When building Neutralize, we were inspired by a 2011 study revealing that women are less likely to apply for jobs whose descriptions include certain “male” words like “dominate,” “challenge,” or “independent.” The authors of the study theorized that when female potential applicants view descriptions that use primarily male language, they can’t “see themselves” in the position and don’t apply.

Our team realized that by making a tool to generate job descriptions oriented towards women, we could contribute towards workplace gender diversity by “widening the pipeline.” Later, we realized that certain industries—like nursing—tend to be female-dominated, so we added functionality to generate text biased towards men.

What it does

Neutralize is a web app that detects and suggests replacements for gender-biased language.

How I built it

We used Python with Flask to build out the web application. For the bar animations, we used jqmeter, a JavaScript plugin. The frontend uses bootstrap.

Flow: when a user inputs text for analysis, we execute a python function to cross-reference the words in the text with a list of words that studies show appeal more to men or women. We calculate a “gender bias” score based on the percentage of “gendered words” out of the whole text. Our suggestion tool then uses a replacement algorithm to generate text with a gender bias more geared towards the female or male gender. The suggestions are rescored to ensure that an improvement has been made.

Challenges I ran into

Our biggest challenge came at the beginning of Hack the North. Initially, our team planned to build a mobile app to facilitate facebook purchases. However, we struggled to commit to the project. Though it was technically impressive and used several “prize” APIs, we didn’t feel that it advanced social good. After we committed to building Neutralizer, our team dynamic shifted in a positive way, because we all believe in the social importance of gender diversity in the workplace.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

Working on a team with 3 other people, finishing a project that has a social impact, and pivoting effectively.

What I learned

We learned to pivot between ideas very quickly. We also had a crucial “team epiphany” that the point of a hackathon is to build something important, not to win prizes.

What's next for Neutralize

We’re excited to release Neutralize to the public, so that people become aware of the potential biases in their everyday language. We hope that Neutralize will be widely adopted as a tool for modifying job descriptions, and become a piece of the solution to the lack of gender diversity in many industries, including tech.

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