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The new female emojis are our friends

Representation matters when it comes to gender. And of course it does not stop there, or with emojis.

Google

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


I have shared stories before of when, at the start of the smartphone market, I would go into meetings with male colleagues and they would be shown the powerful new gadget while I was shown the pink phone with a mirror and very large keys. This did not just happen once, and it was not just with Asian-based companies. I remember Research in Motion CEO Mike Lazaridis answering a question about how to sell to women with: "Just paint them pink!"

Representation matters when it comes to gender. And of course it does not stop there, or with emojis.

Last week, Google announced that the emoji subcommittee of the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit organization that develops and promotes software internationalization standards, had agreed to add 11 new characters that portray professional women in every skin tone. Furthermore, 33 existing emojis now have both a female and male version. This is the result of an effort by four Google employees who submitted the changes a few months ago, as the debate on women’s equality was impacting Hollywood, the U.S. treasury and, of course, tech.

In this post, Google quotes some interesting statistics about emoji usage across the world:

Young women are the heaviest users of emoji. According to a September, 2015 SocialTimes report by AdWeek, 92% of online consumers use emoji. Of that user base, 78% of women are frequent emoji users, versus 60% of men. Likewise, age breakdowns of the emoji-active user base reveal that 72% of those under 25 are frequent emoji users, and 77% of users aged 25 – 29 are frequent users. Emoji usage begins dropping at age 30 (with frequent usage dropping to 65% for ages 30-35, and 60% for people over 35.) The nexus of female users and young users reveals that women under 30 are most the frequent emoji users by far.

Representation matters when it comes to gender. And of course it does not stop there, or with emojis. If the tech industry wants to have more female engineers, designers, product managers, etc., girls needs to feel they can be one if they want to. And the same can be said about minorities in tech. Aside from the new emojis Google also launched, ahead of World Emoji Day over the weekend and through Made with Code, a new project that teaches coding skills through the creation of emoji-inspired stickers.

As a parent of an 8-year-old girl, I am very aware of using a variety of adjectives to describe her. Adjectives that go beyond her physical appearance and describe her skills, personality and traits. In her education, I make an effort to find books where girls and boys have different ethnic backgrounds and like different things. She is growing up being told she can be who and what she wants to be, as long as she works for it.

If the tech industry wants to have more female engineers, designers, product managers, etc., girls needs to feel they can be one if they want to. And the same can be said about minorities in tech.

I thought I had the basics covered. Then, a few weeks ago, she started to text and use emojis. Suddenly, she was using a form of expression I did not feel was comprehensive enough. It blew me away when she picked a "thumbs-up" emoji that was closest to the color of her skin and not just any color. She wanted that emoji to represent her!

But that was where her search ended. She could not find her curly hair or a female vet. As a matter of fact, she could not even find a dog that looked anything like ours (but ours are not mainstream dogs). If emojis are a form of communication, they should be as comprehensive as possible. Think about colors, and how ancient civilizations had only names for colors they could make, red being one of the oldest ones. If they could not make the color, that color did not exist, even if it was present in nature.

While fortunately, emojis are supplementing our communication rather than substituting it, I would hate to live in a world where the absence of an emoji would be the equivalent of an extinction warning. So, while by no means exhaustive, I do welcome these new emojis so my daughter will know being a bride is not the only career option she has.


Carolina Milanesi is a principal analyst at Creative Strategies Inc. She focuses on consumer tech across the board; from hardware to services she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Milanesi drove thought leadership research; before that, she spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as VP of consumer devices research and agenda manager. Reach her at @caro_milanesi.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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