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Women, Power, and Educational Technology

with 8 comments

This the first post I have ever written about females in technology.  A few recent incidents got me thinking about this issue.  First, I attended/presented at an educational technology conference that had the mission of giving women voices as keynote presenters, yet the major presenters (who were given more time and press) were males.  Second, I am spending the day watching TedxWomen and there are male presenters.

These incidents reminded of a powerful experience that happened to me as a college teacher in a face-to-face undergraduate course on Psychology of Adjustment . . .

There were about 150 students in the lecture hall where I taught Psychology of Adjustment.  The topic of this week was communication and power differences between genders.  My goal for all of my classes was to involve the students in the course topics through experiential, interactive activities.  On this particular day, I planned a panel discussion.  I asked for five females volunteers and five male volunteers from the student audience.  The males were asked to take a seat in the five chairs set up in a row, the women stood in a line facing them.  My rationale for this physical set-up was to give the women power “over”.  Typically men are larger and taller than women, so just their physical presence gives power over.

Next, I asked to the women to tell the men those things that they believe infers with communication between the two genders.  The males were instructed to just listen and that the only verbal communications that they could give were questions for clarification.  My purpose for this part of the exercise was to give women a forum/venue to have a voice, to get the opportunity to have the males really listen to them.

The exercise was powerful.  The women expressed their concerns, mostly about not being heard. The males sat listening, really listening, in a non-defensive poster, to what the women had to say, asking a few questions for clarification.  Both sides of the panel did great.

I indicated that it was the end of the exercise . The women emphatically stated that it was now time to give the males the opportunity to tell them what interferes with communication with females.  I again stated, “No, this is the end of this exercise.”  Two of the women, older in their 40s and 50s, got visibly upset and agitated stating that the males need to have their turn, their say.  I asked the males if they were okay ending the exercise as is and they said that they were.  The two women were not okay with this and remained very agitated.  I saw in their actions a strong need to give back the power to the males.

I thought, “Wow, these women are seeking to give the male back their voices and power; and don’t even realize it.”  I did not anticipate nor expect this strong of a reaction from the women. (Note:  It was noted in the comments that maybe this was just the two women’s need for fair play.  It is difficult to convey observations via words.  First, as I stated I did not anticipate nor expect this reaction.  I was actually shocked at its intensity.  Second, these two women were fairly “traditional” in that they were mothers and wives, returning to school.  Third, their visibly being shaken up even after the guys stated they were fine demonstrated that it went much deeper than fair play.)

I realized these beliefs were so ingrained and unconscious that even if I had brought it to the women’s attention, they could not/would not be able to own them.  I made the connection between this experience and internalized oppression.

What this experience reinforced is that we live in world where power differentials exist on many levels.   I am a strong supporter of affirmative action.  I believe that when power differentials exist, proactive and what appears to some to be extreme, “unfair” actions need to be taken.

As I examine who are the keynote speakers at technology conferences, who are making online games, the educational technology individuals who are being followed and retweeted on Twitter, the balance of power appears to be in favor of males. Others have noticed and discussed this . . .

2012-12-01_1003

  • It’s Time to Find the Women in Tech “Where are all the women?” is common refrain in tech circles. Plenty of executives and investors, male and female, are seeking to advance more women in technology. But how? We need to take a three-pronged approach, bolstering education, opportunity, and visibility for women in technology.
  • Shifting the Base of Competition A bias against women has existed for centuries, and unfortunately, that bias continues to exist in industries such as IT. This bias, according to Hagel, is amplified by a concept he identifies as the masculine archetype.
  • Women In Technology: 4 Reasons Why Females Will Rule The Future Women have been flagrantly underrepresented in technology fields since the Internet first changed the way we interact with the world nearly two decades ago. Only 8 percent of venture-backed start-ups have female leaders, and few women sit on the boards of Web 2.0′s most prominent companies.

This post, in essence, is a call to action for both genders to invite in and provide opportunities for females to become fully engaged, have equal opportunities. and have voices in the field of technology/educational technology. There are some powerful initiatives to get girls and women involved in this field:

  • Girls Who Code Together with leading educators, engineers, and entrepreneurs, Girls Who Code has developed a new model for computer science education, pairing intensive instruction in robotics, web design, and mobile development with high-touch mentorship led by the industry’s top female developers and entrepreneurs.
  • The FemTech Project came out of a conversation between four women who feel passionately about women in technology careers. They wanted to create a space for women to share their stories about how they got involved in tech careers. The project is also a place for girls to share their passions for technology and connect with other girls with similar passions.
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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Or they believed in fair play?

    tuigim (@Tuigim)

    December 2, 2012 at 1:55 am

    • It was a “you had to be there” kind of experience. I knew I would have difficulty to convey their reactions via words. It was more than-different than fair play, especially given that the males were okay with everything.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:59 am

  2. I do completely agree with you Jackie about the lack of women in the IT field. My opinion is that women always have to choose between having a career and having babies, and having a family life while working in the IT industry is even more difficult than working in more traditional industries. Being always connected, interconnected and updated is a priority requirement when working in IT – and it is very difficult to be like that and at the same time play with kids, prepare meals etc etc. I know this sounds ridiculous in the 21st century, and it is. What I am really sure about is that our (meaning female) way is the one that is winning on the long run, we do always seek sustainability rather than quick flashes of success and power. And this in any business. Maybe there are not so many women now in the IT business, but this number is going to increase more and more each year, and our contributions will survive longer than the ones of our male counterparts.

    adartee

    December 2, 2012 at 7:25 am

  3. Jackie what a great post! I have read a lot about this over the past few years, and one of the biggest problems I see in this field (I know it exists in others as well) is the seeming inability or unwillingness of females to promote themselves. I’m not talking about being an egomaniac, but there are many instances where, when you want your opinion heard, or you want to assert your beliefs, you need to also bring your experience and know-how to the table. You need to say, “I know this will work,” or “I know this is a good idea”, and then talk about what you’ve done that was successful that backs that up. Women are uncomfortable with this type of self-promotion, but men seem completely ok with it. I know that in the past couple of years, a lot of the writing I have done for various initiatives in my own organization depends on me promoting my own successful experiences as part of the larger narrative. I’ve had to purposefully and mindfully edit myself many times to make sure I was bringing that out. I noticed that in many of the key points I was trying to make, I had completely removed myself from the success equation. Why do we (I) do this? Why is self-promotion not my instinctive first impulse – especially when the gains to be made are for the greater good?

    tweisz

    December 2, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    • Thanks, Tracie – I think there are so many variables including women’s “dislike” of self promotion. I also think that women’s ideas are not heard as easily and with the openness as men’s ideas and I think both men and women are guilty of this.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:06 am

  4. Terrific post, Jackie — thank you for writing and sharing it. Power is an unspoken subtext in so much of our lives, and the underrepresentation of women in technology is certainly one of these. I’ve worked in technology (both in industry and in higher education) for 30 years and have also done research in gender and technology. There have been so many initiatives over the years to encourage girls and women to consider/study/work in technology, but very few of these initiatives examine our gendered culture, and the gendered culture of technology itself. Change is required at many levels.

    I wrote a blog post recently after being frustrated at the lack of women speakers at a tech conference here in Ireland (http://catherinecronin.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/itwomen/) and am now curating both a list of women speakers and a Twitter list of people and organisations working to encourage and support girls and women in technology (https://twitter.com/catherinecronin/itwomen).

    I hope you continue to speak and write about this. I certainly feel that this is one of my most important tasks (at this stage of my career!). We have nothing to lose and so much to gain — not just for girls and women, but for society. We *all* need women as well as men designing and building the technology that supports and surrounds our lives. Thanks again :)

  5. Thank you adartee for your comment about women and babies vs. careers. This is a topic that has been researched, written and spoken about so much, yet despite this acknowledgement, it is still somehow often forgotten when speaking about women’s success and behaviour at work. And it isn’t just prevalent in technology, but across every single industry. I have come to believe that women are other women’s worst enemies in this regard – and not normally deliberately or malevolently, but just because sexist and oppressive attitudes are so ingrained across both genders that women don’t recognise their part in reinforcing the discrimination – and are so keen on ‘fair play’ that they refuse to give each other a leg-up just in case it’s seen as unfair – as Jackie’s observations brilliantly demonstrate.

    I’m personally in the midst of trying to navigate my way through all of this right now, having just returned to work full-time in HE after years working part-time in convenient but unfulfilling and career-killing jobs whilst trying to juggle home-life and being a great mum.

    And I feel angry about it – I am an intelligent, hard-working person with bags of potential and enthusiasm but I’m seen as an odd-ball for trying to take a feminist stance. It seems to me that we can all accept the theoretical notion of sexist discrimination but are blind to how it operates around us and works through us all the time in our every day lives.

    georgiayorkshire

    December 11, 2012 at 12:32 am

    • It is sad. I am not a flaming feminist, I just believe in equality. Working in New Mexico, I also see such ingrained discrimination with the different ethnic groups here. I don’t know the solution except to keep this issue on the surface as it slides below the surface – in all industries – way too often.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      December 11, 2012 at 12:46 am


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