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New plug-in targets stereotyped search results to encourage more female engineers

Presidents are men, nurses are women. Preschool teachers are female while engineers are male. Or at least that is what the image search results would lead online searchers to believe anyways. But a simple search engine plug-in is helping to fight those gender stereotypes — Re-Search displays gender-balanced search results alongside that page of female nurses or male photographers Google just turned up.

Re-Search is a beta version plug-in by Semcon. Installed on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, the plug-in will display a more gender-neutral image search right alongside the results from the usual favorite search engines.

The plug-in only works for career image searches and so far for only a small list of them from astronaut to truck driver, but it is the reasoning behind the technology that sets Re-Search apart.

“When we choose a profession, our choices have already been narrowed down based on images we have seen in the media, advertising and popular culture,” Semcon wrote on its website. “With the internet, many of us hoped we would get access to a more diverse set of images of different professions, and there is no question that the non-stereotypical images are out there. The problem is that they don’t show up in the search results, unless you search for them specifically.”

The company says that the plug-in is designed to be a first step toward showing better role models and more balanced professions online. Semcon, an international technology product company, said it needs more female engineers — and so it is starting with better role models. The company’s goal is to have a male-female ratio between 40 and 60 percent by 2022.

“If engineers are portrayed as men in yellow helmets, how can young women feel that the job might be of interest to them?” said Anna Funke, Re-Search project manager. “Role models are important when people are thinking about their career choices and the internet is the first place many people look for information.”

After the beta version launched at the end of November, Semcon’s video promoting the search engine add-on topped YouTube’s top 10 list after 24 hours.

While still in beta, the free plug-in will launch working with 65 different professions for English searches. The beta version is available to download at the Semcon website.