We no longer issue awards for Whiny Feminist of the Month and Gormless Feminist of the Month, but if we did, Rachel Coldicutt would win both awards. A piece by Emma Yeomans in today’s Times, emphases ours:
Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are female so that they can be bossed about by men, the chief executive of a British tech charity has said.
Amid growing anger at sexism in the industry, thousands of Google employees across the world walked out this week to protest against the company’s handling of sexual harassment and payoffs to senior staff accused of sexual misconduct.
Gender inequality at technology companies has implications for their products, said Rachel Coldicutt, chief executive of Doteveryone, a charity and think tank founded by the dotcom millionaire Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho. “It’s an industry unusually dominated by men,” Ms Coldicutt said. “We are concerned that you have a very tiny cohort of people from very similar backgrounds, who are designing and taking to market products changing the lives of everyone.
“Think of all the home assistant systems, such as Alexa and Siri — they all have women’s voices and names. It’s rare to have a voice assistant with a male name or voice because it’s about bossing around women.”
The home assistants are also better at recognising men’s voices because the databases that train them are disproportionately male, according to researchers at Washington University.
Ms Coldicutt, who has worked in technology and digital media for more than 20 years, added: “Everything Elon Musk [the billionaire Tesla founder] makes is penis-related: cars with batteries that last for ever, rockets that go to the Moon, boring machines that drill into the centre of the Earth. The problem is sometimes people who have worked in engineering have not spent a lot of time around women and don’t know how to treat them.”
Women make up 17 per cent of computer science students, according to the Higher Education Statistics Authority.
Sheree Atcheson, global ambassador at Women Who Code, said: “Whether it’s harassment, an attack or worse, people are having to walk out just to get acknowledgment that it’s happening.”
Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, said he backed the right to protest and in an email said it was important to him that “we take a much harder line on inappropriate behaviour”.
Siri’s gender and accent can be changed in the settings menu. In Britain the default voice is male but in the US it is female.
You can subscribe to The Times here.
If everyone who read this gave us just £1.00 – or even better, £1.00 or more, monthly – we could change the world. Click here to make a difference. Thanks.