The percentage U.S. CEOs who are women is 27 but you wouldn't know that by searching among Google images. Of the top 100 Google image search results for CEOs women are only 11 percent. 

Obviously Google is not in the social engineering business, they go by popularity. That is why a Huffington Post article about science will show up in Google search higher than a real science article. Female CEOs may be too busy working to be uploading their pictures to lots of places so their results are higher. 

A new University of Washington analysis took a lot at how accurately gender representations in online image search results for 45 different occupations match reality. In a few jobs, including CEO, women were significantly underrepresented in Google image search results and that can change searchers' worldviews.  If a girl does an image search for CEO and does not see 50 percent CEOs, she may think girls can't be CEOs and be a housewife, or whatever the latest sociological belief is. Surveys claim that image search results can make a 7 percent difference in  opinion about how many men and women work in a particular field. 

Regardless of the cultural framing, women slightly underrepresented on average, so small it is within the error range, but more interesting was the change in results when jobs like "author," "receptionist" or "chef" were put in.  

The study first compared the percentages of women who appeared in the top 100 Google image search results in July 2013 for different occupations -- from bartender to chemist to welder -- with 2012 U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics showing how many women actually worked in that field.  In some jobs, the discrepancies were pronounced, the study found. In a Google image search for CEO, 11 percent of the people depicted were women, compared with 27 percent of U.S. CEOs who are women.

Credit: Google image search results April 2015

25 percent of people depicted in image search results for authors are women, compared with 56 percent of actual U.S. authors. 64 percent of the telemarketers depicted in image search results were female, while that occupation is evenly split between men and women. Yet for nearly half of the professions - such as nurse practitioner (86 percent women), engineer (13 percent women), and pharmacist (54 percent women) -- the two numbers were within five percentage points.

"I was actually surprised at how good the image search results were, just in terms of numbers," said co-author Matt Kay, a University of Washington doctoral student in computer science and engineering. "They might slightly underrepresent women and they might slightly exaggerate gender stereotypes, but it's not going to be totally divorced from reality."

When the researchers asked people to rate the professionalism of the people depicted in top image search results, though, other inequities emerged. Images that showed a person matching the majority gender for a profession tended to be ranked by study participants as more competent, professional and trustworthy. They were also more likely to choose them to illustrate that profession in a hypothetical business presentation.

By contrast, the image search results depicting a person whose gender didn't match an occupational stereotype were more likely to be rated as provocative or inappropriate.

"A number of the top hits depicting women as construction workers are models in skimpy little costumes with a hard hat posing suggestively on a jackhammer. You get things that nobody would take as professional," said co-author Cynthia Matuszek, an assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Image search results depicting a person whose gender didn't match an occupational stereotype were more likely to be rated by study participants as provocative or inappropriate. Google image search (April 2015)

Most importantly, researchers wanted to explore whether gender biases in image search results actually affected how people perceived those occupations.

They asked study volunteers a series of questions about a particular job, including how many men and women worked in that field. Two weeks later, they showed them a set of manipulated search image results and asked the same questions.

Exposure to skewed image search results did shift their estimates slightly, accounting for 7 percent of those second opinions. The study did not test long-term changes in perception, but other research suggests that many small exposures to biased information over time can have a lasting effect on everything from personal preconceptions to hiring practices.

The measured effect raises interesting questions, the researchers say, about whether image search algorithms should be changed to help counter occupational stereotypes.

"Our hope is that this will become a question that designers of search engines might actually ask," Munson said. "They may come to a range of conclusions, but I would feel better if people are at least aware of the consequences and are making conscious choices around them."

Upcoming at the Association for Computing Machinery's CHI 2015 conference in South Korea.