Redefining Women: Gender Equality in Iconography

Noun Project’s Redefining Women Iconathon series will bring creative communities together to design new public domain icons that more accurately represent the women (and men) of today.

Visual language has the power to shape, reinforce and change our perceptions about the world. Despite the recent steps we’ve taken as a society to champion gender equality, many visual representations of women today still support outdated stereotypes. If you search the web for images of “entrepreneur,” “leader,” or “boss,” the majority of results are still images of men. On some sites, searching for the term “boss” results in images of “girl boss” or even “boss babe,” demeaning the idea of a woman in a leadership position.

Top search results for “boss” on a popular content provider platform

Similarly, if you search for visual images of “nurse,” “teacher,” “caregiver,” or “child care” you get results that predominantly depict women.

Top search results for “nurse” on Google

A recent PEW Research Center study found that men are overrepresented in image search results across the majority of jobs they examined, while images of women in professional roles appeared further down the page in search results. Being exposed to images builds your perception of the world and those around you. Icons are omnipresent, they saturate both our physical and digital environments to the point that often we don’t consciously notice their presence. But the bias towards men and lack of representation of professional women in our everyday visual world sets a dangerous precedent in our society — that women don’t belong in the professional realm. Most poignantly stated by researchers George Gerbner and Larry Gross: “Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation,” as noted in Why On-Screen Representation Actually Matters by Sara Boboltz and Kimberly Yam on Huffpost.

“Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.”

At Noun Project, we’ve taken active steps to surface more diverse and gender neutral content by making changes to our Search algorithms and carefully curating against content that is blatantly sexist, exploitative, or tagged in a demeaning way. But that doesn’t fix the underlying issue, which is that we still need more icons that depict women and men equally, and in particular that depict women in professional roles.

As the leader in visual communication, Noun Project will be hosting a 3-city Iconathon design workshop tour to create iconography that sets a new precedent for visual representation of women. Knowing how important it is to visually give women a seat at the table, we want to create public domain images that raise expectations of the way our society should be and empower equal representation of women in the professional world. From women in leadership, to women in design, entrepreneurship, business, and more, we’ll be working together with designers, subject matter experts and engaged citizens in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York to create new, public domain icons that will be free for anyone to use.

To join us at a Redefining Women Iconathon, RSVP for the event in your city:

March 16, 2019
Redefining Women San Francisco at General Assembly
Featuring Cathi Kwon, Principal Product Manager at Adobe

March 23, 2019
Redefining Women Los Angeles at The Riveter
Shiza Shahid, Co-Founder of the Malala Fund and Founding General Partner of NOW Ventures

April 20, 2019
Redefining Women New York at SVA
Liz Danzico, Creative Director at NPR and Chair and Co-Founder of the MFA in Interaction Design Program at SVA

This is just the first set in a series of Iconathons designed to support the creation of more equal and accurate representation in iconography. To stay up to date on future Iconathon initiatives, subscribe to our newsletter, the Noun Gazette.

Interested in getting involved or partnering with Noun Project to host an Iconathon? Let us know here.

Sofya Polyakov

Sofya Polyakov

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