I don't expect today's Netsquared panel to be the usual de rigeur nod to gender. Just look at the line-up: Catherine Geanuracos of Momsrising, Christine Herron of the Omidyar Foundation and Fran Maier of TrustE. We will be "immoderated" by Susan Mernit, who knows a little something about the topic, to say the least.
The question we're addressing is "Gender and the Social Web: New tools, same...stuff?" Key to the discussion is following paragraph, which appears to define "stuff":
"Technology in general has a history of male dominance. Will there be anything different in the proliferation of tools and expressions that constitute the social web? Are there ways that the social space around new web tools can be articulated by new actors with a new vision of equitable interaction?"
The short answer: Never forget why women are the power users of Web 2.0.
Contrary to so many presentations I've seen about women's use of social media -- from email to message boards to IM to blogs -- it's not just because we love to talk.
It's because women also love to listen.
Asking questions and listening to the answers is the key to BlogHer's success as a community thus far -- and we are just the tip of iceberg. (Hint: Check out the blogs in our blogrolls and watch where the action is, where the comments are.) As I said when Elisa, Jory and I first started working together 15 months ago: How do you overthrow the dominant hierarchy? You give up control. And when it comes to leadership, the first step in giving up control is to listen. That's how people who use the social web can continue to grow an innovate new models of leadership -- in technology, in politics and in operations.
The long answer: Women are not only the majority of Web users - women are the power Web 2.0 users. "New tools same...stuff?" If "stuff" means the same old lack of female representation in technology leadership (from boardrooms to conferences) and in parts of society now being dramatically affected by technology (say, the entire publishing world) the answer is no, don't expect the same old stuff - unless women choose to tolerate that answer. That is the challenge -- what do individual women want and whether and if they will take personal responsbility to make that happen.
But before I go there, I want to dig into the women-as-power-Web 2.0-user reality. It's not that women have changed. It's that technology has finally equipped us with tools we can fit into our lives and our communication styles as never before. Whether we're breastfeeding or taking care of aging parents or trying to do all of the above while traveling for work, the Internet is our friend. The email metaphor extends throughout social media -- it's essential lives, essential ticking through our massive to-do lists. Blogging technology has finally granted us the ability to, essentially, create automatic, contextual, one-to-many email communiques with existing and likely future simpatica women online.
Note my emphasis on communication. Communication does not just mean talking, or pushing words or audio or video at people. Communication also requires listening. Listening requires synthesizing, absorbing, asking, poking at, dissecting and learning. That's what women are doing with the social web.
That's the secret sauce driving astonishing new numbers on women's social media use by the likes of Nielsen Net Ratings, Perseus Development Corp., WOW!, and eMarketer. Even the classically rather behind and buttoned up Pew Center recently used the word "voracious" to describe women's communication habits online:
“Women are more voracious online communicators…Women are catching up to men in most measures of online life. Men like the Internet for the experiences …while women like it for the human connections it promotes.” Source: Pew | Internet, “How Women and Men Use the Internet,” 12.05
All the sources listed above paint a single picture--and I'll use a very foreign, male word: Online dominance...
- Women already outnumber men online in the U.S. – among marrieds, people with kids at home and in every age category but 65+
- Women are equally as likely as men to “Read a blog,” and “Create a blog”
- Women write between 43% and 56% of blogs
- Women command a large share of blog visitors
- Women continue to control 83 % of household spending.
That last fact--that women control 83 cents of every household dollar spent in the United States--hasn't changed in a decade, since before I wrote my first Women.com presentation.
But in the face of a splintering traditional media model and abdicating advertisers, the spending power of women has gained the attention of appropriately concerned publishers whose airwaves and op-ed pages have been dominated by men for as long as they've been in operation. And guess what they're doing?
So now the question comes back to us: Okay, wired women, what kind of world do you want to live and work in? How much "stuff" will women tolerate before we abandon the offending parties and do our own thing? Will we operate our own op-ed pages or stay off them, as Amy Sullivan wondered last year? Will we run for office or run from the polls? And when we do our own thing -- be it BlogHer or Momsrising or venture capital or online personals -- how can we continue to innovate in our style of leadership? How can we remember to just...keep...listening?