Chicks Digg IT

As I mentioned, I’d been speaking with some of my colleagues at Resource Interactive about a pitch for SxSW. Lara Lebeiko had the idea of speaking about women in the IT field. I have my notes from one of our phone conversations, where she said she did not want it to be a feminazi panel 🙂 We talked a bit about women who go into tech and eventually leave, in some cases to start a family, and then do not return. I thought it was interesting, but as I am still IN the field, I didn’t have much insight on that. What I’ve found interesting, however, is how the male-dominated IT field is starting to see a significant number of women enter in the social media or accessibility space. I’ve seen others discuss the social media aspect of it, and the prevalence of women in the accessibility space is simply something I’ve noticed personally. (Sharron Rush, Glenda Sims and Marla Erwin are a few of the ladies that I had the pleasure of meeting at Access U).

A Pew Internet research paper on “How Women and Men Use the Internet” recognized these differences back in 2005, which is arguably before all this crazy “social media” hype really took hold. It was noted:

How Women and Men Use the Internet: Summary at a Glance

How Women and Men Use the Internet: Summary at a Glance

There is often a perception that boys like technology, and girls like dolls. However, I recently read something (in “made to stick”, I believe) that stated that girls are bigger consumers of personal electronics than boys (in every category except video game consoles). Think about teenage girls and their phones.. Boys and girls both buy iPods, but may use them differently. Boys will tend use the music to isolate themselves, whereas girls are more often to share their player, their music and therefore their experience with a friend. (I doubted this phenomenon, but a friend who teaches high school track ensured me that girls do in fact each share one earbud of a set to listen together).

I have always maintained that I enjoy technology not for technology’s sake, but as an facilitator. I like what we can achieve with it. When I built my first webpage in the late 90s, it was to share information with my friends. I was a geocities community leader, I worked on an online community targeted at at-risk youth. It was about community: about the relationships that could be forged via technology: it was not about the technology itself.

Using technology to connect with others evolves naturally into discussions of accessibility. When you’re looking at using technology to engage with others, you obviously need for those “others” to also be able to use the tools as well. I love to share the quote by James Edwards (co-author of “The Javascript Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks and Hacks) –

One person’s preference is another person’s real need. It may be that a group of users finds it easier with Ajax, but if another group of users finds it completely impossible then you’re cutting people out, and you’re doing it for basically nothing.

I think of it as a hierarchy, basically, where accessibility is the most important thing, and usability comes next, and preference and design and aesthetics comes next. All of those things are important, but if one affects the other then you have to think which is the most important.

And to my mind, accessibility is always the most important, because accessibility impacts on what people really need. Everything else is just preference.

You need to have community members to foster community, which means you can’t lock the doors and bar people from entry. How does the local Stitch ‘n’ Bitch group get translated to the online world? How do the different communication means and motivations of women and men relate to their approach to IT, and why does it matter?

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