On Zoom, men don’t like feeling watched and judged — but women are used to it

Men prefer custom backgrounds

Based on our experiences in the new virtual world, men appear to far outnumber women in their preference for using specialty Zoom backgrounds. Popular choices include dungeons, outer space, landscapes and branded University images, the latter of which is common among men in positions of significant power. They sometimes switch designs during meetings, which can be humorous and reflect individual creativity.

Designs by men

Women have been players in the corporate world for decades, but the style and appearance of many work environments remains quite masculine. This is reflected in the predominance of neutral tones like steely grey, along with Modernist décor and room temperatures two to three degrees lower than what women prefer.

On-screen appearances

We are also regularly observing and being observed by people on the other side of our looking-glass screens, which can increase our focus on the appearance of others and generate discomfort about how we look. There’s a reason cosmetic surgery for facial procedures has skyrocketed since the uptick in Zoom use or “ Zoom boom.”

Screen reflections

Like Alice’s looking-glass, Zoom is transforming how we observe one another and construct or reconstruct our identities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The insights shared here suggest some of the ways that gender shapes the uptake of this platform among women and men.



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Treena Orchard

Treena Orchard


A prairie girl who became an Anthropologist. Inspired by chocolate, life’s rhythm & blues, and Joan Didion.