Women represent an average of 31.3% of the world’s senior business leaders but just 11.9% of Google Images results for the search "CEO" were of women

Women in business5

Google Images results in many countries don't reflect the proportion of senior women in business

The under-representation of women in senior business roles is well-known, but are search engines making the problem worse? Carys Hughes, global CFO at business intelligence expert Creditsafe, shares the results of a Google Images study and suggests how to strive for online gender equality


Search “CEO” in Google Images. Now try “business owner”. Do you see a common theme with the image results you are being served? Try something different and Google “office manager” – notice the difference?

Google has a problem with gender representation for business professionals, and we recently undertook some research to see how far the problem goes.

Creditsafe looked at the term “CEO” across the world in 15 countries to see how women in business are being represented to the average internet user.

The study looked at the top 25 image results in each country to accumulate an approximate percentage of female representation for the search term “CEO”.

Creditsafe global CFO Carys Hughes
Creditsafe global CFO Carys Hughes

This statistic was then compared to the real-life data on women in senior managerial roles from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In Russia, Yandex was used instead of Google as the country does not use the internet giant’s search engine.


What did the study reveal about the under-representation of women?

According to statistics from the ILO, women represent an average of 31.3% of the world’s senior business leaders, though just 11.9% of Google Images results for the search “CEO” were of women.

The statistic varies in each country but Canada was found to have the most accurate representation of women in business with 38.88% of image results showing female CEOs, compared to their 36.2% real-life statistic.

On the other end of the scale, Colombia was found to have the highest discrepancy in image results compared to real-life statistics.

The country boasts a 53.1% percentage of women in senior business roles compared to Google’s representation which was nonexistent.

No women appeared in the top 25 search results for “CEO”.

The UK has a 34.2% stat of women in senior management roles. However, Google was only showing almost one in five (19.04%) in the image search results.

This placed it towards the middle of the table when ordering countries by the discrepancy percentage between Google and reality.

You can see the full results of the countries below in the graphic below.

under-representation of women
Google Image results for the representation of women in business by Creditsafe


What can be done to tackle under-representation of women?

 As Google pulls in images from pages across the web, we need to ensure we are fairly representing senior women in business online.

Photographers and web designers should help to ensure fair representation is done through the online imagery we portray of our businesses.

Make sure photos of your staff include everyone and ensure these are uploaded with the correct descriptions.

This not only helps those who use screen readers – which reads out text where images would be – but it also helps search engines to associate photos of business settings and roles with a more diverse range of people.

Before we start taking photos and uploading them of women in business, we first need to tackle the root of the problem and ensure our hiring methods reflect that of current society.