Is Your Website Gender Neutral?August 21, 2020 No Comments
Featured article by Rob Barnes, Independent Technology Author
All of us are biased in some way. Some of us might be more conscious of our bias than others, but all of us have preconceived ideas about people, places, and societal roles that come from either our upbringing or our education. These can include old-fashioned ideas like men being the main ‘breadwinners’ in families, or women being more likely to be nurses than doctors. We might not act on these biases, and we might mentally correct ourselves when we experience them, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can leak out in our behavior and conduct when we’re not paying attention. That fact is unfortunately just as true for web designers as it is for everybody else.
You might be wondering how a website can be sexist. If you are indeed pondering that question, you’re probably male. Women are far more likely to pick up on non-gender neutral use of language and predominantly male-focused images than men are, and we suspect every woman reading this has encountered a website that she found to be sexist before now. No category or type of website is immune from this predicament – even coding websites have been found to be overtly sexist in the past, and coding is (or should be) about as gender-neutral as any activity could be.
You might own and operate a sexist website without being aware that you’re operating a sexist website. You might be in the middle of coding a sexist website right now and have no idea you’re doing it. How do you avoid doing that, and what steps should you take to ensure that your website is as inclusive as possible? We’ve got a few handy pieces of advice to help you on your way.
Use Gender-Neutral Language
As English speakers, we’re lucky that we communicate in a language that’s largely gender-neutral already. Imagine how hard it must be for someone who speaks French – a language where everything has a gender – to create a gender-neutral website. Your task is easy. Get rid of out-dated gender-specific terms (there’s no longer any such thing as an actress, for example. Every performer you see in films, television shows, or on stage is an actor), and avoid assuming that roles or functions will be carried out by someone with a specific gender. If possible, avoid referring to gender at all. We’re well into the era where businesses have had to become conscious of not misusing personal pronouns, so use ‘they’ and ‘their’ instead of anything specific to men or women, and you shouldn’t have a problem.
Balance Out Your Images
We’re all well aware of what bad stock photographs look like. In the context of service industry websites, they generally consist of smiling women in customer service roles with a headset on, happily speaking to customers, and men in expensive-looking suits shaking hands and agreeing big deals. Women are almost as underrepresented in ‘powerful’ stock images as they are in boardrooms. Check how many images of men and women you have on your website, and also check how they’re represented. If you have more men in general, and those men appear to be doing more important things that the women are, you’re going to need new stock photos. You don’t need to do away with the pictures of men doing important things, but there need to be just as many women if you don’t want your site to give off an impression of unconscious bias.
Adapt Your Product Focus
There are very few products and services that are exclusively used by men, or exclusively used by women. We might think that men are more interested in, for example, power tools, video games, and gambling products than women are. That isn’t true, and it hasn’t been true for several years. Some of the highest-profile video gamers in the world are female. There are now multiple female-focused online slots websites to cater to the ever-increasing number of women playing free spins casino. Women are as likely to carry out home improvements as men are. The reason that women are more drawn to female-focused online slots websites is that so many online slots websites strongly pitch toward men, but you don’t have to go as far as creating a female-specific site for your product or service if you can balance out your own. Go back to your ‘ideal’ customer profile and work out who you’re pitching to with the way your products are displayed. If that person is very definitely male, you need to adapt your tone.
Use Neutral Colors
Historically and traditionally, blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Gender separation based on colors doesn’t stop there, though. There are other colors that are seen as more female than male and vice versa. If you want your website to appeal to everyone universally, you need to avoid those colors and stick to neutral shades. Your classic neutral colors are white, gray, and black. We appreciate that they’re not exciting colors, so here’s a tip; you can also get away with green as a neutral shade. Brown and yellow are also considered to be gender-neutral, although we’re not sure we’d sign off on the idea of using them as a combination!
Even Fonts Matter
Yes, you read that correctly – even fonts matter when it comes to putting together a gender-neutral website. Bold, thick, straight fonts are thought of as male in design, whereas fonts that are curved and smooth are more likely to be seen as female. Because of that, you shouldn’t use fonts that fit into either one of those categories. It would be best if you had something that fits in the middle. As there are thousands (if not millions) of fonts available free of charge on the internet, you shouldn’t have a problem finding something suitable, but even the standard range of fonts that comes with Microsoft Office has a couple of contenders. Helvetica works just fine as a gender-neutral font, as does Calibri.
We appreciate that there will be exceptions to everything we’ve just said. There are still some industries and products that are exclusively male or exclusively female, and if you sell those products or services, there’s nothing wrong with wanting your website to reflect that. For everyone else, though, you could be limiting the reach of your website by accidentally excluding a whole gender, and that’s why it’s so important to make changes and adjust your balance. Websites can be made gender-neutral with a minimum of effort, so there’s no reason not to do it!