11

Problem

I'm a moderator on Startups Stack Exchange, and we're facing a significant gender bias in our contributors and visitors that I'd love to see evened out a bit.

Evidence

According to Quantcast, a service that monitors traffic to Stack Exchange websites, our gender divide is not particularly impressive.

Quantcast gender overview

Females make up around 8% of our total visitor-base. We've grown quite a bit lately, and this is in fact down from 11% a few weeks ago.

Data Scrutiny

Now, admittedly, I don't know how good that data is. They infer it based on cookies and such, as far as I understand it, so it's definitely possible that it's not that bad, or that it's worse. It's also worth noting that Quantcast looks at unique visitors to make these estimates, and not, of course, unique posters. One can infer the problem, but realistically I'm looking for more gender-balance in posters, and visitors is simply a side-effect.

I say this all not because I doubt the data, and it is in fact more than lined up with what I've experienced on the site, but I want to make it clear what my evidence is actually supporting.

Question

How can I attract more female contributors to the site?

Hindrances

As most of us know, women don't currently hold a nearly-fair (not to make this political or anything) power in most businesses, and startups are pretty similar. That said, there does seem to be a "revolution" of sorts going on, and we're seeing a lot more women in lead positions in startups.

Brainstorming

The best idea I've thought of so far is to reach out to some local predominantly female networking groups and ask them to post a link to us on their website. I can do that, but I don't know whether that will really raise the percentages or not. I'll probably do it anyway, since marketing is important to us now regardless, but I'd appreciate some way that was a bit less granular than that.

8

First, let me qualify my answer: While I appreciate your desire to have gender balance, there is very little I dislike more than to have a group fall all over themselves trying to get me to join their club because I happen to have a vulva and they think that is important. They might as well make the site pink for all the good that does.

If you want more women contributing, don't make it about ladyparts. Community outreach and networking is a good idea, but rather than just marketing your site, you might consider it a means to find out what kinds of challenges women are facing and what kinds of things they want to discuss and learn about. Think about things that are often challenges for women or single parents. These are most likely to be the topics that will engage the audience you are trying to cultivate. Put those topics on your site and you will recruit users that are interested in those things (some of whom may be women).

Second, per our nice chat discussion, you might consider examining the posts of your highly-engaged audience of women (assuming you have a means of identifying these users) to see what topics they are interested in and what their answers suggest are important themes. You might also examine posts from your middling-level users who are women, to see if there are common topics that you might promote to increase their participation. Posts from low-rep users may give you some ideas of what a new user would hope to see and didn't (because they didn't come back).

  • Right now, we don't get much attention from search engines, so any question I pose will end up being a male asking, and 92% males (approximately) trying to answer. I suspect we both know how well that works out when it's women's issues that are being discussed. As such, it seems more logical to me for us to start off with a strong user-base with a better understanding of the issues, then begin to hold those conversations. I could certainly be wrong on that, but that's I suppose an unwritten aspect of my question. – Matthew Haugen Jan 29 '15 at 19:27
  • 1
    @Matt I really do appreciate your desire to achieve balance and make your site welcoming for women. Honestly though, what is it that makes something related to Startups a "woman's issue"? What could you discuss that specifically relates to my genetics or gender identity? I'll bet the answer is very little, in which case, all you do when you invite me to the table as a woman is to mark me as different from the everyone else. But that's beyond the scope of this question/comment. I'd really be interested in an honest, open chat about it though, if you want to create a room for it. – Kit Z. Fox Jan 29 '15 at 19:35
  • That's a lovely idea. Created. – Matthew Haugen Jan 29 '15 at 19:50
6

You can't force people to turn up to the site, but what you can do is make sure that the site is welcoming to new visitors of all kinds.

For example, make sure that things like sexist names and avatars (pictures of scantily clad women for example) are known to be inappropriate and will be removed when found. Such things are already against the Stack Exchange terms of service, but it would be worth reminding people - particularly if you have recently had some issues in this area (NOTE: I'm not saying you have, just that you should take preventative action).

Encourage people to edit out any inappropriate language from posts. Again, this shouldn't be there - after all you are running a professional site for professional people, but sometimes people slip up.

Encourage people to use comments wisely and discourage the use of any form of name-calling etc (things like "you idiot" etc.) It can be very discouraging for anyone to be greeted by a slew of negative comments when they first show up and ask a question or post an answer.

I know that sounds like I'm stating the obvious but if anyone comes to the site and their first impression is that it's a closed club and they're not welcome then that's certain to ensure that they don't come back.

If you do run "recruitment drives" (for want of a better term), have people actively looking at the site for new posts from new users to make sure that they get an encouraging welcome. This doesn't mean you should drop your standards - an off topic question is still an off topic question - but make sure that criticism is constructive and helpful. Don't just say "this question isn't welcome here". Look for the good question that might be buried in a badly formatted post. Show by example what a good question and good answer look like, and so on.

2

My recommendation is to find "women in startups" or "women entrepreneur" groups - go visit them, explain the issue you're having and ask if they'd be willing to get involved in helping to build an equitable community with you.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.