Do we really need Google's working women emojis?


Scientists, teachers and doctors have been represented as women (Source: Google/City A.M.)

What has the world come to?

This week Google announced it’s pushing for more emojis of professional women, having submitted 13 new ideas that highlight the diversity of women’s careers to the Unicode Consortium.

Frankly, the part that most caught my attention was not the emojis but the existence of a Unicode Consortium. That’s real news. I’m slightly aghast that the first I’ve heard about this non-profit devoted to developing, maintaining and promoting software internationalisation standards and data (and overseeing the creation of new emojis) is in an irrelevant story like this. One that seems extra pointless when there are so many more serious issues going on in the world.

It's all well and good that Google’s team are being outspoken about female role models but fighting for more equality in emoticons when women are vastly under-represented in real life tech world seems borderline ridiculous. Or is it?

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It's easy to dismiss this all as being immaterial in the fight to address gender imbalance but on reflection, I realise that these little pictures are one more way in which opinions can be formed - and prejudices created.

Check out your phone and take a look at which ‘people’ emojis are female. Currently, the option is a bride – which last time I looked wasn’t a job. So I find myself admitting that this is in fact an excellent idea, urgently needed and one that I am supporting.

These depictions of professional people – graduates, farmers, techies - people in food service, education and music (I’m not so sure about the rock star idea but hey, Beyonce needs an emoji too) contribute to establishing norms and influencing what’s socially acceptable and what’s not. And since it’s kids and young women in particular who use emojis, the very pipeline we are trying to encourage to consider careers they might typically identify as being ‘for boys’, this becomes even more important.

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I read yesterday that a receptionist at a city firm was told to wear two to four inch heels or go home, so she's claiming for unfair dismissal. If girls see emojis of women wearing pink dresses and high heels, then that's how they'll think they're expected to dress when they grow up. If boys see that same emoji, they’ll grow up expecting women to look like that too.

But if girls and boys see emojis of women footballers or female businesswomen, then maybe that will contribute to inspiring the girls to consider these careers and the boys to support their sisters when they voice their dreams and aspirations. Perhaps it will then be this emoji-using younger generation who will be the ones to break the gender issue prevalent in so many professional fields, especially the tech heartland of Silicon Valley, where the idea for these emojis was conceived.

This March, First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted that she’d love to see a girl studying emoji. Looks like Google were listening. I’m at Google’s offices in Palo Alto with SVC2UK (Silicon Valley comes to the UK) later this month and might use the opportunity to ask them to include an entrepreneur emoji. Maybe they’ll listen to me too?