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Pantene Has Created a Tool to Help Fight Biases in Internet Searches

Women’s contributions to everything from science to music are undeniable. And yet internet searches for terms like “greatest scientists,” “greatest singers,” and “greatest writers” almost exclusively yield long lists of men.

Search engines rely on algorithms that boost frequently clicked and visited sites to the top. But this also means that bias and stereotypes may inform search results.

Pantene hopes to change this with its new search tool S.H.E. — which stands for “Search. Human. Equalizer.” The browser extension, available on Chrome, works on the back-end of internet searches to help filters results to remove gender bias and other forms of discrimination, and elevate results that highlight diversity.

So when users search for “greatest scientists,” S.H.E. will help boost important female scientists among the top results, where other search engines will generally provide all-male lists of scientists.

S.H.E. is currently able to transform 150 of the most common “problematic” search terms, but Pantene, a Procter & Gamble brand, aims to expand the tool to handle more terms. And search users can help make that a reality. As more people use the tool, the algorithm will become more accurate, and users can also submit search terms they want to be “equalized” via the S.H.E. extension.

The company believes that these small changes in representation even within search term results can help dismantle stereotypes and biases.

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“How one’s hair looks on any given day may seem like a trivial detail, but it is proven to have a direct impact on our transformative actions both big and small,” said Ilaria Resta, vice president of hair care for North America at Procter & Gamble. “As a leading brand for women, we see the accomplishments and transformations women achieve daily, but the reality is in some ways female-led transformations are not visible.”

Common job searches turn up image results that tend to under-represent women, according to the Pew Research Center. For instance, just 10% of search results for “chief executive” featured women, when in reality, women make up 28% of chief executives in the United States — still a far cry from gender equality in the workplace.

By highlighting more women and diversity in search results, Pantene not only wants to accurately represent women, but to encourage people to break past their latent biases.

“Women are transforming the world around us every day — taking risks, standing up for what they deserve, and reaching heights they were once told were out of reach. I’m proud to support Pantene and its commitment to making these accomplishments more visible with the launch of S.H.E.," Arianna Huffington, a Pantene brand partner, told Refinery29 in an interview.

S.H.E. is the first installment of Pantene’s new “Power to Transform” campaign, which aims to recognize, celebrate, and increase the visibility of women. From this July on, the campaign be highlighting women and these everyday transformations. As part of the campaign, Pantene has also begun a partnership with the Wing, a co-working and community space for women with locations across the US and one in London. The $1 million partnership will support female entrepreneurs and women-led businesses through a pitch investment competition and will empower young girls heading to college through a mentorship program with Wing members.