You probably didn’t notice a tiny-but-major change to the icons on Facebook. But look closely at your "friends" icon: Where once a male avatar stood front and center with a female avatar behind him, a woman is now featured much more prominently in the small icons that are scattered across Facebook both on its external apps and internal documentation.
In a post on Medium, Facebook design manager Caitlin Winner described how she was put off by the original “friends” icon that featured a chip on the woman’s shoulder designating where the male icon would be placed larger and in front of her.
I was moved to do something about the size and order of the female silhouette in the ‘friends icon’. As a woman, educated at a women’s college, it was hard not to read into the symbolism of the current icon; the woman was quite literally in the shadow of the man, she was not in a position to lean in.
Additionally, she wanted to fix that awful female hairstyle that looked like a Darth Vader helmet, and make both avatars look a little more modern. After making some tweaks to a number of icons, Winner shipped a version of the avatars for two different instances—the “friends” icon and “groups” icon. She placed the woman front and center among the three avatars in the group, and put both genders of equal sizes next to each other for the friends icon.
These changes were made almost six months ago, but they weren’t widely noticed until Winner blogged about them. Winner collaborated with a handful of other Facebook employees, and notes that the changes to the avatars are a lot like the notification globe that changes in relationship to where you are in the world.