Recently I bought a bike and it taught me a lot about empathy.
After several days asking friends and researching options on the web I narrowed my choice to three bikes. It was easy to figure out which dealers stocked which bikes so I called them up and set up times to test drive. On my first two store visits I was greeted and subsequently helped by male customer service people. My third visit was with a female associate.
The conversation normally started with me telling them why I was there and what bike I was looking to buy. I’d give them broad generalizations and say something like “I’m looking for a bike that can do blah, blah, blah.” Both of the males immediately started telling me about the bikes that they own and why they think I should get something like theirs. They told me about their favorite features and preferences. One guy got particularly animated and told me that he would never buy a bike that didn’t have the option to add mud flaps because “I don’t like to get all dirty on my ride.”
Here’s where things got interesting. When I went to the final store, the woman who assisted me asked me a lot of questions. Wait, she was actually asking me questions? Shocker. Neither of the guys had done that, except to ask me what size frame I was looking for, which is a question primarily motivated by inventory availability. The woman asked me why I wanted (another) bike, how would I be using it, what features were important to me, and whether I had space to store it. I felt like she was trying to know me. Not once did she volunteer what her preferences were. Women seem to be be naturally predisposed to being empathetic.
I realize this is anecdotal, but it’s my experience that women ask more empathetic questions and are more collaborative. There is additional research that backs this up, some of which has been covered by my friend Prof. Rob Brooks in his book Sex, Genes and Rock ‘n Roll. In the book he points out that in societies with a balance of male and female representation, there is less fighting, less violence, and less crime. There is probably lots of other research out there and I’d love to hear from you what you’ve seen or read.
Bottom line: We need more women in UX.