There’s been an interesting discussion going on in some educational technology blogs about women and minorities being left out of the discussion going on in the edu-blogosphere, and as leaders in educational technology. Tim Holt (Not Invited to the Buffet) explores the issue, as does Lucy Grey and Wes Fryer (The Conversation is Open) .
Before I say something about gender issues, there’s an even larger constituency group not invited into this conversation– namely, students. I’ve covered this ground many times before. It’s what Generation YES is all about – working with schools to facilitate student involvement in improving technology integration. Let’s just say that as long as we treat students as passive objects of our educational system, rather than as full partners, we will overlook them as collaborators and will miss the potential insight and solutions they might bring to the conversation.
But what I’d like to focus on in this post is the gender issue in relation to educational technology leadership. Some of this I posted as a comment on Lucy’s blog. (Note: Despite my last name, I don’t represent any racial minority. My kids do, but I don’t. So I’ll stick to what I know.)
While the issue of a lack of female leadership goes well beyond the educational technology community, there are some unique conditions here. Technology is typically the realm of the male. As an electrical engineer, I’ve been in lots of places where I’m the only woman, and believe me, it makes you think twice about your “place.” But since teaching is overwhelmingly female, you might think this would balance out. However, I believe it simply makes it easier for a man to stand out as a leader.
I also don’t believe that “inviting people to the buffet” is the right image, either. Leaders don’t wait for invitations. You either step up or step back. Lots of conventional research on gender differences suggests reasons why women do not step up to leadership roles and if they do, aren’t taken seriously.
These gender differences aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes women stronger in some areas, like collaboration and communication. It would stand to reason that women might be better at facilitating, blogging, and well – leading. But it’s more complex than that. Here’s just one example:
Bias in the Evaluation of Women Leaders: Gender, Status, and LeadershipCecilia L. Ridgeway, Stanford University, Journal of Social Issues, 2001
Abstract: More than a trait of individuals, gender is an institutionalized system of social practices. The gender system is deeply entwined with social hierarchy and leadership because gender stereotypes contain status beliefs that associate greater status worthiness and competence with men than women. This review uses expectation states theory to describe how gender status beliefs create a network of constraining expectations and interpersonal reactions that is a major cause of the “glass ceiling.” In mixed-sex or gender-relevant contexts, gender status beliefs shape men’s and women’s assertiveness, the attention and evaluation their performances receive, ability attributed to them on the basis of performance, the influence they achieve, and the likelihood that they emerge as leaders. Gender status beliefs also create legitimacy reactions that penalize assertive women leaders for violating the expected status order and reduce their ability to gain compliance with directives.
But back to educational technology leadership. What happens to women on the way to becoming leaders? Here’s my short list:
1. Women are more apt to include others in a conversation, and will give up the spotlight to do that.
2. Women will not compete for resources, but will negotiate so that it seems fair for everyone. This gives men an advantage in a “winner takes all” situation. (As in, who gets the single keynote slot or the top job.)
3. Women are more adaptable about rules, and in a situation where the rules might favor them, will actually back away from “winning.”
4. Men are louder, more assertive, and more sure of themselves. It’s a Catch-22. They are this way because they are rewarded for being this way. You know the joke, men are forceful and passionate, women are hysterical and emotional. Men are smart and opinionated, women are calculating and bitchy.
5. No one wants to hear a keynote that is even-handed, where “on the other hand” is the dominant theme. Yet that is often a very female response to controversy.
6. Teachers are especially humble about what they do. How many times have you heard a teacher asked what they do and they say, “I’m just a teacher.” This resonates all the way up to the top of the ladder, where even very accomplished women distrust their own ability to articulate a point and then stand back as others say what they are thinking inside.
7. Both men and women pay more attention to what men say. Like the “gender pay gap”, there is a “gender attention gap.” I guarantee that every woman has experienced this. You say something in a group and then 5 minutes later, a man says the same thing and everyone exclaims what a great idea it is. Men, if you’ve never noticed this, start listening for it. You’ll be shocked.
Finally, Lucy made a good point that many educational technology leaders are independent consultants, and have to work very hard to “hustle for speaking gigs”. It’s a full time job, yet one with no steady paycheck, a lot of risk, no pension, and no insurance. Lots of women simply don’t have the ability to make that choice for their families.
I wish I had more answers… but anyway, at least I’m out here trying, as I know many, many other women are.