Creative agency Virtue introduces genderless voice Q to challenge biases in technology

Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and Bixby–almost all virtual assistants have something in common. Their default voices are women’s, though the role that plays in reinforcing gender stereotypes has been long documented, even inspiring the dystopian romance “Her.” Virtue, the creative agency owned by publisher Vice, wants to challenge the trend with a genderless voice called Q.

The project, done in collaboration with Copenhagen Pride, Equal AI, Koalition Interactive and thirtysoundsgood, wants technology companies to think outside the binary.

“Technology companies are continuing to gender their voice technology to fit scenarios in which they believe consumers will feel most comfortable adopting and using it,” says Q’s website. “A male voice is used in more authoritative roles, such as banking and insurance apps, and a female voice in more service-oriented roles, such as Alexa and Siri.”

To develop Q, Virtue worked with Anna Jørgensen, a linguist and researcher at the University of Copenhagen. They recorded the voices of five non-binary people, then used software to modulate the recordings to between 145-175 Hz, the range defined by researchers as gender neutral. The recordings were further refined after surveying 4,600 people and asking them to define the voices on a scale from 1 (male) to 5 (female).

Virtue is encouraging people to share Q with Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, noting that even when different options are given for voice assistants, they are still usually categorized as male or female. As the project’s mission statement puts it, “as society continues to break down the gender binary, recognizing those who neither identify as male nor female, the technology we create should follow.”

Only six countries in the world give women and men equal legal work rights

Sweden and France among states found by the World Bank to enshrine gender equality in laws, but implementation haphazard

If you’re a woman and want to be on an equal footing with men, it’s best to live and work in Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg or Sweden. The World Bank, which has tracked legal changes for the past decade, found these were the only countries in the world to enshrine gender equality in laws affecting work.

The bank’s women, business and the law 2019 report, published this week, measured gender discrimination in 187 countries. It found that, a decade ago, no country gave women and men equal legal rights.

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Davos: head of IMF warns against rising fat-cat pay

Christine Lagarde urges world’s financial sector to find greater purpose and slams lack of women at top of banking

The head of the IMF has warned against fat-cat pay after noticing an increase in executive rewards across the banking sector.

Christine Lagarde used a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on Thursday to remind the financial sector against spiralling executive pay.

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Global pay gap will take 202 years to close, says World Economic Forum

Gender equality has stalled, says WEF, as women globally are paid 63% of what men get

The global pay gap between men and women will take 202 years to close, because it is so vast and the pace of change so slow, according to the World Economic Forum.

The WEF, which organises the annual meeting of business and political leaders in Davos, said the global gender pay gap has narrowed slightly over the past year, but the number of women in the professional workplace has fallen. In 2017, the WEF estimated that it would take 217 years to close the pay gap.

Related: Gender pay gap: when does your company stop paying women in 2018?

Related: Carrie Gracie says BBC is blocking pay gap campaigners

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Why figuring out what’s behind a big gender paradox won’t be easy

A toy robot confronts a My Little Pony.

In Sweden, girls are just as likely to go to school and university as boys are. Women make up a greater proportion of the country’s professional and technical workers than any other country in the world. And their representation in the country’s politics is among the world’s best. But when it comes to personality tests, Swedish men and women are worlds apart.

Malaysia sits toward the opposite end of the scale: despite ranking among the world’s lowest for political empowerment of women and lagging when it comes to women’s health and survival, men and women end up looking similar in those same personality tests. What gives?


This fascinating finding—dubbed the gender-equality paradox—isn’t new, but two recent papers report fresh details. In a paper published in Science today, Armin Falk and Johannes Hermle report that gender differences in preferences like risk-taking, patience, and trust were more exaggerated in wealthier and more gender-equal countries. And in a recent paper in the International Journal of Psychology, Erik Mac Giolla and Petri Kajonius provide more detail on the original paradox.

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Christine Lagarde calls for more women to be given top business jobs

IMF chief says increased effort is needed to meet UN’s goal of ending discrimination

Tackling gender inequality will boost economic growth in developing nations, Christine Lagarde has said, as she urged businesses worldwide to appoint more women to senior posts.

The head of the International Monetary Fund said increasing the proportion of women in prominent business and finance industry jobs could raise economic dynamism and shift firms into thinking about the long-term future of the planet.

Related: Sustainable development goals: changing the world in 17 steps – interactive

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‘If it was Lehman Sisters, it would be a different world’ – Christine Lagarde

IMF head says the male domination of banking could lead to another financial crisis

Christine Lagarde has said male domination of the banking industry made the collapse of Lehman Brothers more likely, as she urged further reforms to prevent a repeat of the financial crisis triggered by its failure a decade ago.

Writing on the IMF blog ahead of the 10th anniversary of the US investment bank’s collapse next week, the head of the International Monetary Fund said significant measures had been taken to fix the financial system, although she warned more work was still required, particularly on gender diversity.

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‘We need a call to action’: Stacey Cunningham, the NYSE’s first female president

She is the first woman to lead the New York Stock Exchange in its 226 years. Faced with falling sales and government pressure, though, she finds the attention to her gender a distraction

The Fearless Girl is on the move. The bronze sculpture of a little girl defiantly facing off against Wall Street’s Charging Bull launched a million selfies and became an unlikely avatar of the #MeToo movement. Soon it will be transported a few hundred metres down the road in downtown Manhattan to confront another symbol of entrenched masculinity: the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Stacey Cunningham says she couldn’t be more delighted.

“I think she’s fantastic,” says Cunningham, the 67th president of the NYSE and the first woman to head the male-dominated institution in its 226-year history. “For me, she is a message to individuals, though. I think we need to call ourselves to action, especially as women, not to hold ourselves back.”

Whether or not NYSE is sheltering a marketing operation or a vital financial institution is the least of its problems

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