Modern Tech Commercials Still Fall Short in Diversity, Study Finds
Recent commercials from major technology firms fail to represent diversity of genders and races, according to a University of Central Florida study.
Researchers found white and male faces were dominant in 54 commercials from 2012-13 from Apple, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, Microsoft, Comcast, Dell, Intel and Google.
Race was identifiable in 316 of the people featured in the ads. Of these, 68.4 percent were white, 17.4 percent were black, 11.7 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander and 2.5 percent were Hispanic/Latino.
Of the 401 people in the commercials whose gender was identifiable, 58 percent were male. Men also dominated voiceovers in commercials, with just 13 percent featuring a female voice.
“Given these findings, it is possible that video advertisements may not be helping to question stereotypes that contribute to the gap that exists in the field of computer science,” according to the study recently published in Gender Issues.
Just 18 percent of computer science degrees awarded in 2014-15 went to females, and just over 10 percent went to non-white females in that same year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“We’re not saying that these ads cause women and girls to avoid computer technology and other STEM fields, but they also do little to change these patterns,” said UCF professor and co-author Elizabeth Grauerholz.
Subriena Persaud, a graduate of UCF’s applied sociology master’s degree program who is now a development research analyst at George Mason University, was the lead author of the study. UCF associate professor Amanda Koontz Anthony was also a co-author.
When gender and race were combined, the study found white males were the most represented group at 37.6 percent. The second-most represented group was white females at 31.2 percent, followed by black males at 11.1 percent. Hispanic females were the least represented group at below 1 percent, with Hispanic males represented just slightly more at 2.2 percent.
All of the commercials examined advertised a product or service for these companies.
Men have dominated advertisements for decades, according to literature as far back as 1979 that’s cited in the study. Women often were portrayed as subordinate to men, and would have a feminine touch or would be highly emotional and withdrawn from social interactions, for example.
While progress has been made in equal representation – Microsoft’s “Make What’s Next” campaign that highlights women and girls of various races is a great example, said Grauerholz – there is still room for improvement.
“In many white-and male-dominated fields, there is the assumption that race and gender don’t matter – just talent,” said Grauerholz. “But we know that gender and race shape all interactions, no matter how subtle.”
The researchers hope these findings will spur companies to include more diversity in their advertisements, and that individuals will become more educated consumers.
“Media matters, and as a society, it’s important to open doors to equality, not close them,” said Grauerholz.