He Speaks, She Speaks

A gender communication specialist unravels the mystery of how men and women communicate.

Online as the Great Power and Gender Equalizer

Is There a Place for Geekgirl?

The Internet is the new frontier that leads to gender equality, with women as the socially and economically less powerful gender. The Internet can empower women to find “community” in pursuit of their own interests.


Historically, women were slow to warm up to the Internet. Throughout much of the 1990s, women seemed not interested in investing time and effort to learn how to use the Internet. According to the New York Times article, “What has Driven Women out of Computer Science” it was clearly a guy thing. However, the increasing popularization of the Internet, coupled with its commercialization and business use, has made it a necessary and required tool.

 

(d)Gender-Blind Opportunity

 

A study conducted by Anne Rickert and Anya Sacharow revealed that 50 percent of Web users are female. The Web offers an opportunity to be gender blind. User names and e-mail addresses can be gender-less words.

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Unfortunately, our culture makes snap judgments about people based on their appearance and gender. There is no dress rehearsal for first impressions, and they have a staying power. Once formed, they are hard to change.

 

In his best-selling book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell talks more about gender and first impressions. He claims that “decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.” However, sometimes our instincts can betray us. The Web and e-mail let us be gender- (and color-) blind for that critical moment, which often dictates whether we give a person a chance.! So you could argue that the Web and e-mail neutralize the playing field.

 

Instincts are powerful. Gladwell offers an illustration of a woman shielded from the bias of a traditionally male arena of orchestra musicians. Abbie Conant was one of 33 musicians applying for a trombone position with the Munich Orchestra. Because one of the applicants was the son of a current member of the orchestra, they decided to do a “blind” judging in which they put all the contestants behind a screen. Decisions were made by ear alone.

 

The trombone is traditionally considered a masculineinstrument, and when the panel of judges selected Conant, they were shocked to find out she was a woman. They were expecting Herr Conant. This was Frau Conant!

 

The Internet offers opportunities for gender-blind judgments, sort of like the screen did for Abbie Conant in her audition. Plus, social networking and easy-to-modify websites give people a chance to delay their first impression, by finely crafting what information we choose to make public, selecting only the best photos (and Photoshopping them, while we’re at it), and creating our own sort of personal marketing campaign. And we can change it at any time in a matter of minutes. Is There a Place for Geekgirl?

 

Hey, girls need modems, too. Girls do math, and they do computers. Watch out, boys, blogs and websites seem to be where a girl struts her stuff. “Cyberpioneers” of today “are digitally effusive teenage girls,” according to Stephanie Rosenbloom, writer for the New York Times. She claims that research demonstrates that young Internet users and most writers of material like blogs and websites are not marginal geeky misfits. Move over, geeky male. You have not lived up to your reputation. Many boys and young men don’t have the time and patience for blogging, creating their own websites, and any other content-creating activity. Girls are much more into putting something up and getting responses. Blogging is a form of connecting around a cause or issue which is appealing to girls and women.


Audrey had a client who asked if she would participate in a pre-conference blog. Audrey was the keynote speaker, and the client thought this would build enthusiasm and get people motivated for the conference. Indeed, not only did people become motivated about attending, but they told their friends. Consequently, registration for the conference had to be closed because of a record number of registrations. The client claimed it was a first! Historically, they had struggled to get their numbers and make the conference cost effective.

Computers are a source of power, influence, and money. Women need to realize that they cannot afford to be marginalized or excluded from this medium.. Women cannot afford to be information poor and disenfranchised in a technical world.

 

U.S. President Obama is said to be addicted to his Blackberry proof that people in power positions have and use this power toy. Their success often depends on it.

This was taken from Audrey's recently  co-authored book, Code Switching: How to Talk so Men will Listen (Alpha Books, 2009).

 

Audrey Nelson is an international corporate communication consultant, trainer, author, and keynote speaker.

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