Can a web page be gender equal?

One of our customers asked us to analyze their web page from a gender perspective. As we consider it more important and sustainable to involve and train the staff responsible for updating the web page than to have an outsider doing the work and leaving no competence behind for future updates, we suggested two Equality Journey workshops with their web team. 

We asked each web author to analyze their own responsibility area and, as external consultants, we undertook the task of creating the bigger picture of the whole web page and how different sectors are represented on the web from their analysis.

During our process there were three classic challenges occurring that should be kept in mind when conducting a similar project in your organization.

1.    Be clear on what you want to achieve

The analysis could be just counting the heads of gendered people on the pictures and gendered statements in the text... or one could take the analysis to a more serious level, that is, mapping, not only from a quantitative, but also from a qualitative perspective. 

To put it simple, this deeper analysis would look at how gender norms or gender breaking norms occur in pictures and texts, what kind of femininity or masculinity is expressed, if there is a pattern, and if it re-creates or challenges norms about women, men and trans people.  

2.    Make sure you have gender equality objectives in your organization

It’s common to have a gender equality vision, but a lack of measurable objectives of the gender equality work. It will then be difficult for the persons in charge of the analysis to keep a common direction on the work.

Also, the equality objectives should relate to the general objectives of the organization. If this connection is weak, this might be a major obstacle conducting the analysis. There might be a lack of motivation, as the person in charge of the analysis does not understand how and why this makes sense for the organization. The analysis needs to be put in the context of the organization or otherwise it might become too wide and general to support a concrete change

Always mind the difference between objectives and results.  

3.    Allocate resources and attention for conducting the task

The staff needs to be introduced to why analysis should be conducted and to the importance of the measure. An outside consultant cannot be the one to give the task the importance it deserves, she only supports the process. To allocate resources, such as setting apart particular work hours, and giving attention to the process and results, are important measures that show the value of gender equality work.

The result of our analyses of our client’s website showed a quite traditional expression of gender norms, such as pictures of women from the called “female” dominating sectors in the organization or stereotypically portrayed men. For example, there were pictures of nurses in an elderly unit and working in the Kindergarden, when there could be also male workers portraying some of these services. Or a picture of a man sitting on a bench illustrating the debt service office, instead of a picture of a family, who are the biggest client group.

Some norm breaking pictures could be found on the web page, particularly connected to young people and women.  There were women portrayed in dirty clothes with a big sharp tool in a park, and a picture of guitars with girl names on them hanging on a wall in one of the youth houses.

One of the results was also the need to update the image bank. The process helped the participants to understand the importance of planning not to re-produce in the pictures the stereotypical norms of people employed in the organization, but also of their customers.

With our tool Equality Journey, the participants understood that gender should not be the only object for the analysis, but that other factors such as ethnicity, age and disability needed to be taken into account. Instead of an outsider conducting a task for this organization, the journey towards a more transformative change has only started.

CEO Malin Gustavsson, Ekvalita