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The Unheard Word

One woman's slightly skewed views

Where are the women of the web?

A recent conversation with a widely known and respected web designer friend in the U.S.A. raised the oft-asked question, “Where are the women in web design?”

My friend found herself in a situation where she was asked to fix the work of a relatively prominent male in the area of web standards. Before she discovered who he was (no, neither of us personally knew who he was until she Googled him), she had prepared an email to shoot off to the (high-profile) company concerned, saying that their developer had done them no favours in the development of their website.

On discovering who had built the site, and his affiliations, she asked herself:

  1. Did I miss something in the technique used? There must be something here that I’m not seeing; and
  2. OK I didn’t miss anything and my professional opinion remains the same, so should I still say what I was going to say to this company?

She told me that people ask, “Where are the women of the web?” and one answer may be that they are afraid to stick their necks out and criticise the men of the web. I thought about this and came to a couple of my own conclusions.

Momentarily, my friend doubted her professional opinion, but I don’t think that’s because the original developer was male so much as because he was a “name” in the web world! I’d guess that anyone, male or female, would double-check to make sure they weren’t making a mistake in that situation.

I believe that women are, by nature, collaborative rather than confrontational. This means that, whoever they find themselves up against, by instinct most will look for a non-confrontational way to resolve any conflict. (Obviously there are exceptions.) I don’t personally believe this necessarily has anything to do with the other person being male or female — although since females tend to react to confrontation differently to males, the gender of the other party can certainly affect whether or not a woman believes a confrontation will be effective and/or the best approach, and therefore whether or not she will take that approach.

Another issue is that if a woman criticises (however professionally and/or constructively) the work of a man, she can be viewed as being a bad sport (maybe more of an issue here in Australia than in the U.S.A.) or as being jealous, or numerous other scenarios — which are not, of course, exclusive to women criticising men, but nonetheless appear more likely to be applied to women criticising men than to men criticising men (or women).

My friend did end up telling the company concerned her true professional opinion (in her usual diplomatic, professional and non-confrontational way). I just wanted to raise the issue here and hopefully get other women thinking about how they react to the male/female dynamics of web (or indeed, any other) work.

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