Friday, December 3, 2010

Empathy, Gender and the Workplace

An interesting take from philosophy professor Hugo Schwyzer on gender and empathy.

He makes a good point. And I note with interest that he touches mainly on personal relationships rather than professional links. I can't help but apply this mode of thinking to the IT world as well.

A good deal of my discussions with men on the subjects of getting more women into computing could be summarized with the statement, "we would love to, but don't know how." I think a big part of the answer to that question lies in this line of research - guys are less empathetic. That's not to say they're jerks, but as this research points out, men don't have the same cultural perception of empathy as women.

Sara Chipps at Girl Developer made a good point at her Girl Geek Dinner talk about a year ago that people can be passionate about software. Don't get into the discussion unless you are comfortable with that kind of intensity. And she's totally right. But I like the idea that it can, and should, work both ways. Of course you need thick skin in the professional world. But as with all things in life, a moderate balance is needed. The trick is finding the right balance between empathetic understanding and forthright directness.

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