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Topics related to Gender HCI: covering areas from general gender differences to women in computer science, interaction design, end-user programming and beyond.

What is it? November 16, 2010

There are numerous places (i.e., Gender HCI’s home page, Wikipedia, etc.) to get an overview of Gender HCI, a field of HCI my former advisor, Margaret Burnett, and I started using with regard to my PhD work.  HCI (Human Computer Interaction), roughly, is the study of how best to design technology taking into consideration the humans who will be interacting with it.  Gender HCI is understanding how males and females interact with technology, ensuring that a particular design supports both equally. 

History

Studying gender differences with respect to technology is not new. As the Wikipedia entry on Gender HCI details, researchers in the 1980s found differences in how males and females interacted with computers.  The research on gender differences with respect to technology use took off in the 1990’s.  By 2003, when I started, the majority of this research was focused in two primary areas: the dismal numbers of women majoring in computer science and gender differences in attitudes towards (and sometimes the subsequent use of) computers. 

Why is understanding gender differences important?

In recent years women have started to outnumber men at colleges and universities.  Women also comprise nearly 50% of the workforce.  Given the importance of computers in today’s workplace, inefficient computer use by nearly half the workplace population could have a very significant effect on the bottom line.  This is one potential consequence of being unaware of gender differences in computer use. 

Furthermore, these gender differences do not appear to be disappearing with those who have been exposed to computers through their whole lives.  Studies of children have found that not only do boys use computers for more time, but teachers allow girls to “give-up” when solving computer-based problems earlier than the boys.  These findings, along with others, paint a disappointing picture for the hope that the gender differences we see in today’s adults will change in a generation. 

For these reasons, and more, I believe we must take gender differences into account as we design software.  It is yet another tool to help make all computer users more effective in their daily lives.

What it means for industry

From an industry perspective, designing software which accounts for gender differences has potential monetary benefits as well.  As females take more and more leadership positions and are in roles where they decide which software to purchase, their own experience with software which fits their problem-solving styles is likely to have a large influence on their decision.  Furthermore, in areas outside technology, companies who consider the needs of their female audience have designed tools, for example, which work better for both genders.  From this same perspective, companies designing software and accounting for gender difference may just improve the experience for all that use the software.

There are a great variety of topics related to Gender HCI which range from gender differences in areas unrelated to computer science, to HCI as a general topic, and onto the conditions under which software is developed. Each of these together comprise important factors into the field of Gender HCI, and are areas which I will cover in this blog.

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