Last year, the Unicode Consortium–which decides upon and standardizes emoji–added more skin tones to its catalog. Today, Unicode took another step towards making emoji more diverse: emoji are finally embracing gender equality.
Approving a suggestion that Google made back in May, the next version of the Unicode standard will make sure that wherever there is a male emoji, users will be able to choose a female equivalent. So, for example, if you want to use the police officer emoji, you’ll soon be able to specify its gender in the same way you can specify its skin tone: with a long click or tap.
Not only that, but the Unicode emoji standard will be gaining 11 new professions. These include symbols for mechanics, computer programmers, chefs, scientists, farmers, and rockstars replete with Ziggy Stardust facepaint.
The goal is to give a more diverse range of career options for emoji users to express themselves with, regardless of their gender or skin tone. At the end of the day, between gender and skin tone choices, these changes should result in over 100 new options for representing people with emoji.
As the Unicode’s document on the new standard explains, the way emoji became so chauvinist to begin with is sort of accidental–at least on the part of Unicode. When the Unicode Consortium adds a new symbol to the standard, it does so in an explicitly gender-neutral way: for example, they tell all companies following the standard they need to have a police officer emoji, but not a police man emoji.
When companies come up with their own emoji designs based on the standard, though, they tend to default to adapting these gender-neutral specifications as male. It’s the inherent sexism of Silicon Valley, embodied in pictograms! The new standard just insists that for any gendered emoji, there must be a design for both men and women.
Usually, when the Unicode Consortium adds new emoji to the standard, it does so as part of a major release. With the next version of the Unicode standard not due until July 2017, though, Google convinced the Unicode Consortium to approve these changes now, so that gendered emoji could be introduced in the major operating system revisions coming this year, including the upcoming Android Nougat, and presumably, iOS 10.
You can see Google’s designs for the new emoji here. And to read more about how emoji are designed and implemented, check out our handy explainer.