- Researchers have found that men outnumber women 4:1 in literary works.
- They used natural language processing, a branch of artificial intelligence, to analyze signals of gender pronouns.
- The cumulative effect of this unconscious gender bias could contribute to increasing the gender pay gap and reducing the number of women in leadership positions.
“Reader, I married him.” So says Jane Eyre, the eponymous heroine of Charlotte Bronte’s classic 1847 romance – a line so famous because of the obstacles she has to jump over to get to that point.
But some 175 years and all the progress toward gender equality later, there are four times as many Edward Fairfax Rochester than Jane Ayers, according to artificial intelligence (AI).
It also provided insight into the adjectives used to describe women—and for now, let’s just say Bronte wouldn’t agree with it.
Gender bias in books
Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering used a Machine learning tool to analyze 3000 books numbered in Project Gutenbergincluding novels, short stories, and poetry, ranging from adventure and science fiction to mystery and romance.
Mayank Kejriwal, head of research at the University of Southern California’s Institute of Information Sciences (ISI), is an expert in natural language processing (NLP) and has been inspired by work on implicit gender biases.
Together with co-author Akarsh Nagaraj, a machine learning engineer at Meta, Kejriwal used Named Entity Recognition (NER), the NLP method used to extract gender-specific characters.
“One way we determine this is to look at the number of female pronouns in a book compared to male pronouns,” Kejriwal says. They also determined how many female characters represented the main characters in the book, to see if the male characters were central to the story.
The World Economic Forum has been measuring the gender gaps since 2006 at the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report.
The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress in closing gender gaps at the national level. To turn these ideas into concrete action and national progress, we have developed Bridging the gender gap accelerators A model for cooperation between the public and private sectors.
These accelerators have been held in ten countries in three regions. Accelerators have been set up in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Panama in partnership with American Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.
All country accelerators, along with knowledge partner countries demonstrating global leadership in bridging gender gaps, are part of a broader ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, which facilitates the exchange of ideas and experiences through the Forum platform.
In 2019, Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch an accelerator to bridge the gender gap. While more women than men attend university, women represent just over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Also, working women in the labor force are less likely to receive the same pay as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management positions.
In these countries, chief executives and ministers are working together within a three-year timeframe on policies that help close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized child care and the removal of unconscious bias in hiring, retention and promotion practices.
If you represent a business in one of the “Gender Gap Accelerator” Countries You can join the local membership base.
If you represent a company or government in a country where we do not currently have a tool to close the Gender Gap Accelerator, you can Connect with us To explore opportunities to create one.
Consider the gender gap
While other research has found that women read more than men, men’s signals outnumber women by 4:1 in the University of Southern California study. Frankly, this “gender gap” narrowed when the books were written by women.
“He clearly showed us that women of those times represented themselves much more than the male writer,” says Nagaraj.
The NLP technique also allowed the researchers to find adjective associations with gender-specific personalities, which they said deepened their understanding of bias and its prevalence in society.
“Even with the wrong attribution, words associated with women were adjectives like ‘weak’, ‘friendly’, ‘beautiful,’ and sometimes ‘stupid,’” says Nagaraj. “For male characters, words describing them included ‘leadership’, ‘strength,’ and Power” and “politics”.
Kejriwal hopes the study will highlight the importance of interdisciplinary research and, more specifically, the use of AI technology to highlight social issues and inequality.
Why is fair representation in literature important?
As Jessica Nordel told World Economic Forum in an interview for her book The End of Prejudice: “We live in a culture and absorb information from that culture about the relevant categories, the salient categories and what those categories mean. We internalize a lot of associations, stereotypes, and types of cultural knowledge about those categories.”
“Gender bias is very real, and when we see females four times less in the literature, it has a subconscious effect on people consuming culture,” Kejriwal says. “We have quantitatively revealed an indirect way that bias persists in culture.”
Nordel says that over time the cumulative effect of unconscious gender bias can build up — contributing to the gender pay gap and fewer women in leadership positions.
will take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwideaccording to the Global Forum on Gender 2021 Report, which does not fully reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It found a “persistent lack of women in leadership positions”, with women representing only 27% of all managerial positions.
Seeing women represented as equals in literature can be just one way to reduce unconscious bias and help bridge the gender gap.
“Our study shows that the real world is complex but that there are benefits for all the different groups in our society participating in the cultural discourse,” Kejriwal notes. “When we do that, there is a more realistic view of society.”