Gender equality ad calls time on Playboy model 'Lena' image that led to Jpeg invention

Creative technology platform Creatable and social enterprise Code Like a Girl have collaborated to campaign to stop the usage of an image in order to make millions of women feel welcome in tech.

The campaign, called “Losing Lena”, stems from a story about how a Swedish Playboy model named Lena posed as the Miss November centerfold in 1972.

A year later, the centrefold was chosen by male researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) as an ideal test image for the algorithms they were working on to turn physical photos into digital bits.

The research introduced the world to Jpeg, which is now a widely used standard for images.

However, 46 years on, Lena is still being used as a test image. According to Creatable and Code Like Girl, this is symbolic of how women were left out and pushed out of the industry.

To highlight this, both organisations are using a documentary as part of the campaign that questions the tenets of the tech industry and makes the viewer think about why Lena’s image is still being using.

It aims to ultimately highlight the similar challenges and biases women in tech have experienced around the world.

The documentary will be screened at a series of events hosted by Code Like a Girl and on the Facebook Watch platform from November 26 onwards.

The campaign also calls on members of the tech industry, businesses, universities and organisations to commit to Losing Lena at www.losinglena.com, as well as find substitute images that can be used for image processing testing.

People can also express their support via Code Like a Girl’s Facebook Messenger chatbot.

"The role of Lena’s image in tech’s history is representative of so many of our industry’s shortcomings. Tech is used by everyone – no matter your age, gender, ethnicity, or sexual identity. But when our tech is developed by a small subset of homogenous individuals, it’s impossible for the end product to be without bias,” said Ally Watson, founder and chief executive of Code Like a Girl.

"This documentary illustrates just how much effort is still needed to increase diversity in the team building tech. It’s a call to the leaders of our industry to commit to Losing Lena. Because with the removal of one image, we’re better positioned to welcome millions of women to the table."

Lena added: “I retired from modelling a long time ago. It’s time I retired from tech, too. We can make a simple change today that creates a lasting change for tomorrow. Let’s commit to losing me.”

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