Since writing an article a week ago entitled, “Where are all the Women on Google Plus?,” I have seen an explosion of similar articles on many tech websites and a few mainstream media sites all with speculation about the number of female Google Plus users.
Unfortunately, I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated as journalist, bloggers, and pundits are all regurgitating the same unreliable statistics but no one is actually discussing why adding more women on Google Plus could make it or break it.
Google reported that there are over 10 million Plus users, Paul Allen is saying there are now 18 million. At this point most people agree the early, popular sources for the G+ male to female ratio– Socialstatistics.com and Findpeopleonplus.com/statistics — are unreliable. Paul Allen has some interesting things to say here and has probably the best estimate as of July 14th — 66.4% Male, 33.6% Female. (To clarify, this is Paul Allen founder of Ancestry.com, NOT the same that co-founded Microsoft.)
Both the media, bloggers, and commenters seem to agree on one thing — the reason there are so few women on Google Plus is because there are so few women working in technology related fields. Despite all the progress women have made in the workforce over the past 50 years, we are still playing catch-up in most of the technology markets.
Women, as noted in this NY Times article, “now out number men at elite colleges, law schools, medical schools and in the overall work force. Yet a stark imbalance of the sexes persists in the high-tech world, where change typically happens at breakneck speed.”
While I can’t find figures of how many women are officially working on the Google Plus project (or even the amount of women who work for Google) overall, I think Google does a better job than average at encouraging diversity in the workplace. Google forms networks like Google Women Engineers Network (GWE) and Women’s Leadership Community (WLC) within company ranks. They regularly offer lectures of leading women (just search youtube.com for women@google). Google certainly gives the appearance, if nothing else, of trying to make women’s voices be heard.
Research published on catalyst.org shows companies with women board members do +42% better in sales. Google, unlike many of their competitors, is doing well with two of their nine board of directors being women. And, the end of the day, isn’t it all about the money? Google is a for profit company. The Google work “culture” exists to encourage more productive workers. Jean Xiam Sun points out on the blog http://www.popherald.com/:
Google could generate more revenue from new products like Chrome, Chrome Web Store and including the Google Plus because the company can obviously deliver more advertisements, bundled with more ad revenue. [Larry] Page explained, “(Google’s) emerging high usage products can generate huge new businesses for Google in the long run, just like search, and we have tons of experience monetizing successful products over time.”
Why Are Female and Male User Ratios Important for Google Plus?
To clarify a bit, I don’t think Google Plus’s problem is with the amount of female developers (although it may be) or with Google’s male/female employee ratio (which would be interesting to know); I think the problem is getting enough of a user base to make Google Plus financially worth while. Right now, in the early stages, what would help Google Plus most is feedback from female users — ones in both tech and non-tech arenas.
as with the use of most social media, SNS [social network site] users are disproportionately female (56%). Women also comprise the majority of email users (52% women), users of instant message (55%), bloggers (54%), and those who use a photo sharing service (58%).
Logically, with a smaller-than-average female presence on Google Plus more men than women are offering feedback. As Google makes adjustments to G-Plus they are making changes based on that feedback. If Google wants to compete with Facebook, and I think their design of Google Plus clearly indicates they do, they are going to need the insight of more women. Tailoring a product based on predominately male feedback is just not smart if the market mostly utilized by women.
Sadly, there is really no way to determine how many women versus men are offering feedback. If we look at Facebook as an example (from the same study above), “20% of women Facebook users click “like” several times a day, while only 9% men”. If women are apt to click “like” twice as much as men and there is a 33% female user base — this may balance out the lack of female presence, but that is only assuming that women would provide feedback at the same rate as they click “like”. Feedback is more involved than a simple click of a “like” button.
Men Versus Women, What’s New?
We all have ways we assume men and women to be different….after all men are from Mars and women are from Venus. I have heard myself grunt, “ugh, men,” more times than I’d want to admit. Yes, a great deal of the differences between men and women are stereotypes. Google even recognizes gender as a complex and confusing topic as they are no longer requiring users to declare themselves male or female.
I appreciate Google’s forward and modern thinking. But (without getting into the gender debate), when a product still in a field trial — used by women more than men –shouldn’t you make certain you know how women are responding?
According to David Gefen and Detmar Straub in an article in MIS Quarterly, “socio-linguistic research has shown that men tend to focus discourse on hierarchy and independence, while women focus on intimacy and solidarity.” One of Google Plus’s selling points is that there is an increased control over privacy features. Considering privacy directly impacts users intimacy and even more so their solidarity, female feedback would likely look very different from male feedback.
The Image of Female Google Plus Users
In the Media’s haste to discuss Google Plus’ lack of women, they may have also inadvertently caused some tension. A week or so ago the general vibe in Google Plus, the Blogosphere, and Media-land seemed to be enthusiastic about adding women to the network; this week there is a tone that reeks of sexism.
Google Plus-ers (and bloggers and the media) are now dividing themselves into “early adopters” and “late adopters”. It seems the underlying implication being that the “late adopters” are simply not as smart technically as the early adopters. If more men were “early adopters” and women were “late adopters” and the assumption is that early adopters are smarter than late adopters regarding technology, then are women not as smart as men? Perhaps I reading into things. Perhaps.
I noticed a lot of .GIFs this week in the comments of popular articles discussing G-Plus’s women, many of them offensive. While I will admit I do find some of the .GIFs rather amusing, putting up memes of a bunch of men in a hot tub trivializes what women have to offer to Google in terms of feedback.
Don’t get me wrong, I think people posting these things have good intentions — they are simply making fun of a situation that really did start out innocently. I have never doubted Google’s intent to put smart people — nerds — to work testing Google Plus. Google sent invites for the new Plus project to major players in the technical arena — most of those people happened to be men. They invited their friends — also male — and so on and so forth.
Not to ram a point into the ground, but this method of invitations was flawed because women dominate most social media networks. Sure geeks will probably be more forgiving of errors in coding as they understand the level of work involved, and sure they may have more realistic feedback to offer but, what they can’t give is insight into how an average user, one who is not always the most technically proficient, will adapt to the new interface.
Marissa Mayer, a Google executive, “argues that growing up, girls are offered a narrow stereotype of what it means to be a “geek” — something akin to the bespectacled loner who spends hours typing away at a screen. ” The image is clear, women simply aren’t “supposed” to like that which isn’t typically considered feminine. Aileen Lee points out on a guest post on Techcrunch.com, “the titan of social gaming, Zynga, says 60% of [Zynga's] players are female”. Interesting considering Google has recently secretly invested 100 million in the company.
And. while the stereotype may be true, that more women like Farmville (a Zynga game), the comments got under my skin this week as people spouted over and over that Farmville’s addition to Google Plus will ruin it — claiming streams will be clogged with “Jane just won a cow. Click to get a Free Cow”.
If these people’s Facebook news feeds are full of Farmville updates, all they have to do is select “hide Farmville” from a drop down menu….simple. I find it frustrating that someone else’s lack of setting-knowledge means women aren’t supposed to enjoy a game if she chooses to do so.
Besides, isn’t it sexist and shortsighted to assume the only reason why women aren’t on G+ has to do with trivial novelties such as games. I find it even more revolting that people assume women are “silly” in some way for playing games. Sure many women enjoy spending time gaming, so do men. In fact, 60 % of men game, while only 40% of women game. Certainly women have more to offer than annoying status updates.
Furthermore, although making a joke here or there, posting a somewhat mysogynist photo, or remarking on women’s love of Farmville may seem harmless enough, I think we need to recognize there is a larger picture. What I am speaking of is a collective conscience that forms when people are bombarded with the same images and messages over and over and over. The message for the past week has been ramping up and it seems to be suggesting that we are simply are not as “ready” for Google’s latest social media network. It reminds us, as women, we are in the “wrong place” at Google Plus.
We can only hope, sites like Women of Google Plus, will encourage more women to join Google’s social network, put their heads together, and push Google Plus to the next level. And, while I do love the third-wave feminist sentiment that we shouldn’t have, as Lynette Radio puts it, an “us versus them” attitude, I do think Google Plus needs a larger female presence and certainly more female feedback. After all, didn’t Google demonstrate this week that Women will change the future?