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article imageDoes LinkedIn have a gender bias?

By Tim Sandle     Sep 19, 2016 in Technology
The ‘professional’ social networking site LinkedIn has been accused of having a gender bias. This is through providing more male professionals in its search results than females.
Of course a computer program itself isn’t biased, any ‘bias’ comes from the algorithms that drive the way the software functions. It is with the way that data is extracted in relation to key search terms that LinkedIn has come under criticism.
The charged against LinkedIn (soon to be a Microsoft owned company) is that when names are entered into its search field, which can be used by both men and women (such as Hilary), then it is most often male professionals that appear at the top of the search results rather than women.
The charge also contends that even when a female name is entered, often a male name appears. This is based on an experiment conducted by the Seattle Times. In a test, journalists entered the name "Stephanie Williams" on the professional networking service. It was found this triggered a prompt for "Stephen Williams" instead. This same effect was repeated with other female names.
In all the newspaper ran up to twelve female names and found that, each time, male names appeared at the top of the search. Conversely, running through 100 male names each time no female name alternatives were offered.
The LinkedIn company has denied that its search algorithm is biased and that the search outcomes are not gender related. However, LinkedIn has stated that it has also updated its algorithm to avoid proposing alternative names. The fix functions to more explicitly recognize people's names.
The BBC quotes from a LinkedIn spokesperson who says: "Suggestions of similar spelt names that are frequently searched for on LinkedIn will follow the search query.”
The spokesperson further explained that the LinkedIn search algorithm is shaped by the relative frequencies of words appearing in past queries and member profiles.
Microsoft purchased LinkedIn for $26.2 billion this summer. The deal will be completed by the end of 2016.
More about Linkedin, Gender bias, Gender, Sexism
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