The Lawn Tennis Association has challenged Google to end its ‘bias’ towards male players as it takes search engines to task on International Women’s Day. Online searches are making women’s sport practically invisible, according to “shocking” research published today by British tennis’ governing body.
Despite tennis being one of the most gender balanced sports in the world, with equal prize money existing at all four major events and a number of female players being globally recognisable, online algorithms appear to be holding back its reputation for equality. The Gender Equality in Search Report, commissioned by the LTA, looked at over 8,000 keywords returned by over 150,000 URLs, and found the stark extent to which ‘male-specific’ content and information is the default result provided for generic search terms about players.
In one Google search for ‘best tennis players in the world’, 98 per cent of the top 51 results in the ‘athlete carousel’, images at the top of the results, were male, with Serena Williams the sole female player included. Looking specifically at image search results for generic queries, 78 per cent of images displayed above the fold (without the need to scroll) depicted male players, compared to just 15 per cent of female players and the rest being mixed results. Where video results were shown on page one for generic “best” or “top” player queries, 86 per cent of the 269 available slots showed male tennis players in the preview frame and as part of the key moments sections within the video, while just 14 per cent were of women.
The research also found that in the ‘people also ask’ sections of search results, 92 per cent of the immediately available options directed users to more male content. Research has shown this is not an issue exclusive to tennis or just sport, as a Pew Research Center study in 2018 found women to be largely underrepresented across search image results for a number of different professions.
To mark International Women’s Day, the LTA called on organizations including Google to boost the visibility of women’s sport by removing inherent gender bias that exists in search engine algorithms for results about sport. “Greater visibility is crucial for women’s tennis and for women’s sport in general in terms of building the perception of sport as being something for women, and in turn leading to greater participation,” LTA COO Julie Porter said.
“We’ve seen recently that the women’s finals at Grand Slams have attracted more television viewers than the men’s finals, but that visibility is not yet reflected in the balance of what people see when they search. It is genuinely shocking to see how dominated these results are by male-specific information. While gender parity in search is an issue that reaches far beyond just sport, if it is like this for a leading women’s sport like tennis then it demonstrates just how important it is that this issue is addressed.”
Great Britain’s Billie Jean Cup team captain, Anne Keothavong, added that she worried participation could be affected by the bias: “I knew it would be skewed towards men, but I didn’t realize quite by how much and that it was that extreme. But I also don’t know if I should be surprised, I feel like we’ve come such a long way but we are still so far off. have that visibility and the content is there for you to tap into for a lot of people you may feel like it’s not something for you.”
A Google spokesperson said: “Addressing gender representation in Search is an important priority for us, and we’ve made significant progress in this space over the years. Because our systems organize content from the web and common questions that people ask, results can sometimes mirror biases or stereotypes that exist on the web and in the real world. The web is constantly changing, and we are optimistic about improvements in gender representation in the media and society at large. As always, we’re committed to improving Search and making it more helpful for everyone.”