Gender is always an interesting talking point in the voice over industry – from debating the importance of gender in audio recordings to the existence of sexism in the industry, there is always something to talk about.
Much of the discussion comes down to a number of stereotypes and expectations we have surrounding the voices in our lives. For example, have you ever noticed that automated voices are often always female?
The dominance of ‘female’ automated voices
From the likes of Siri* to Microsoft’s Cortana and those incredibly helpful machines that answer your bank calls, if you’re greeted by an automated voice, the chances are it will be female. It’s no coincidence either – focus groups typically respond better to female voices in tests, as highlighted by a CNN article from 2011.
But why is this? Well, numerous studies find that female voices are perceived as more trustworthy, soothing and generally more pleasant on a subconscious level – to both male and female audiences.
*Interestingly, Siri debuted with a female in every country except France and the UK.
The subconscious effect of female voices
Clifford Nass, a Stanford University Professor and author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships, says a preference to female voices is ingrained into us:
“It’s much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes,” he explains. “It’s a well-established theory that the human brain is developed to like female voices.”
Nass suggests our bias towards female voices traces back to the womb, where studies show we start to recognise our mothers’ voices and even begin the language learning process.
The impact on voice overs and recordings
So rather than stereotype, the use of female voice artists for automated messaging could stem from something more innocent, that starts before we’re even born. There are other theories too, of course, as to why females have dominated the automated voice scene for so long.
The 1968 hit film 2001: A Space Odyssey is widely cited as the reason many tech firms have avoided male voices over the years. Douglas Rain voiced the evil computer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic and his convincing portrayal had a lasting effect.
Silicon Valley analyst Tim Bajarin has encountered the aftermath of HAL for himself: “A lot of tech companies strayed away from the male voice because of HAL,” he explains. “I’ve heard that theory tossed around multiple times.”
A tough choice, not only for tech firms
The gender role of automated voices is an interesting one and it shows the level of consideration behind every voice over. It’s not something you can take lightly – just take a look at the sexism row after Tesco announced it would replace the female voice of its self-serving tills with a male alternative.
Regardless of your views on whether this counts as sexism or not, it goes to show just how much of an impact the voices you choose to represent your brand can have.