Gendered or Neutral?: Considering the language of human-computer interaction (HCI)

Cartoon of a person sitting at a desk, doing a lab experiment, and using a tablet

The human-computer interaction (HCI) community appears at first glance to be gender neutral in that we often select gender non-specific words when referring to people in our writing. However, like many professions, we still face diversity challenges that have inspired research considering questions of gender equality in HCI. We join this body of research by conducting a study that explores whether the language used in our papers to describe people is actually perceived as gender neutral.

In our paper, we present a Mechanical Turk study that explores how the most common words that have been used to refer to people in recent HCI literature are received by non-experts. An analysis of the proceedings of CHI 2014, HCI’s top conference featuring nearly 1000 papers, shows that the top five “people words” are: user, participant, person, designer, and researcher. While we may intend the language that we use within our community to be neutral, our method can be used to help determine whether this is the case. We offer an increased understanding of the perception of HCI’s people words and discuss the challenges this poses to our community in striving toward gender inclusiveness.