Internet statistics indicate a reduction in the gender discrepancy online. Yet, what is the situation within specific online communities like Internet Relay Chat (IRC)? Likewise, what is the gender status of those occupying positions of power online? An exploratory study of chat room operators (those who govern chat rooms) was conducted to investigate gender differences in operator's demographic characteristics and IRC experience. Whether those less satisfied with their real-life occupation were attracted to chat room operator positions was also investigated. A survey of 423 chat room operators was administered, comprising 25% women. Real-life occupations of chat room operators covered a broad spectrum, from professional and managerial to service, sales, and production workers, as well as those not employed. The most common occupational category cited was student, with very similar proportions of men and women occupying high-status positions. Of the occupations listed, 23% fell within the IT industry, with significantly more male than female operators working in this area. Majorities of both genders were satisfied with their real-life occupation. There was no relationship between job satisfaction and IRC experience or time spent as chat room operator. There were no gender differences for IRC experience. Majorities of both genders had been using IRC for 1 to 3 years or more, used IRC daily, and spent most or all of their time on IRC as operators. Ages ranged from 11 to 66 years, with the mean age 25 years. Women were significantly older than men. A significant proportion of men and women were from North America.
Bowker, N. I., & Liu, J. H. (2001). Are women occupying positions of power on-line?: Demographics of chat room operators. CyberPsychology and Behavior: The impact of the Internet, Multimedia and Virtual Reality on Behavior and Society, 4(5), 631-644.