By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
I recently held a breakout session at Educon on the lack of gender diversity in the ed tech space. The session was well attended by both men and women who came together to discuss the topic from an appreciative perspective.
Pull up the list of keynotes, speaker spotlights and panelists for any edtech conference. What do you notice? Lots of men. This conversation will explore the concept of female under- representation as thought leaders in the educational sphere and especially in the edtech space. The topic will be illuminated by a panel of men and women interacting with conference participants; together we will offer diverse input on the problem, causes and solutions to this issue.
This session will be approached from an appreciative approach which will highlight the strengths and possibilities of a stronger female voice in the edtech space. We will be focused on positive, collective action and overcoming barriers rather than dwelling on the negative.
The support materials for the session can be found on my PlanCast page.
The format for the session was as follows:
I. Topic Setup and Data Sharing
II. Survey Given Prior to Session
III. Panel Positions- Will link the archive when it is up
Panel Led Discussions of the Problem
IV. Crowdsourced Solution Finding
Several women came up to me after the session and shared how they almost didn’t come to this workshop because they had never seen the importance of gender as a factor in their professional lives. One superintendent told me she came to the session to be with me and my panel and realized while there that she needed to hear what was being shared. Others said that tears were in their eyes while the panel shared their personal take and stories about the lack of women in top positions in education and especially in ed tech – and how they were surprised at the evocative response it caused. Women who considered themselves accepted in their chosen field of technology shared how surprised they were at how the session changed their perspectives.
Personally, I too was impacted by the session. A little history will help put my feelings into context. First, I have always resented it when women pulled the gender card. I have always been respected by men in the all-male dominated spaces where I have placed myself professionally (fitness in my 20s, science in my 30s, technology in my 40s and 50s), and I have felt strongly about not wanting to be recognized for being a girl or woman but rather for being competent, smart, or creative.
Recently, I attended TEDWomen and my whole perspective changed. I had never realized that the lack of females in prominent positions was such a global issue. Nor that there were talented women who just weren’t willing to be assertive, even confrontational, and do what ever was needed to find their place in male dominated spaces. But Sheryl Sandberg’s presentation Why we have too few women leaders changed my mind. Part of the impact she had on me came about because (unknowingly) I had chatted with her mother in the restroom. The impromptu discussion we had primed me for her daughter’s talk, even though I had no idea of the connection. Sheryl’s talk also generated the facts I shared in my opening for Educon.
So for any of us in this room today, let’s start out by admitting we’re lucky. We don’t live in the world our mothers lived in, our grandmothers lived in, where career choices for women were so limited. And if you’re in this room today, most of us grew up in a world where we had basic civil rights. And amazingly, we still live in a world where some women don’t have them. But all that aside, we still have a problem, and it’s a real problem. And the problem is this: women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. The numbers tell the story quite clearly. 190 heads of state — nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 percent are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top, C-level jobs, board seats — tops out at 15, 16 percent. The numbers have not moved since 2002 and are going in the wrong direction. And even in the non-profit world, a world we sometimes think of as being led by more women, women at the top: 20 percent.
We also have another problem, which is that women face harder choices between professional success and personal fulfillment. A recent study in the U.S. showed that, of married senior managers, two-thirds of the married men had children and only one-third of the married women had children.
I also realized, thanks to Tony Porter’s presentation – A Call to Men, that guys do not necessarily understand the problem or their role in addressing it.
Growing up as a boy, we were taught that men had to be tough, had to be strong, had to be courageous, dominating — no pain, no emotions, with the exception of anger — and definitely no fear — that men are in charge, which means women are not; that men lead, and you should just follow and do what we say; that men are superior, women are inferior; that men are strong, women are weak; that women are of less value — property of men — and objects, particularly sexual objects. I’ve later come to know that to be the collective socialization of men, better known as the “man box.”
It was a wake up call for me – that I too had been guilty of perpetuating the “man box” to a certain extent in the way I had raised my son and also in the gender-neutral way I dealt with men in the workplace. I realized that I had always been accepted there because I was willing to *not* bring my femininity in the door with me. Tony goes on to say,
See collectively, we as men are taught to have less value in women, to view them as property and the objects of men. We see that as an equation that equals violence against women. We as men, good men, the large majority of men, we operate on the foundation of this whole collective socialization. We kind of see ourselves separate, but we’re very much a part of it. You see, we have to come to understand that less value, property and objectification is the foundation and the violence can’t happen without it. So we’re very much a part of the solution as well as the problem.
I ended my Educon session with a quote from Tony – for the men in attendance.
I need you working with me and me working with you on how we raise our sons and teach them to be men — that it’s okay to not be dominating, that it’s okay to have feelings and emotions, that it’s okay to promote equality, that it’s okay to have women who are just friends and that’s it, that it’s okay to be whole, that my liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.
I decided that I was the right woman to bring this topic to Educon for several reasons. First, because I have launched (co-founded) and led two companies related to education – one a school and the other a professional development company – and also co-founded a one of a kind international online conference. Additionally, I present in the education and ed tech conference space regularly as a keynoter. Second, because I don’t have a long history of feminist agendas. Third, because I was willing to serve as a mentor, role model and whatever else it took to launch an awareness campaign to change things, regardless of the flack I will receive. And it’s not in my nature to be satisfied with just one session, at one conference. Which is why I made the end product of my session a crowdsourced solutions piece. My goal is to get others who are also passionate about this topic involved. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.
You can view all the ideas being generated for addressing the issue here. I will also share a few that I hope will start a conversation. PLEASE reply with your ideas below. We can light the fire here and now, and then you can carry it over to your campsite.
1. Dispositions and attitudes need to change. We need to be aware of our own bias.
- So what can we do to help with this process? What is the action that will result in this change?
- What are the dispositions and attitudes we want?
- Is there a common set we can develop?
2. If you are a keynoter, you need to mentor interested women to help them secure keynote positions. Create a network within our networks to help women learn how to market themselves so they can share their knowledge and experience.
- What does this opportunity look like? Do you put the word out and then mentor those who approach you?
- Is it more formal, like an internship of sorts?
- Is it an application?
- Do we create a club of sorts?
- Is it a course?
- Is it a new Powerful Learning Practice community or something that starts more organically? Is there an advantage to one over the other? Or do we approach all existing communities and ask them to create a strand that addresses gender diversity?
3. Build affinity spaces for women to support, nurture, and grow each other. Create and share a database of amazing speakers complete with topics of expertise.
- I wonder about this one. Shouldn’t these spaces have men and women?
- Should an organization like Powerful Learning Practice (and others) sponsor something like this?
- Are you interested in starting and overseeing this database? Would you like help?
4. Invest young ones in their future and inspire them with the opportunities that exist, equally for boys and girls. Teach boys and girls differently because they learn differently. Diversify your teaching. Have good male role models. Have good female role models. Focus efforts on middle-level girls; this is when interests in math/science/tech tend to wane. They often don’t want to seem “too smart”.
- Is this a course?
- Is this a piece of all courses?
- Is this a marketing campaign?
- Are programs like Girls Inc. supported in our communities?
5. Teach boys and men how sexism hurts everyone.
- How do we help boys climb out of the man box earlier?
- What do men need to do to start this process?
- How can we help boys be boys and remain true to their gender and yet do it from a place where both unique genders are accepted?
4. Call on the people who do not have their hand raised. This shouldn’t be a separate talk. It should be a fluid part of all talks.
- This one bewilders me. I get the heart of it. But how do we do this? I mean, how do we know who wishes they had their hand up?
6. Girls and women need games and gaming!! Geeks like me who are also academics need FUNDING! Encourage women to build tools that meet the needs of women.
- Do we need a grant writing workshop for increased gender diversity issues like this one?
7. Allow for distant (at home) presenters to Skype into larger venues.
- Do we need a conference that supports kinder, gentler ways for women to be Moms and still present and share their ideas?
- What does this new conference look like?
Two interesting things that were brought up that I over heard that are worth repeating.
1. What is the risk to men if women begin to saturate the top positions and ed tech spaces?
2. Much of the gender bias is perpetuated by and done to women by other women.
- What are your thoughts about those issues?
- What are other issues related to this provocative topic are we missing?
My own perspective is that often the very topic is misunderstood. For example, TEDWomen caught major criticism from women and men asking do we need a TEDWomen? Isn’t is a step backward?
“…TEDWomen got a lot of flack when it was announced. So much flack that hosts Pat Mitchell and June Cohen implicitly said from the stage that there wouldn’t be another one.”
I submitted the same proposal to ISTE and it was turned down. Why?
Even at Educon, where the proposal was bravely accepted, I was asked to change the panel make-up and numbers so that more people would attend the other sessions. It was a suggestion that, while I understood the reasons, sort of supported my rationale for having this session. We agreed on a compromise of my uninviting one man and one woman from my panel- a decision that brought me serious flack. I do not blame or hold any grudge toward Educon, rather it just reinforced in me the need for this conversation all the more.
Additionally, strong women who I respect decided not to come to a session on the lack of gender diversity, because like with TEDWomen, they felt it was a step backward. And for some who did come, they admitted to me that they had liked things the way there were and questioned if I should be rocking the boat? If the ed tech space was flooded with women wouldn’t the women that were there get even less visibility?
Other People Looking at this idea
What You Can Do about the Gender Gap on Wikipedia: The WWHACKathon
Join Facebook group- She Should Talk at TED
What is your take? What are your ideas? What can we do together to bring this social justice issue to the forefront? I hope you will reply.