I was reading an article about the lack of women speakers at web conferences. Does gender diversity really matter? Isn’t a good speaker a good speaker? Why should it matter whether a speaker is male or female?
In web design, does gender really matter? Isn’t a good designer a good designer?
I specialize in marketing to women online. One questions I often get is, “If I’m targeting women, should I get a woman to design my website?”
My answer is always, “Hire the best web designer money can buy.” Really good web designers understand and design for their audience. Less skilled designers may default to what they know, or worse, what they like. That’s where you enter the danger zone. The further the designer is from your target audience, the harder they’ll have to work to put aside their own likes and biases.
I’ve read several studies on gender preference on the web. The University of Glamorgam got a lot of press on their study. While I think a lot of their findings may be overgeneralized, I do believe there is a real difference in what women and men prefer online.
At Future Now, our holistic process, Persuasion Architecture [click for whitepaper download], uses personas to plan online and multi-channel experiences from the customer’s perspective(s). But I still pull in male colleagues to “litmus test” my personas. For instance, we were working on a dating website and I found some of our client’s research on their male customers really hard to believe. But sure enough, my male colleagues said it was true. So, I went totally against my gut and put it in. Alas, I’m not a guy, and there are some things about guys I’ll just never understand.
But what I do understand are my own empathy limitations. Do you? I just have to laugh when I write about marketing messages targeting women and a guy comes up to me and says something like, “Women don’t think that. That’s not what they want, this is what they want.” Believe it or not, it happens all the time. These are “marketing experts,” ergo they know all. I spend a lot of time listening to 30-something guys tell me they understand what I want more than I do.
I have to wonder what might happen if I walked up to young male marketer targeting 18 year-old guys and said to him, “18 year-old guys don’t want that. That’s not how they think. This is what they really want.” He’d probably laugh me out of the room!
“This middle-aged woman thinks she knows more about 18 year-old guys than I do? Give me a break.” (Note: “middle-aged woman” would be his words, not mine.)
We all have biases based on our own experiences. One of the most important insights from the University of Glamorgam study is that each of the sexes preferred websites designed by their own sex. (Check out the discussion at molly.com for a great debate on the subject.)
Hire the best speaker, hire the best web designer, but broadening gender diversity can only help ensure all viewpoints and natural biases are represented. If you’re designing a website targeting women, make sure women are involved in the process. If you’re designing a website aimed at men, make sure men are in involved in the process. Check in with each other. Dialog is everything, and I bet you’ll all be better marketers and designers because of it.