Can peer networking for women reverse the gender computer gap?

This post is another in the “series” I’m writing as a requirement for my Gender and Computing class. This week’s topic is “Gender on the Web: Visual representation and communication on the Web”.

Three of the articles we read were content analyses. One analyzed the home pages of adolescents, one focused on video logs from YouTube, and one looked at British blogs.

Some common finding in these three studies is that women tended to use the Internet more for social reasons, while men were more likely to be more interested in obtaining information. And, women tended to share personal information more than men while men were more likely to express opinions [2, 3, 4].

I am a member and officer of Indiana University’s Women in Informatics and Computing (WIC). And, as chance would have it, today, while I was reading and contemplating these papers about gender and web use, I received an email from the WIC listserv that contained a link to the following ComputerWorld Article: “Every IT woman needs a peer network: Here’s why”

After reading that, I immediately thought of another study I read recently. Psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need female role models more than males need male role models. One possible reason for this is “Because, women face negative stereotypes regarding their competence in the workplace, they may derive particular benefit from the example of an outstanding woman who illustrates the possibility of overcoming gender barriers to achieve success.” [1]

In an earlier post, I wrote that I believed that the idea that technology is more masculine is socially constructed. However, as Molyneaux et. al pointed out, “socially constructed meanings are neither fixed nor unalterable” [2]. I think that we can use the facts that women prefer to socially interact online and they are willing to share information in conjunction with the fact that women need female role models as another method of reversing the gender computing gap.

And, that can be done through such peer networking, especially for those women who are working in IT already or who are studying an IT-related field. Such networking would allow women to socially interact (both online and offline) and share personal information with role models. I know that my own participation in WIC has really helped me to feel more confident in my computing abilities, and I believe that same benefit can be achieved by others in similar networks.

[1] Lockwood, P. (2006). Someone like me can be successful: Do college students need same-gendered role models? Psychology of Women Quarterly. 30(1), 36-46.

[2] Molyneaux, H., O’Donnell, S., Gibson, K., & Singer, J. (2008). Exploring the gender divide on YouTube: An analysis of the creation and reception of vlogs. American Communication Journal, 10(2), 1-14.

[3] Pedersen, S., & Macafee, C. (2007). Gender differences in British blogging. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4).

[4] Stern, S. R. (2004). Expressions of identity online: Prominent features and gender differences in adolescents’ WWW home pages. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(2), 218-243.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Amy Boivin on February 10, 2009 at 1:34 am

    I think that statement can even go beyond the IT field… everyone needs and thrives with some sort of peer network. Like even take this project for example, with the usage of our “critical friends” we are meant to take the peer comments and hopefully aid in our own reflection. I think that is one of the main purposes of a role model is essentially to cause reflection upon yourself as a person.


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