“Unprofessional” Hairstyles VS. Professional” #Algtivism

Have you ever tried searching online what to wear for an interview in order to look “professional”? You found something that fits you, maybe even a handful of options, which are fairly easy to implement and to get that interview attire nailed! Most likely, right? Well, if you answered yes, then you’re probably White.

Side by side comparison of search engine results for professional hairstyles vs. unprofessional hairstyles
Search engine results for “professional hairstyles for women” on the left and “unprofessional hairstyles for women” on the right

Let’s roll back a bit, what are we talking about here? As a White female I had no idea about this, but getting more and more involved in the social issues occurring around the globe, I became aware of one of them:

Here are some articles from The Guardian, BBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Politic and many more if you just search for it.

When it comes to hair textures, White people do not get discriminated against, since it’s “the standard”, but what about black people and multiracial people of African descent? They are punished when they choose to wear styles consistent with their natural hair texture. Schools and employers demand them to alter their hair texture through costly, time-consuming procedures involving harsh chemicals, otherwise they won’t be allowed back. While the “acceptable” appearances can just put their hair in a messy bun and call it a day, because it’s cute. Are you seeing the double standards already?

Side by side example of Bias in hairstyles, left side — a white woman, right side — a black woman with the same hairstyle.
Side by side example of Bias in hairstyles, left side — a white woman, right side — a black woman with the same hairstyle.
Side by side example of Bias in search results

Okay, but this is a big problem, why did you talk about search engines though? Glad you asked! We rely on the results of said search engines for almost everything, we search for names, people, for businesses, for items, for sources of truth and news, for e-v-e-r-y s-i-n-g-l-e t-h-i-n-g, but we forget that they, too, are biased. A quick search for professional vs. unprofessional hairstyles can reveal that bias. Now, of course, we could start demanding the big tech to change and to start being more ethical, work on eliminating bias, hold workshops, etc., but I’m afraid this battle will take far too long and it’s a separate topic of its own. I wanted to have a tool where I can generate a faster change, where I am in control (sort of…) and something where others can act on it too.

Heads up — I am a web developer, so working with the “robots” of search engines isn’t something new to me, this is how I came up with #Algtivism

Alright, so what is it exactly? Simply put, it’s a website that has similar keywords search engines fish for when popping results for your search of “professional hairstyles”, but instead of White models with blond and straight hair, it has Black models with afro, braids, everything that is “highly unprofessional” per today’s algorithms.

Of course indexing doesn’t happen overnight, it’ll take a while, but in my opinion it’s a much more accessible way to “play” the game of algorithms. Importantly — the more websites we have, the bigger the impact. This meant that having only my website wouldn’t be doing much, so I created a template on GitHub which you can fork and publish. All for FREE, in under 2 minutes of your time. It is THAT simple.

You don’t need to have any coding skills, but if you are searching for a project to start learning how to code with some basic html and css — that’s your moment! I set it up in a very simple way, you can play around,(or not), do whatever you want and maybe even add it to your portfolio.

I also recorded an IGTV, a YouTube video and left a README file — all with instructions, placeholders for changing things up a bit — ready for you to take action!

There are also frequent updates to the status of this project and its contributors on my Instagram. You can also find there a dedicated highlight called #algtivism where you can follow this project from its creation to the current state.

If you have ANY suggestion or question let me know!

Web Developer @eBay who is unapologetically breaking stereotypes and boundaries in tech while advocating for women and juniors