, and we will never be finished." The statement continues,

Because our systems are surfacing and organizing information and content from the web, search can mirror stereotypes that exist on the web and in the real world based on how creators create and label their content. We understand that people of all races, genders and other groups can be affected by these depictions, and we share the concern about this. We will continue to work to improve image results for all of our users.

Ilaria Resta, North America General Manager of P&G Hair Care, the parent company of Pantene, explains the thought process behind the campaign in an email to Elite Daily. "Pantene launched S.H.E. to ensure that women are accurately represented, and that those behind some of the world’s biggest transformations are given the visibility they deserve — ultimately helping to inspire and create a better future for generations to come," Resta says.

The extension currently transforms over 150 of the most problematic search terms based on volume and relevance, and it can tackle more with the help of its users. Resta goes on to say that "users can submit additional search terms for S.H.E. to transform via the Chrome extension, giving women everywhere the opportunity to be represented from now on."

The effort stems from some pretty alarming statistics. The website cites a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center that found that only 10 percent of search results for “CEO” depict women, despite women comprising 28 percent of the occupation. What's more, it found that searches of “great hair” or “perfect hair" play into cultural stereotypes by prioritizing white women with straight hair.

So, how do you wipe the stereotypes from your search results? It only takes a few steps. First, make sure you have Google Chrome installed then go to the website to find the extension download. (You'll see it in the top-right corner.) All you have to do is click "Download S.H.E.," and it'll take you to the Chrome store, where you hit "Add To Chrome," and voilà. The extension should then appear on the Chrome navigation bar.

Let's test it out.

So, here are the results I got after searching "famous engineers" without the extension:

Chelsea Stewart

As you can see, the results pulled 10 people, nine of which are men. Oof.

Chelsea Stewart

When I added the extension and searched the very same words, I got six men and four women. Not bad.

Turns out that there's actually more balance out there than I thought. But that's kind of what the goal is here: to raise awareness of the bias in search by showcasing what the future can look like.

Resta says that Pantene's campaign is all about recognizing and celebrating the many ways that women transform the world everyday, while pushing back against cultural stereotypes that tend to distort their achievements and the way they're represented. "Pantene is aware that stereotypes often distort how women are portrayed, and this is very apparent in search," Resta explains. "We feel a responsibility to use our voice to shine a light on bias that exists in the world and create campaigns that accurately and equally represent women, enabling them to feel empowered and celebrated in whatever they seek to accomplish."

The idea, she says, is to get you to think. "We want to get people talking, and spark a conversation that inspires people and organizations to think about and change how cultural stereotypes are reflected on the internet, effectively transforming the world for the better and allowing future generations to see what’s possible," Resta concludes.

Sounds good to me. BRB, surfing the net.