Stock images show how portrayal of women in science has evolved since the 1950s

The classic image of a girl in the 1950s looks nothing like girlhood in the 21st century.

Image: Mashable composite: getty images (left) / Getty images/hero images (right)

While some people bizarrely debate whether women belong in science, tech, engineering, and math careers, Getty Images is busy replacing outdated stereotypes with stock images of women in STEM as they actually are: driven, talented, curious, and skilled. 

To mark Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration to honor the achievements of women in STEM, Getty shared with Mashable contemporary and archival photos that demonstrate just how much progress has been made in creating more accurate depictions of women in these fields. 

The company’s internal statistics tell part of that story. Search terms related to professional women continue to rise year after year. Between 2016 and 2017, searches for “female CEO” rose 47 percent and “woman business meeting” by 192 percent. 

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

Search terms specific to STEM careers also increased during that same time period. The search for “business woman technology” skyrocketed by 1,300 percent, while “female programmer,” “woman astronaut,” and “women in technology” all rose by more than 100 percent. 

“People are looking for imagery to support what’s going on in the world,” says Claudia Marks, senior art director at Getty Images. 

The company has actively helped create new images to reflect that reality through its Lean In collection, which is a partnership with the nonprofit women’s empowerment organization The below images are part of that collection. Four images of girls and women engaged in STEM activities are among the 15 most downloaded images from that library this year. 

“People are looking for imagery to support what’s going on in the world.”

Getty counts major ad agencies and media companies (including Mashable) among its clients, so customer searches can be driven both by news events and cultural trends. 

A movie like Hidden Figures can spark more interest in diverse depictions of female engineers and mathematicians. News about a female astronaut breaking the U.S. record for cumulative time spent in space can trigger more searches for — you guessed it — female astronauts. 

Evidence of such changes are also clear when comparing archival images of women to women in present-day photographs. Many of the below archival images were taken in the 1950s and tend to depict women as demure or absent from the workplace. There are notable exceptions, including a woman operating an IBM mainframe computer in 1961 and two women working on an aircraft during World War II. 

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images/Hero Images

Indeed, Ada Lovelace, a 19th century mathematician, is considered to have written the instructions for the first computer program, but her legacy and accomplishments were overshadowed by those of men. 

Marks says that even though women held important STEM jobs decades ago, depictions of that work often showed them as ancillary to men’s roles or being supervised by men. Those images also didn’t represent people of diverse backgrounds. 

Image: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

Now, she says, customers are looking for a much different theme. 

“They’re searching for women, people who look authentic … They’re looking for all races, shapes, ages,” she says. They want to see women “striking out on your own, being independent and being in charge.” 

A woman at a design model of the operator’s console of the new IBM 7044 mainframe computer, in 1961.

Image: Archive Photos/Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

So instead of showing women smiling as they answer the phone or bake a cake, they feature women looking at the camera with confidence while seated in an office chair or wearing a lab coat. Girls that may have once played with a tea set are now assembling electronics. 

Marks says that Getty educates its contributors about how to portray different scenarios, emphasizing an “intersectional representation of women” so that diversity is a key part of photos meant for the masses.  

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

“By encouraging this imagery to be created, and encouraging our clients to use these images, we help influence how the world sees women in business, in STEM, in technology,” says Marks. “[A]nd women can reinforce how they see themselves.”

Women working on WW II aircraft assembly.

Image: Retrofile/Getty Images

Female engineer working at 3D printer.

Image: Getty Images/Hero Images

It may be long overdue, but at least that moment has finally arrived. 

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Author: Billy Roland

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