Why are they mainly female?
Voice plays a vital role in the world of communication and more than ever, we use voice in both our personal and professional lives.
Voice gives us more information; we can tell someone’s mood and sentiment, clarify information and relay messages easier without the worry of it getting lost in translation.
With the explosion of voice notes on communication platforms like WhatsApp and LinkedIn, it’s no wonder we now communicate more through voice than we do text.
Not only do we communicate with each other using voice, we now utilize the world of voice assistants. The use of voice assistants in our everyday life has become standard - posing questions to Siri, Alexa or Cortana is how we gather information.
Call your bank or utility provider and you are almost guaranteed to be met with an automated voice chatbot ready to confirm your details and reason beyond the call.
Have you noticed one major commonality?
Wherever you’ve asked the question, whether it be to Siri or to the automated bank teller, you can guarantee that the response you receive will be from a synthesised version of a female voice.
Polite, refined and ready to answer any question whether it be a serious query or a request for a knock-knock joke.
Although companies have tried to instil a “gender neutral” voice, the natural human perception has meant that people tend to assume the voice is that of a female. Have our biases overruled our neutrality? We now expect a polite female to respond.
Well, it’s largely down to science (sort of…). Both men and women prefer the sound of a female voices, they're perceived as warmer and relatable; female voices make people receptive to voice-activated technology.
But, of course, it's also down to society's expectation that women fulfil these assistant roles
Although voice assistants don’t have a physical presence, they do represent what we picture when we think of an executive assistant (EA). With 81.4% of the EA workforce identifying as female, it’s no surprise that when we picture an EA we think of skills like efficient, reliable, and organised but also, a woman.
An EA gets you to your meetings on time, provides you with all the necessary information needed for the meeting while also giving you the softer stuff like the weather and traffic reports.
After-all, how else would you know to bring an umbrella or leave 10 minutes early?
The stark reality of a 14.6% male EA workforce, has had an impact on voice assistant development.
In 2016, Adrienne LaFrance, wrote: "People are conditioned to expect women, not men, to be in administrative roles — and that the makers of digital assistants are influenced by these social expectations."
In essence, society appears to be more comfortable telling female voices what to do than, male voices.
Up until last month, your Apple product would default to the original female voiced Siri but, with the iOS 14.5 release and as part of its ongoing commitment to diversity, users will now be prompted to select one of Siri’s voices during setup. Siri went live in February 2010, yet it’s only 11 years later that we see this shift.
On one hand, it seems a poor show from Apple but, when compared to Amazon, they’re really grabbing diversity by both horns! Amazon is yet to release a male counterpart for their voice assistant Alexa, 7 years after it arrived on the market.
Although companies are starting to give options to choose and increase diversity in their voice assistants, have we already created a damaging narrative?
Science states we prefer a female voice while the EA workforce backs the claim that it is a female dominant market. Therefore we should surely just lean into this positive bias our society has created or, is this an opportunity for us to disrupt and educate society by enhancing the male voice in voice assistants?