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Gendered or Neutral?:
Considering the language of HCI


The human-computer interaction (HCI) community appears at first glance to be gender neutral in that we often select gender non-specific words when referring to people in our writing. However, like many professions, we still face diversity challenges that have inspired research considering questions of gender equality in HCI. We join this body of research by conducting a study that explores whether the language used in our papers to describe people is actually perceived as gender neutral.

In our paper, we present a Mechanical Turk study that explores how the most common words that have been used to refer to people in recent HCI literature are received by non-experts. An analysis of the proceedings of CHI 2014, HCI’s top conference featuring nearly 1000 papers, shows that the top five “people words” are: user, participant, person, designer, and researcher. While we may intend the language that we use within our community to be neutral, our method can be used to help determine whether this is the case. We offer an increased understanding of the perception of HCI’s people words and discuss the challenges this poses to our community in striving toward gender inclusiveness.

People

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Adam Bradley

University of Waterloo
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Cayley MacArthur

University of Waterloo
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Mark Hancock

University of Waterloo
Sheelagh Carpendale

Sheelagh Carpendale

University of Calgary


Publications

  • A. Bradley, C. MacArthur, M. Hancock, and S. Carpendale, Gendered or Neutral? Considering the Language of HCI, in Proc. GI, Toronto, Ont., Canada, Canada, 2015, pp. 163-170.

    In this paper, we present a Mechanical Turk study that explores how the most common words that have been used to refer to people in recent HCI literature are received by non-experts. The top five CHI 2014 people words are: user, participant, person, designer, and researcher. We asked participants to think about one of these words for ten seconds and then to draw an image of it. After the drawing was done we asked simple demographic questions about both the participant and the created image. Our results show that while generally our participants did perceive most of these words as predominately male, there were two notable exceptions. Women appear to perceive the terms "person" and "participant" as gender neutral. That is, they were just as likely to draw a person or a participant as male or female. So while these two words are not exactly gender neutral in that men largely perceived them as male, at least women did not appear to feel excluded by these terms. We offer an increased understanding of the perception of HCIs people words and discuss the challenges this poses to our community in striving toward gender inclusiveness.

    @inproceedings{Bradley:2015:Users,
    author = {Adam Bradley and Cayley MacArthur and Mark Hancock and Sheelagh Carpendale},
    title = {Gendered or Neutral? Considering the Language of {HCI}},
    booktitle = {Proc. GI},
    series = {GI '15},
    year = {2015},
    location = {Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada},
    pages = {163--170},
    publisher = {Canadian Information Processing Society},
    address = {Toronto, Ont., Canada, Canada},
    abstract={In this paper, we present a Mechanical Turk study that explores how the most common words that have been used to refer to people in recent HCI literature are received by non-experts. The top five CHI 2014 people words are: user, participant, person, designer, and researcher. We asked participants to think about one of these words for ten seconds and then to draw an image of it. After the drawing was done we asked simple demographic questions about both the participant and the created image. Our results show that while generally our participants did perceive most of these words as predominately male, there were two notable exceptions. Women appear to perceive the terms "person" and "participant" as gender neutral. That is, they were just as likely to draw a person or a participant as male or female. So while these two words are not exactly gender neutral in that men largely perceived them as male, at least women did not appear to feel excluded by these terms. We offer an increased understanding of the perception of HCIs people words and discuss the challenges this poses to our community in striving toward gender inclusiveness.},
    pdf={gi2015-gendered-language.pdf},
    subtype={conference}
    }

Gendered or Neutral?
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