Gendered Innovations in Design

Accounting for gender differences can increase your market share


Gender analysis can help innovators tap into new markets and detect underutilized business opportunities. Consider, for instance, Electronic Arts recent decision to include women soccer players and teams in its blockbuster computer game FIFA 16. Today, soccer is among the most popular sports across the globe, with more than 1.6 million registered female players in the US alone. By opening games to a new users, FIFA 16 and EA SPORTS has massively expanded its global customer base.


The gender gap in literacy remains a hidden barrier to financial inclusion in many developing countries. ATMs, for instance, require a basic ability to read and understand numbers and text, making them inaccessible to illiterate groups. By integrating gender analysis into the design process, tech-designers can become aware of such barriers and create better and more gender inclusive solutions. For example, providing simple icons and verbal instructions as alternatives to text and numbers in ATMs represents an important innovation.


In a recent experiment researchers found that search algorithms displays fewer ads for high-paying executive jobs to women than to men. Conducting an experiment, researchers found that the men were five times more likely than women to be offered ads for high-paying executive jobs. Carnegie Mellon s Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Machine Learning project seeks to tackle this problem and help equalize pay for women and men.


A tech company is planning to design a wearable to detect early signs of heart disease. Recognizing that men and women have different patterns of heart disease can enhance the usability and uptake of the device.

Big Data

Public transportation systems that conceptualize new data-collection techniques to capture the mobility of care travel for child-care, elder-care, etc.) create more efficient systems. Traditionally, civil engineers collect data in eight trip categories: employment, education, shopping, leisure, and the like. None of these traditional trip categories captures workwomenmenUniversitywomendiv caringcaring for children, the elderly, or households. Conceptualizing the "mobility of care" as a category of analysis creates more efficient transportation systems, reducing costs and enhancing the quality of life. The gendered innovation here is reconceptualizing how big data are collected to include all users.

Sánchez de Madariaga, I. (2013). The Mobility of Care: A new Concept in Urban Transportation.

In Sánchez de Madariaga, I., & Roberts, M. (Eds.), Fair Share Cities: The Impact of Gender Planning in Europe. London: Ashgate.

Automobile Safety

Conventional seatbelts do not fit pregnant women properly, and motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of fetal death related to maternal trauma. Gendered innovations have led to the development of pregnant crash test dummies that enhance safety in automobile testing and design.

Assistive Technologies

As the world’s population ages, robust new markets for assistive technologies are emerging. Elderly men and women may have different needs. Designing with these distinctive needs in mind helps develop technologies that yield broader markets.


When it comes to commenting on news articles, female participation is disturbingly low. Studies show that male-authored comments far outnumber female comments (by 72% at The New York Times, for example) The gender bias of news commenting impacts both business and participation. Fewer comments by women jeopardizes the marketplace of ideas and opinion. Less involvement and time spent on a news site impacts the bottom line as women are less exposed to advertising. News comments surfaces gender differences that range from communication behavior to design considerations including responses to story and photo placement. It also challenges news organizations to provide opportunities for users to respond to stories and journalists in a way that is richer, more useful, more interesting, more inclusive to all.

Natural Language Processing

Gender matters: state of the art machine translation systems, such as Google Translate or Systran, often default to masculine pronouns, e.g., “he” said. When trained on historical data (as Google Translate is), the system inherits bias (including gender bias). Gendered Innovations have led to efforts to develop algorithms that determine the gender of each person in a text—a deep “fix” that enhances the quality of translation.

Search Algorithms

Anyone who has spent time on Pinterest will not be surprised that the content tends to favor women. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal has reported that up until 2014 71% of Pinterest’s users have been women. But more recently, the “visual discovery site” has received a 73% increase in male users. Pinterest has adapted to the change by updating its search algorithm to make the site more gender neutral. When a male user searches for watches, he now may see pins “inspired by what other guys have pinned” instead of women’s timepieces. Why the change? Much like many of the other social sites, Pinterest is looking to retain and build its male audience in order to sell more ads through its “promoted pins.”


Apple released its health app, HealthKit, in 2014. The app tracks lots of things: blood pressure, steps taken, daily calories, blood alcohol content, percent body fat, respiratory rate, intake of sodium, magnesium, calcium, fiber, iodine, chromium, etc. What doesn’t it track? Women’s menstrual cycles. Apple missed half of its market. Apple fixed and released the app in 2015. What was the cost in terms of profit, poor publicity, and team morale? Any biometric needs to look at physiological differences between men and women (sometimes also age or ethnicity) to insure usability and safety to customers. Resources for physiological sex differences:

Oertelt-Prigione, S.& Regitz-Zagrosek, V. (Eds.) (2012). Sex and Gender Aspects in Clinical Medicine. London: Springer Verlag

Regitz-Zagrosek, V. (Ed.) (2012). Sex and Gender Differences in Pharmacology. London: Springer Verlag

Schenck-Gustafsson, K., DeCola, P., Pfaff, D., Pisetsky, D. (Eds.) (2012)

Handbook of Clinical Gender Medicine. Basel: Karger, 2012

Klein, S. & Roberts, C. (Eds.) (2015). Sex and Gender Differences in Infection and Treatments of Infectious Diseases London: Springer.


GoldieBlox captures a new toy market. Designed to teach engineering skills to girls, GoldieBlox went from a prototype on Kickstarter in 2012 to a toy sold by more than 6,000 retailers worldwide today. GoldieBlox was named s Choice and Most Educational Toy at the 2014 Toy of the Year Awards. GoldieBlox pairs a construction kit with a storybook, engaging verbal skills to inspire the next generation of women engineers. The mission of Goldieblox is to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, math -rand to change the way we think about toys for girls.



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