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Exploring current research and its effect on the gender status quo

How do researchers and research funders affect our views of men and women? EU-funded researchers answer this question through two informative videos that discuss gender and its relationship to robotics and human-computer interaction.

Society

Knowledge-based economies capitalise on innovations and the resulting knowledge and skills need to be easily accessible by businesses and the public sector, and to accurately reflect the changes and needs of modern society. As innovations in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field are gaining importance, it is essential that the research produced can be trusted. However, if gender inequality remains a serious problem in the STEM filed, are its results fully reliable or prone to distortion that eventually lead to negative impacts in people’s lives? To establish high quality and reliability as the hallmarks of STEM research, gender equality must prevail in research. The EU-funded GEECCO project proposes that research funding organisations have a vital role to play in changing the gender status quo. With this in mind, GEECCO is producing explanatory videos on the role gender plays in research.

Gender, robots and human-computer interaction

The project team has already produced two videos dealing with robotics and gender and human-computer interaction and gender. The videos summarise two literature reviews conducted as part of the project, namely ‘Literature Review: Gender and Robotics’ and ‘Literature Review: Gender Research in Human Computer Interaction’. The first video, ‘Robots in our society’, discusses what robotics has to do with gender and the responsibility of researchers and research funders. “Today, robots are increasingly humanised so people will accept them more easily. When we come into contact with them, we look for certain attributes, like voice, hair length or the form of the lips, and then refer to robots as he or she – even when they don’t look like a human being at all,” the video states. The conclusion reached is that robots can no longer be considered genderless. When people’s ideas of gender are transferred onto robots, their resulting interactions with these robots consequently influence their beliefs of what men and women are like. In the relatively new research field that is robotics, gender stereotypes might sometimes be unconsciously reinforced by designers. According to the video, “[w]e need to ask ourselves how the world we inhabit should be organised. Does a certain research project reinforce stereotypes of men and women? How can robots contribute to reducing gendered stereotypes? Gender-sensitive design addresses the needs of women, men and all other gender identities and thus expands a product’s target group.” In the second video, ‘Humans & Computers’, the discussion revolves around finding the features best suited for human-computer interaction to attract the highest possible number of product users and its relationship with gender. Three factors are highlighted: I-methodology, diversity and stereotype. With I-methodology, designers create products with themselves as role models. Since they’re mostly highly educated males, “[t]he needs of people who do not match this social group are often not considered,” the video explains. The proposed solution is working in highly heterogeneous teams. Diversity is also an important consideration when determining target groups, since no product is equally usable by everyone. Lastly, the video advises avoiding gender stereotypes “at all costs” since they could lead to erroneous conclusions. Research that takes all this into account might require more effort, “but it is necessary in order to bring digital products closer to people,” the video advises. GEECCO (Gender Equality in Engineering through Communication and Commitment) will also be releasing videos on mobility and gender, energy and gender, and intersectionality. Overall, the project aims to deliver gender equality plans (GEPs) to enhance systemic institutional change towards gender equality in the STEM field. Researchers at four partner universities have either started to implement GEPs or are further developing already existing ones. In addition, an exhibition on gender dimensions in research available in nine European languages was specifically created to give researchers and research funding organisations that have had little or no contact with the topic a good overview of the relevance of gender in research approaches and its application in individual research areas. The exhibition is available free of charge to all interested parties and can be easily downloaded and set up. For more information, please see: GEECCO project website

Keywords

GEECCO, gender, human-computer interaction, robot, stereotype

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