Tech Talk Live Blog

Gender Roles in Educational Technology

Nancy Morris

As a woman working in the field of educational technology for many years, it is interesting to me to watch the trends of people who have chosen this field.  Many years ago, both males and females were selected to be technology leaders in schools simply because they were “good with computers” or “knew how to do spreadsheets.”

Now that 2016 is around the corner, things have changed dramatically. More and more people are entering the field of educational technology who do not have a background in education. Some come with associate’s degrees from technical institutes in our area. Others come from the private sector.

In our technology department at the educational service agency where I work, we have 10 females and 12 males.  I fought for a long time over the fact that when we had meetings and did group work, the females were always expected to do the ​writing/recording, whether it was on chart paper, a white board, or to put sticky notes up on a project plan. While a 10 female to 12 male ratio may seem like a pretty even split, when one looks at the job responsibilities it is not. The men fill most of the technical positions and the women are doing clerical and administrative work. This may have contributed to the fact that when in meetings, different roles were assigned by gender.

Job Responsibilities by Gender, Lancaster-Lebanon IU13 Technology Services Department, October 22, 2015

I decided to investigate further and look to see if this was a trend in our school districts. While I wasn’t able to collect data for clerical and administrative positions, I was able to take a look at “Technical vs Instructional Technology” roles. We hold monthly job-alike meetings for our district staff members. One is a meeting for Technology Directors and Coordinators who run the technology in the schools. The other is a meeting for those staff members who work to ensure that technology is leveraged in the classrooms as part of the curriculum delivery. We collected attendance data from these meetings for the past 4 years.  It is clear that in our districts, the men are building and supporting the technology infrastructure while the women are primarily training and using the technology to support instruction.

Instructional Technology Job-Alike Meetings

Technology Coordinator/Director Job-Alike Meetings

What about the private sector? Are there more women in technical positions there?

The percentage of computing jobs held by women has actually fallen over the past 23 years, according to a 2013 study.

In 2013, women held just 26% of computing jobs in the U.S., down from 35% in 1990. This is according to the study by the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit that promotes gender equality. During that same period, the number of women earning computing degrees also declined. Emily, Peck. (2015, March 27). The Stats On Women In Tech Are Actually Getting Worse. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/27/women-in-tech_n_6955940.html.

Kieran Snyder, the CEO of Textio, wrote about a phrase that comes up a lot in software reviews: “Will it work for your mom?” She points out this is geek-speak for “will dummies like it too?”  This struck her as more than just condescending and sexist, but that it was also illustrative of how inhospitable the (private sector) industry’s work climate can be to women, especially mothers. Snyder, Kieran. (2015, January 20). The Women Who ‘Make it’ in Tech, The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2015/01/20/the-women-who-make-it-in-tech/​.

On the flip side of that, I can remember interviewing a female candidate for an administrative position in our technology department. Her background was with a software company. When asked a generic technical question, her response was, “Oh! They don’t let me anywhere near the blinky lights!”

While I would like to believe that neither one of those scenarios plays out in an educational setting, I have no way of knowing if they do or not. What I do know is I will continue to watch the trends of gender roles in educational technology. I am curious to see if the recent focus on STEM/STEAM education will have an influence on the number of females entering the technology workforce in our schools.

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