Google’s new women emojis, a welcome sign of the times

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Thanks to four progressive Google employees, Rachel Been, Nicole Bleuel, Agustin Fonts, and Mark Davis, the emoji world has graduated to representing women in a more professional light.

It is refreshing to know that we won’t be portrayed just as dolls, flamenco dancers and brides any more. Little girls can dream of being nurses, engineers, farmers, technicians and anything they want, rather than just Disney princesses waiting to be swept off their feet.

Female reactions are mixed. While some women feel this was long overdue, others don’t believe it will do much to erase the existing gender bias with respect to personal and professional roles. After all, what can a little emoji do to alter attitude or perception?

That in itself is old-fashioned, regressive thinking!

Emojis have become a powerful communication tool around the world and often replace words. A recent study revealed that 92% of the online population (believed to be around 3 billion in 2014) uses them. According to eMarketer, there are 6 billion emoticons or stickers sent around the world every day on mobile messaging apps. (That’s why marketing professionals are now being encouraged to rethink their strategies.) Now that’s a big reach isn’t it?

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I am happy to admit that I’m an emoji fan. But it’s not me that Google is looking to make an impression on. A further analysis of emoji users reveals that a majority of them are Gen Y and Gen Z (those born between 1995 and 2015). Here in lies the power to change thinking. With users getting younger day by day, the Internet plays a powerful role in shaping ideas, beliefs, career  and lifestyle. And without a doubt these silent little messengers will speak louder than words. They might spark imagination, inspire an idea, raise a question… and that’s what will make the difference.

It’s hard to ignore the change that is taking place. On my 20-minute drive to and from work, I’ve seen a number of women doing landscaping and construction work in the past couple of months. It caught my attention because it’s an unfamiliar sight.

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Soon America will determine whether or not it is ready to elect its first woman president and there so many strong women leading countries in other parts of the world. There’s nothing women can’t or won’t do. So it’s about time we have gender neutral emojis or the option of picking a male or female version of the existing ones.

While we debate about the right to have more diverse emojis, Google’s new initiative might be less about equal opportunity and more about relevance and who’s using these emojis. If 78% of emoji users are women (most of them young ones under 30), doesn’t it make perfect sense to identify with them? Moreover… they’re not just flamenco dancers, neither do they only aspire to become brides.

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And while the varying emoji skin tones didn’t do much for me, I’m quite certain they will make a difference to kids, many of whom have questions about colour differences and stereotypical portrayals of superheroes and princesses that are almost always white. Even Marvel has changed with the times. The new Iron Man is a black teenage girl. Thanks to Stan Lee, we have also Chakra the Invicibile, a superhero created for India. But wait a minute, why just for India?

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