Google Doodles have become the new honorary postage stamps. Launched in 2001, the illustrations and animations that replace the Google logo to celebrate national holidays and historical birthdays are seen by hundreds of millions of people. While some people see these drawings as a way to “humanize the homepage”–as described by one Google engineer–others are critiquing the doodles for having the reverse effect.
An illustration of acclaimed American writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston graced the Google homepage on her birthday, January 7, this year, a move that was praised by many (and attacked by some.) But what about the other 364 days of the year?
“[From] 2010-2013, Google celebrated 445 individuals on its various homepages throughout the world,” SPARK reported. “[Nineteen] were women of color, 54 were white women, 82 were men of color, and an overwhelming 275 were white men.”
According to SPARK’s findings:
- About half of those 19 women of color appeared in 2013 alone.
- Out of the 24 Global Doodles released in 2013, two featured Black women (marking the first time any woman of color had been in a Global Doodle, ie. Doodles seen by the entire world.)
- There hasn’t been a single Asian, Latina, or indigenous woman featured in a Global Doodle as of February 2014.
- There have already been more women of color in 2014 than there were in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Like a postage stamp, only individuals who have made significant contributions to the world in their lifetimes are considered for the honor. In the case of Gogle Doodles, features can only occur posthumously.
So, in effect, critics believe that by honoring an underwhelming number of women of color, Google is essentially making a highly-publicized statement about the global achievements (or, rather, the lack thereof) of women of color.
Science educator Ann M. Martin, Ph.D. has also been researching, tracking and writing about gender in Google Doodles in her blog Speaking Up. Since launching the blog, Martin has published two open letters to Google
“Google Doodles highlight role models in science, technology, the arts, and the humanities, but a quick look will show you that the people you have chosen to honor do not represent the full spectrum of humanity,” she wrote in the first open letter.
“In particular, you have work to do to make Google Doodles equitable in their representation of women and people of color.”
Martin and SPARK’s campaigns for more diverse Google Doodles extends far beyond a need to balance out what Google users see on the popular search website.
Their arguments hinge on the belief that if people do not see themselves reflected or recognized for accomplishments in a particular field, then they are less likely to think they can succeed in those fields. A technological leader born out of the white male-dominated Silicon Valley, Google is often referred to as a major influencer of the entire STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industry, which adds even more significance to their approach to gender diversity.
Disparity for women of color in the tech space does not begin and end with Google Doodles. In 2012 women made up a quarter of the computing workforce, with African-American women having held just 3 percent of all tech jobs. As for leadership, women in tech make up only 5 percent of the founders and chief executive of tech start-ups, comprising 11 percent of tech investors, according to Forbes.
To level the coding field, Black Girls Code founder and electrical engineer Kimberly Bryant started organization to fill the dearth of African-American women in STEM professions, an absence that she says cannot be explained by a lack of interest, but rather a lack of access and exposure.
Additional organizations working to get more females into Silicon Valley and STEM include Girls Who Code, a nonprofit aiming to to realize gender parity for computing jobs by 2020, Girl Develop It and Ladies Learning Code.
As Martin explained in her 2012 follow-up open letter to Google, representing a wider spectrum of individuals with Google Doodles would not only benefit young girls, women and, consequently, the entire world, but the tech giant would also be a better leader for it.
“Addressing your gender diversity problem would be fun, it would be rewarding, it would bring a valuable perspective to your work and approach, and it would be the right thing to do.”