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July 23, 2009

Ask-o-logy: The Squirmy Gender Question (Part II)

As far as gender is concerned, one limitation of this experiment is that it's one sided. I can't turn myself into a man and see how people react, and I didn't collaborate with a man to ask the same question, in the same way, to the same person, and see if the results were different. That's what would constitute a more controlled experiment.

The only thing I could compare and contrast was how different people react to a woman asking. And since I'm the same woman, at least a few things are constant: my nice was always the same kind of nice, my pushiness was the same kind of pushy, for example.

That is what scientists call a "longitudinal" study, where you examine one element in a bunch of different contexts. The benefit is that it offers a very narrow but ideally deeper insight into a broader topic. Of course, most longitudinal studies involve more than one subject, but who wants to read that many versions of the same blog? ;)

And now, to the numbers.

Recap from yesterday: Did I have more success asking men or women?

Yesterday I reported that men gave in to my requests 3 out of 4 times, while women slightly less. I am not sure if this is a significant difference, and even if it is, the results are pretty close.

But once we look at some narrower questions, the results get more interesting.

1) Gender and subject of request: Better to ask men or women about different topics?

I wanted to know if men or women gave in more to five types of requests: those related to my career, retail discounts, restaurant requests, random fun, and travel problems.

The other categories, like housing, entertainment, etc, didn't really interest me from this perspective. Having a male or female cashier at the box office won't make or break my day. And some categories, like housing, included more of one gender, so it wasn't a fair comparison.

For career requests, men and women were similarly willing to say "yes." Examining the data, I made the same kinds of requests to almost the same number men and women. In fact, men and women turned me down 4 times each, but I asked women two more times.

I'm not scared of bold statements, but I cannot say this means anything.

The only real difference is at restaurants, where men overwhelmingly said yes. 83% versus 72%. Considering I also asked men more there (which implies I encountered more male waiters, cashiers, baristas, etc, or exhibited an implicit preference for interacting with them in that context), looks like that's a trend I can easily continue. Excellent.

Conclusion 1: I am relieved, based on this admittedly limited and totally unscientific experiment, to find that men and women treated me the same in the workplace.

2) Which goals were men and women more responsive to?

That is, was it better to ask men or women for financial benefits, time, permission to do strange things, information, or convenience?

Do all of these findings reflect stereotypes or defy them? A bit of both.

The smallest spread was for info, where both parties were remarkably willing to share their expertise. I do wonder if that 5% difference is due to gender or other factors. Looking at the data, women were extremely generous, explaining things in detail, giving me more advice than I even asked for.

Women were also far more likely to comfort me and have fun with me. Based on the data, this is not because I asked my female friends for hugs. Rather, I asked mostly women I didn't know for help in the health care and travel industries -- and they usually said yes.

Men were far more likely to give me access or permission to do stuff: park somewhere off limits, join a space or conversation where I wasn't invited, etc.

Men were also significantly more likely to give me money. Meaning they either granted discounts or bonuses/perks/raises, or they handled transactions where I got money back.

3) The last result makes me wonder: are men more likely to give money? Are more men in positions where one would be likely to give money?

Let's find out:

Strangely, and luckily, I asked exactly the same number of men and women for monetary benefits and discounts. I didn't plan it this way, I swear!!

Men: 75
Women: 75

Of these, 56 men said yes, while 41 women did. That is, men were 37% more likely to say yes!

So it seems that, all things being truly equal -- same asker, same number of askees -- men are more willing to part with their money, or the money of their business, when this woman asks.

I saved the best for last, regarding gender. Check back tomorrow!
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