Research and impact | By Matthew Little

Removing gender barriers in technology using the GenderMag method

Dr Simone Stumpf, a Senior Lecturer of City’s Department of Computer Science, has spent her career engaging with tech companies to design more inclusive and usable technology for a wide range of users, whatever their background, ability or gender.


In recent years, research has revealed that gender differences have significant impacts on how people use technology. Some examples of this are that women process information differently to men. In most cases, women integrate information comprehensively whereas men do so selectively. This means that they may experience different pathways in technology which takes them longer to reach their goal. Women also tend to be more risk-averse than men which may mean that they are less likely to explore software interfaces and miss out on features that could help their work.


Furthermore, research also shows that much of this technology is designed to be more supportive of young, white, able-bodied men which is reflective of the majority of design and development teams. This can result in technology that is not inclusive which may have adverse impacts on profitability and societal aims.


Prior to this work, there were no ways for designers and developers to systematically locate gender barriers in their technology, remove them and ensure all users are included irrespective of gender. To combat this, Dr Stumpf in collaboration with Oregon State University, created a method called GenderMag.


The method allows designers and developers to review their interfaces as if they were potential users. It highlights potential issues and challenges that some users may experience based on their gender. This then enables the designers to better identify problems within their technology and alter them to remove any gender barriers.


Since its creation in 2015, the software has been implemented into the design and development processes of Microsoft, Greenstone Digital Library, HazAdap and five other tech organisations to improve gender-inclusiveness of products and services used by millions of users worldwide. As of December 2020, the GenderMag toolkit has been downloaded 1,185 times by 353 unique organisations.


Dr Stumpf says: “Technology needs to be usable by all, not just the privileged few. My work endeavours to level the playing field, whatever the gender of the user. I hope that this contributes to making society and the opportunities granted to everyone more equal and fair.


“We are continuing to make GenderMag even easier to apply in practice, improving it with feedback from organisations. Next, we hope to extend the method to capture other aspects of diverse users such as race and socio-economic factors.”


For more information, visit the GenderMag project. The new method is available to download in a toolkit format, including instructions and materials for use and customisation.