The gender gap in chess refers to the fact that many more men than women play chess. To address the gender gap, research is useful, and many actions seem possible. In the Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study, participants mentioned using gender neutral language, stopping harassment, encouraging female players, providing role models, having female teachers and organizers, discussing cultural expectations (“chess is a male sport”), the influences of media (The Queen’s Gambit limited series), and creating more success experiences for empowerment.
On January 6, 2022, Chessable’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Barry Hymer introduced the Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study with a blog post, Closing the gap: How gender-blind is chess, actually? Hymer wrote that Chessable intends “to learn from this study, as well as to make its fruits accessible to other stakeholders.” He invited Chessable users to participate. Grandmaster Judit Polgar also recruited participants.
The 501 participants identified as female (82), male (406), non-binary (6), or prefer-not-to-say (7). Their level varied from beginner to grandmaster, although many considered themselves as “moderate players.” They hailed from 64 countries and provided answers via online questionnaires.
In April of 2022, Dr. Alexey Root became Chessable’s Chief Science Officer. She asked Chessable’s Science Project Manager Karel van Delft to continue his work on the Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study.
Van Delft concluded that work in the summer of 2022. Chessable has already started to learn from the study’s findings and is making changes internally. With this blog post, the study’s findings are made accessible to other stakeholders.
In August of 2022, Karel van Delft published his 275 page-long report as a PDF. His report includes an introduction of two pages and a summary of 12 pages about the Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study. The bulk of the report contains all the questionnaire answers (anonymized) from 501 participants.
About the composition and limits of the study, Van Delft wrote, “Participants are self-selected and do not constitute a representative sample of chess players. The research is descriptive and exploratory. Its results can be used to raise awareness and actions.” He added: “Some responses contradict other responses. People can have different opinions or experiences. The context of an issue might also be different.”
Findings and Actions
Most participants, men and women alike, agreed with the statement that “more needs to be done to increase the participation of girls and women in chess.” Several areas participants mentioned might lead to more girls and women in chess, including changing language and stopping harassment.
The Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study found many instances where language affected Chessable users. For example, Question 13 asked, “Do you think the [Chessable] platform appeals equally to men and women? Why/why not?” One woman responded, “No! Absolutely not. It’s very frustrating to read all the ‘he’ and ‘him’ and ‘his’ in your courses. It’s like you guys don’t realize that women exist. For me it’s very hard to read the text in your courses because of this.”
Acting on this finding, the Chessable science team and others in the Play Magnus Group are working on guidelines in the three languages used for Chessable courses (English, Spanish, and German). The guidelines will help Chessable course authors write to welcome everyone.
After completing the language guidelines, the Chessable science team and others in the Play Magnus Group will address another theme in the Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study: Stopping harassment.
In their responses to the Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study, many women and men listed harassment as a reason why girls and women may quit chess. For example, one man responded, “Harassment and ‘trash talking’ amongst chess players is common and might also be a culprit; if a couple thousand boys are intimidated into quitting that isn’t statistically significant, but the same number of girls being chased out becomes quite significant.”
Regarding Question 18, part H, 369 of 449 respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that “tackling instances where girls and women are being put down or harassed” would support the participation of girls and women in chess.
How to tackle those instances is an issue that has been discussed during 2022, FIDE’s Year of the Woman in Chess. For example, FIDE’s Global Exchange Forum defined harassment and provided guidelines and support for reporting cases.
The above examples show how the participants’ answers to questions, regarding the appeal of the Chessable platform to men and women (Question 13) and harassment (Question 18, part H), lead to action. The Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study has other insights and data, taken from Van Delft’s analysis of participants’ answers.
The Chessable Chess and Gender Study also found many “best practices” initiatives to encourage girls and women in chess. Examples included the Dutch foundation “ChessQueens,” which aims to promote chess for women and girls. Many participants cited initiatives by Grandmaster Judit Polgar. In Vienna, Austria, there is the “Frau Schach” chess club. The US Chess Women’s Program Director Jennifer Shahade implements Girls Clubs, which foster community among chess-playing girls.
Chessable science team
For those who answered the Chess and Gender Participation Study questionnaires, thank you. For those interested in how research is turning into action, or who want to be a part of the action, please contact the Chessable science team: Chief Science Officer Alexey Root, [email protected] and Science Project Manager Karel van Delft [email protected].
Additionally, the Chessable science team also encourages you to view our four initiatives: Research Help, Chessable Research Awards, Blog, and Featured Projects. The Chessable Chess and Gender Participation Study is one of our Featured Projects.
To learn about our four initiatives in more detail, click on https://www.chessable.com/science and click on the green banner “View Our Active Scientific Research.”