The Evolution of Gender in Technology

By Devin Nori July 14, 2021

In the early days of tech, there were no real conversations about the implications of creating code that relied on gender, but with 1.2 million U.S. adults identifying as nonbinary, it’s clearly a conversation worth having. Over the years, we’ve developed a much more comprehensive perception of gender and how we can refrain from viewing it as a fixed entity. Now we have the opportunity to shift as an industry to reflect the emerging identities and needs of the communities we inhabit and serve.   

Facial Recognition Technology 

Facial recognition technology is used for a variety of reasons in a variety of sectors. However, facial recognition technology still faces a disparity in identifying individuals based on gender. In a 2019 study that tested the validity of gender recognition services, transgender men were wrongly identified up to 38% of the time, and those who identified as agender, genderqueer or nonbinary were mischaracterized 100% of the time. Some of these technologies were outdated to the point that even cisgender men with long hair were being categorized as women.  

Since then, this technology has already taken a turn for the better, with several companies adapting their AI image recognition algorithm to identify people in ways aside from gender. This will better help the devices increase reliability of the data they collect, whether it be from airport security cameras or our own cell phones.  

Artificial Intelligence  

Many of the AI we encounter daily (Siri, Alexa, Cortana, etc.) have default settings gendered as female. Why is that? This ideology comes from the harmful stereotypes of a woman’s role in serving and is the result of unjust biases during creation. To combat this, some companies are taking a more inclusive approach to artificial intelligence, using gender-neutral voices for virtual assistants.   

Digital Research 

Individuals have the freedom to define their own identity without being confined to the black and white thinking of simply “male” or “female.” This truth has already been recognized by so many, so why is it not as widely implemented in our technology and research? When taking surveys, booking appointments or completing applications, many times we are only offered the choice of selecting “male” or “female.” By taking the simple step in creating more inclusive drop-down lists or including options like “nonbinary” or “genderqueer,” we can alleviate unnecessary exclusion and gain better insight. This also helps researchers derive more concise conclusions about the needs and defining characteristics of the individual, rather than the assumed group they belong to.   

Pronoun Inclusion 

Many online platforms are already providing the opportunity to present one’s pronouns with their name and title. While this may seem like a small change, it alleviates a great amount of pressure for individuals to advocate for themselves in professional settings when being introduced. As organizations, one way to normalize this process is to program our email signatures to include the option for pronouns. This way, nobody has to take the step of announcing themselves and the group can get straight to business. 

Understanding and respecting not only the industry’s, but our society’s shift away from gendered technology is crucial in accommodating the diverse individuals in this space and improving the digital experience. Moving forward, the industry will have more opportunities to adapt and include new players that will greatly impact the IT community, and ivision is up for the challenge.