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With some notable exceptions, the Internet and ICT have traditionally been male domains. Men have dominated software development and hacking. In fact,   computer engineering, hacking, and programming form the triad of a historical tendency to male prevalence shown in the 'hard' sciences. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ The World's Women 2010 report [1], the 1999 – 2007 data showed that women were still significantly underrepresented in science and engineering tertiary education (see [1], Figure 3.18; men enrolled in science outnumber women in 89 out of 117 countries with available 1999 - 2007 data) as well as in terms of Internet usage ([1], Figure 3.22; in approximately half of the 55 countries in this analysis less than 50% of Internet users are women, with the gender gap in Internet usage ranging from 5 to 22%). Even in the most developed countries the proportion of women on scientific boards is still well below 50% ([1], Figure 3.21).

The participation of men in the IGF, from its inception in 2006 to the last forum in 2012, significantly outnumbered women (number).  But, as the IGF matures, a noticeable trend towards gender balance is coming to light. At each successive IGF more and more women are making substantial interventions.

Note: The pilot research project managed to attribute slightly more than 50% of transcribed speech to a specific person. A more detailed attribution will be achieved in the full research project.


IGF 2006–2012: The volume of contributions by men and women

Figures 1a and 1b show the proportion of men and women who contributed verbally to the IGF 2006 –2012 (Figure 1a) and the proportion of the total number of words produced by each (Figure 1b).


Figure 1a. The proportion of male and female participants who spoke in the IGF 2006–2012.


Figure 1b. The proportion of the total number of words produced by men and women IGF 2006–2012.

As it can be seen from Figure 1a, the proportion of participants who contributed verbally to the IGF evolved from 72/28 in favour of men to 60/31 (again in favour of men), showing a clear trend towards achieving gender balance. Figure 1b shows that men were, in general, more talkative than women: the proportion of male input to the total number of words that contributed to the IGF discourse changed from 86/15 to 70/30 as the IGF progressed from 2006 to 2011. Both analyses are framed in absolute terms (number of participants who contributed and number of words contributed).

We decided to check whether the relative contribution has changed more significantly, i.e. given the asymmetry in participation (more men than women), what is the relative proportion of contributions? Does the average volume of male speeches differ from the average volume of female contributions? The answer is yes, generally speaking; but the situation is changing dramatically as the IGF progresses. Take a look at Figure 2.


Figure 2. The relative contribution of men and women, IGF 2006–2011.

To derive the average volume of contributions, we have divided the number of words produced by men and women by the number of male and female participants in each IGF year. As can be read from Figure 2, men were more talkative on average until 2010. The progression started with a ratio of 62/38 in favour of men in 2006 and evolved to 59/41 in 2010: however, in 2011, the ratio was 51/49 in favour of the average male volume of contribution, and 52/48 in 2012. Women, still heavily under-represented in the IGF, seem to be no less outspoken than men, beginning with the last two IGF meetings, and as for the future – well, we will see. 

Gender and word usage

Male and female participants do not seem to differ much in terms of respective word frequency patterns. Figure 3 presents the most frequently used words by men and women in total, during the IGF (all years 2006–2011):

Figure 3. The most frequently used words by gender, IGF 2006 – 2011.


IGF Baku 2012 update: The most frequent words produced on behalf of male participants were (frequencies are given in parentheses): think (2123), internet (2002), very (1932), much (1819), one (1560), person (1547), go (1419), thank (1393), it's (1392) and work (1086). On behalf of female participants, the most frequent words were: think (1217), much (1058), very (1052), internet (968), thank (930), person (755), one (712), right (680), it's (670), go (643).

The disproportion between male and female contributions in absolute terms of word frequency can be clearly seen in Figure 3. Figure 4 presents the word clouds for male and female IGF participants.

Figure 4. IGF 2006–2011 word clouds  for the 100 most frequently used words used by male (left) and female (right) participants. Generated with



[1] The World's Women 2010. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Some topics for future research:

  • National and regional distribution of gender balance
  • Style of communication (gender perspective)
  • Technological and social argumentation in gender connotations

Please let us know your suggestions for further research questions.


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