Stepping Up to the Buffet

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.

7 Replies to “Stepping Up to the Buffet”

  1. Sylvia,
    Thank you for posting my blog entry on your site.
    I think that the problem for me is that leadership in all of these realms, even down to the leadership of organizations (which does not keep women away for the reasons you listed above) are still white male dominant.

    Keynotes? Hmm.. lots of white folks out there, even for keynotes from organizations that could pay for ANYONE to keynote. TCEA invites Ms. Freedom Writer. ISTE invites Mr., White Guy. I dont discount their importance, but really…they could invite ANYONE in the universe and they always pick whities.

    NECC 2006: Nicolas Negroponte: Rich white guy saving thepoor black kids.
    TCEA 2007: Erin Greuel or whatever…white woman saving the poor black kids.
    ISTE 2007: Andrew Ziollooiili: Rich white guy out to save the poor black kids…

    I see a trend…

  2. You are right that leaders don’t wait around, they just go crashing through that glass ceiling and take the reins. If everyone is so distracted by the inequities, then what else is there to do? I think we have killed the subject and it is now a moot point…

  3. As I’ve written, these are good conversations to have, and Sylvia is pointing here and elsewhere to good articles and other ideas that we should consider.

    Tim, I think you used this word on a comment on my blog too… Please avoid using terms like “whities.” I don’t think use of any sort of pejorative term, even if it is to legitimately criticize obvious bias toward white males, is constructive.

    We have gender equity issues in the real world and we have them in the blogosphere, but I think the equity issues are less of a factor in the blogosphere. I’ve thought Ning might be good because it personalizes web 2.0 conversations, but I’ve rethought that because it puts a face on blogs where before, there might have just been ideas and words…..

    Why doesn’t someone push ISTE to have a strand to address this at NECC in 2008?

  4. Tim,
    I’m concerned about a lot of people I see keynoting ed tech conferences. If we counted up all the comedians (comedy with a byte!), corporate officers, or people selling books that aren’t about education, who would be left? There are lots of inequalities in the invitation process. Keep pointing them out. Hey, not crazy about the language, but I’m also tired of everyone tip toeing around pretending nothing’s wrong.

    Mrs. Durff,
    We may have beaten the buffet metaphor to death, but the subject is hardly done. By bringing this to the surface, if only for the two-day attention span of a blog, all we can hope that is someone, sometime, thinks about it the next time they have a choice in choosing a speaker or organizing a committee..

    ISTE held minority leadership events at NECC in the past, and since I don’t know what happened to that effort, I can’t comment on it. I found this announcement of a website but it’s not live anymore. I couldn’t find it on the ISTE website using their search engine.

    I think it’s a bit naive to think that the blogosphere has fewer equity issues. That’s only one side of the coin. Anonymity allows the kind of speech we wouldn’t use in a face to face conversation. And while some new voices might emerge, the nature of the blogosphere also allows people to “stick to their own kind” even more effectively, neatly assisted by technology.

  5. Sylvia:

    ISTE dropped the Minority Leadership event, for unknown reasons, but this year got pushed to to the Digital Equity Summit.


    “A National Consideration of Digital Equity” anchors the agenda for ISTE’s 2007 Digital Equity Summit, to be held June 23 in Atlanta. This year’s summit is being sponsored by Intel Education and Pearson Education, and will convene community, state, and national leaders to discuss digital equity issues and challenges. The report and details about the 2007 Summit are available at


  6. Sylvia,

    Thanks for taking the issue and addressing it head-on. I think the gender inequity issue reaches every part of technology, not just ed-tech. In May eWeek released its Top 100 Most Influential people in IT, and the percentage of women was very small (7) – I posted about it when it appeared because it was so striking (

    I don’t know what the answer is, but it is a question we need to keep on the front burners to make sure it gets addressed.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.