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WiCipedia: Are Fembots a Boon or Bane for WiT?

Eryn Leavens
6/22/2018

This week in our WiCipedia roundup: Fembots 2.0; Google's diversity battles; women's voices aren't heard; and more.


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  • Think all the fancy virtual assistants clogging our devices are a tech boon? Think again when it comes to women in tech. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s Siri, Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN)'s Alexa, Autodesk Inc. 's Ava -- the list goes on -- are basically fembots who cater to the user's every need, The Financial Times (subscription required) says. Or are they? Ava was created by a woman who was part of a majority female team. Rachael Rekart, director of machine assistance at Autodesk, said that "the new breed of artificially intelligent women such as Ava [embodies] female empowerment," because of their whip-smart, able-to-answer-any-question-in-under-three-seconds skills. She's also a double minority, "even though research suggested the company's typically white male customers would have preferred a Caucasian." So it's hard to tell whether these version 2.0 fembots are a blessing or a curse for women in tech, but like everything else in tech, we think some balance might be a good thing. (See WiCipedia: Dongles, SXSW & Marital Status Bias.)

    Autodesk's Ava

    (Source: The Financial Times)

  • Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s diversity number is up, and it's not cutting it. Its latest diversity reports shows that only 1.2% of employees are black women, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. The numbers aren't much better for other minorities, and aware of these discrepancies, Google has pledged to focus hiring efforts on Hispanic and African-American women, says USA Today. The numbers have barely shifted since last year's diversity report. (See WiCipedia: Diversity Fatigue & 'Unprotected' Minorities at Google.)

  • However, outside of Google, black women in tech are making strides -- albeit small ones. CNN Money reports that "the number of black women who have founded tech startups has more than doubled since 2016," which brings the number to 4% of entrepreneurs in the US. Funding has also increased a whopping 500%; unfortunately that still only brings the average amount raised to a mere $42,000. These stats come from a digitalundivided study called Project Diane, which tracks the progress of black female founders. (See WiCipedia: Moms as Breadwinners & Black Panther a Win for WiT.)

    On the Rise
    While the amounts might still be small, the increase is undeniable.(Source: digitalundivided)
    While the amounts might still be small, the increase is undeniable.
    (Source: digitalundivided)

  • A fascinating diversity survey from Dice deduced that "62% of women found their ideas were ignored until repeated by men." Mic explains that the study also found that 63% of women did not expect the situation to get any better. Of the 40- to 50-year old demographic surveyed, 76% experienced ageism in tech roles, and of those surveyed who identified as LGBTQ, 40% experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation. (See IBM Faces Age Discrimination Accusations and WiC Panel: The Upside of Sexism Scandals.)

  • In yet another survey, tech app Blind found that 92% of tech workers rate their current companies as LGBTQ friendly. In honor of Pride Month, 2,475 people participated in the study, and Blind narrowed down the results to the top 13 major companies. Ninety-eight percent of respondents found social media site Pinterest to be LGBTQ friendly, while Airbnb, which came in last on the list, still finished at 87%. Nearly all 13 companies are headquartered in the very LGBTQ-friendly Bay Area, so we think that might make a difference. (See WiCipedia: Facebook's LGBT Stats, Broettes & 'Tiny Lady Hands' and WiCipedia: A Female-Only Island, Gender Quotas & Twitter's Oprah.)

    — Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, Light Reading

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    Joe Stanganelli
    Joe Stanganelli
    7/9/2018 | 8:27:03 PM
    Re: Female voices
    @kq4ym: And, on a separate note, I have heard (emphasis on *heard* -- this is pure hearsay) that dogs and other animals generally respond better to mens' voices than womens' voices.

    (FWIW, my parents' dog pays more attention to and dotes more on my dad than she does my mom. I acknowledge, however, that this is anecdotal and a subjective observation.)
    kq4ym
    kq4ym
    7/9/2018 | 8:30:15 AM
    Re: Female voices
    I would be interested to read more about the history of using male vs. female voices. I think I remember decades ago about some discusssion in the radio industry that male voices were used because they were easier to understand, especially as I recall in the international shortwave broadcasting world where reception was sometimes spotty because of static and interference to the radio signals. But, looking in hindsight maybe that was just a convenient excuse in those days to keep men employed almost exclusively as radio announcers?
    Joe Stanganelli
    Joe Stanganelli
    6/26/2018 | 11:05:20 PM
    Re: Female voices
    Sure -- and, interestingly, not necessarily male-driven culture.

    The old joke goes that the difference between men and women lies in their magazines... i.e., that men's magazines are full of pictures of attractive, not-fully-clothed women -- while women's magazines have pictures of...attractive, not-fully-clothed women.

    In any case, I think it'd be interesting to see what people choose for AI likenesses in the absence of defaults.
    ErynLeavens
    ErynLeavens
    6/25/2018 | 8:19:52 PM
    Re: Female voices
    That’s so interesting and does make sense scientifically. I’m sure there’s lots of logic behind using attractive female faces as well, though I’m not sure only doing that makes sense culturally now.
    Joe Stanganelli
    Joe Stanganelli
    6/24/2018 | 10:42:25 PM
    Female voices
    FWIW, from my recollection, the history of tending to use female voices for recordings and automated systems instead of male voices (going all the way back to that "At the tone, the time will be..." phone number) is a purely functional choice -- specifically, because of research suggesting that typically higher female voices and their enunciations are more easily heard than those of typically lower male voices.
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