Women Are Not The Secretaries Of Life

How our “friends” Alexa, Siri and Cortana perpetuate gender biases

In my house, both my husband and I work outside the home. We both run companies. Every morning we both hop on the suburban train into the city and usually take the same train home. As far as my son and daughter are concerned, we are equals when it comes to our responsibility in the workforce and our responsibility to provide for our family. It is my hope that my 9-year old daughter will see the example we set, and believe she can do anything she wants when she grows up.

My daughter completing the Rye Triathlon at age 8, Sept 2016.

However, it seems that the Apples, Microsofts and Amazon’s of the world are giving her a different message.

I recently realized that all the virtual assistants, which have been invented in the so-called progressive 21st century, and all in her short lifetime, have women’s names. Why? Are women better at being assistants? I mean, we ARE more nurturing, more efficient, better at multitasking and frankly, better at getting stuff done. But almost every tech company that makes virtual assistants, including this week’s announcement of Geico’s “Kate”, personify their AI as women, and therefore are reinforcing BS stereotypes that women are the ‘secretaries’ of our life; that we are responsible for all the answers and all the planning. The proliferation of ‘female’ artificial assistants is further reinforcing all the stereotypes of a woman’s place in the world order that, for decades, women have toiled to dispel, and that I have very consciously worked to not introduce in our home. It’s not the example that should be set, for girls, or more importantly, for boys.

There’s a known bias in the tech world against female entrepreneurs and a lack of senior female leaders in U.S. business. This is yet another unacceptable example of how companies are stacking the deck against women by perpetuating gender stereotypes. Kudos to Google for just calling their AI ‘Google’. Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Geico, etal, please take note.

When it’s time for my daughter to get her own first device, we’re changing the assistant to a man’s voice. Because, if she wants, she can run the world (or a company) one day, and hopefully she’ll do it with a lot of other women and their male AI assistants.