The corrosive impact of male-coded infographics

by Feb 2, 2017

Male-coded infographics send a corrosive subliminal message

male-coded infographics

How male-coded infographics endorse sexism

Images are a great way to compile and display a large amount of information. They’re certainly more interesting than piles of text.  3Plus gets sent significant numbers  that we refuse to use or promote. Why? Because many of the requests are for the publication of blatantly male-coded infographics, especially those related to leadership, management issues and career advice. Rarely a week goes without seeing examples of these male-coded infographics in our social media news feeds. The ones below have been chosen randomly. There are plenty more.

Read: Why women suffer from gender burnout?

Arrogance or accuracy?

Gender stereotyping is dangerous territory. Gender exclusion is even worse. As you can see, the infographic below lists the occupations of 7 billion people, which went out on the internet, all the icons except one are clearly masculine. It subtly implies that everyone represented in each section, except the baby, is male. 7 billion males. In this case it very much looks like 50% of the world’s population, women, do nothing.  Doesn’t feel right does it? It erases everyone else not just those who work, but who exist. It re-enforces the idea the working world (the world of “doing)” is a ‘mans world’ and women have no place in it. At all.  With subtly of a sledge-hammer, this male-coded infographic, re-enforces that idea and further embeds unconscious bias.



This theme is also perpetuated in other male-coded infographics we see relating to leadership. Male pictures, images or icons and male-led statistics, represent desired traits which are predominantly considered to be “masculine”.  Yet this infographic is supposed to represent all leaders. Here is where we see the ‘arrogance’ – men can be used to represent everybody and that’s it. With an increasing amount of research showing that women not only make effective, but valuable leaders, this is a major faux pas. Given the tag line of the image is to “lead by example,” don’t you think this is what this group should be doing?

male coded infographics

Read: Top 5 videos that highlight and tackle unconscious bias

Unconscious bias

These may not seem like huge issues on their own, and may produce a backlash from the ant-political correctness brigade, but when you look at the issue of unconscious bias it’s easy to see how these subtle messages can be damaging. By constantly associating professional success with men, then it further excludes women from the workplace. If we can’t even get women into infographics how can we get them on boards?

One excuse for this bias could be that most graphic designers are male.  But even this isn’t true. In the US, The National Education Association found in 2011 that 54% of all professional graphic designers were women. This is lower in the UK with only 40% of professionals being women, even though they make up 70% of students. So do we conclude that the most widely published graphic designers are male?  Or that we just accept that both male and female graphic designers have a default setting for the depiction of “people” and “leaders” as masculine?

Widely shared

These infographs are also “liked” and shared by diversity, inclusion and HR professionals, implying that further training on unconscious bias is needed. It’s not only men who have these unconscious bias’, Dorothy Dalton, international talent strategist, points out in her article about  Why HR doesn’t do much to help gender balance, that women hold this bias too:

All of this is before the deep-seated unconscious bias impacting identification, in recruitment and promotion of talent kicks in. These processes for the most part are managed by women.

Kristen Pressner has a brilliant TedX Talk on unconscious bias and how to spot and correct it in ourselves. These small instances of erasure will lead to greater gender balance and help shift our thinking which normalizes male-centric work places, language and professions. It’s a must watch.

Read: Why aren’t gender inclusion policies working?

A solution?

From 'Man Who Has It All' Facebook

From ‘Man Who Has It All’ Facebook

On his satirical Facebook page the “Man Who Has It All”  flips sexist situations in a humorous way, and makes us re-consider how terms like ‘tradesmen’ is gender neutral, when the opposite would never be.  Male-coded infographics are tiny, but corrosive micro-aggression’s, which may seem harmless in the short-term, but they invariably contribute to a big and wider picture of everyday sexism.

It’s time for a change. Designers, use your pens. Make the change.

Want to tackle your unconscious bias? Contact 3Plus now!


Esther Myers Contributor
Esther Myers is a Drama graduate who teaches children with disabilities and is heavily involved in women’s rights movements. She lives in London but often travels back to Yorkshire to see family and friends. She enjoys going to the theatre, being involved in feminist forums and Motown music. She works in a pub part time and wants to write about work and online issues facing modern women, as well as about intersectional issues.

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