By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

Panel Speakers for the session included: (left to right) Karl Fisch, Lyn Hilt, Will Richardson, Alec Couros, Pam Moran, and Kathy Cassidy (not pictured)

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.

Conversation Description:

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
Delicious Tag
II. Survey Given Prior to Session survey results
III. Panel Positions- Will link the archive when it is up
Panel Led Discussions of the Problem
IV. Crowdsourced Solution Finding

Recorded breakout conversation

Interesting Takeaways
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.

Why Me?
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.

Crowdsourced Ideas
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?

Full Disclosure
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.”

That’s why gender parity is an idea worth spreading and implementing – the sooner the better.

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.

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26 Responses to “Educon: Diversifying Your Rolodex”

  1. David February 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Hey Sheryl,

    This is really an important discussion to have, and it needs to happen over and over again until we start to chip away at the inequality that is happening in our society.

    In elementary education, about 80% of the teachers are female, so one would expect that statistically, about 80% of the elementary school leaders should be women. I’m not sure this is the case.


    ps. We have a group forming of people who had their ISTE proposals rejected. See the #rejectcon hashtag on Twitter. We’d love to hear what you have to say about gender in educational technology. :)

    • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach February 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

      Thanks David. You are right about women in educational leadership positions. There are some articles I tagged in delicious that tell just how unequal the stats are.

      I will check out the #rejectcon hashtag. What a clever idea. I did have two proposals accepted at ISTE. Can I still participate in the discussion about the two that weren’t accepted.

  2. angie February 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    I am so glad I clicked on the tweet to read this post. There are several things brought up that made me think about my position in the ed tech community. I feel I am accepted in my position. I work and study hard so that I know what I am speaking about and can deliver for my teachers and students. It never occurred to me that one of the reason for my acceptance w/ my all male counterparts is that I don’t bring my femininity w/ me either. I am viewed as one of the guys and I have been ok with that. But in reading this post I wonder what my attitude is showing my two daughters, both of whom love technology and science. What is it showing the 1500 students I work with on a daily basis or the 100 teachers? Have I accepted too little in terms of moving up the career ladder? I think I need to explore this area more and your resources.

    • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach February 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

      I came to exactly the same conclusion. And better yet I realized that for balance we need each other. I need for men to be men in the fullest sense in the workplace. And they need, whether they know it or not, for me to be female and to bring my feminine values. We need each other.

      The message it is sending to our kids is EXACTLY why I am going here. I want it different for my daughters and my son.

  3. John in NC February 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I would just add that there’s a role men who care about this issue have to play with their daughters, as well as their sons. Fathers can do a great deal to support daughters in developing the kind of outlook and determination you describe. Indeed, I suspect many fathers (like myself) have become more self-reflective about these issues *because* we have daughters and want them to be everything we might want our sons to be.

  4. Brenda Sherry February 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    As a Conference Chair for I have a couple of suggestions that seem to be working for us.
    We don’t choose keynotes or presenters because they are women, but our committee is 11 women/7 men so we are just naturally not gender focussed.

    There was a big turnaround in the committee when I took over as chair so I’ve been able to ask people that I know are open-minded, smart and creative and all of the members fit that description, regardless of gender.

    Another suggestion I’d make is that conference organizers need to be observant of the women in the community that don’t race to the front of the line to be noticed. There were quite a number of female presenters who were brand new to presenting this year, and they submitted their requests after a little personal connection to indicate that I’d seen their good work, and wouldn’t it make a good presentation at ECOO? Usually the response was “Really? I didn’t think anyone would want to hear from me”…or something along those lines.

    Women may need to be nurtured a little bit in this new role, to be supported, and to be encouraged. They have so much to offer!

    • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach February 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

      These are great suggestions. And I was told twice at Educon this year by females that they were presenting regularly now because of some nudging I did in their lives. It just takes a little nudge and words of encouragement. Thanks for all you are doing Brenda for men and women.

    • Kim McGill February 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Brenda. Your invitation to present at ECOO was a much needed prompt. I would have never considered myself in a position to share without that invitation. It was the same with the Pecha Kucha at ECOO which lead to more sharing through Sheryl and PLP. Thank you to both of you!

      It makes me wonder if there is a confidence issue? I know that I have a little voice that says, “why would anyone want to hear from me?” Is that a female thing? I know that now I will be listening to see if that voice is louder in certain contexts/situations?

      • Stacey L February 6, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

        I hear that voice in my head all the time. Why?? I wonder if sometimes we are so busy living our lives, we can’t see what we may have to offer others. My principal has encouraged me to grow through finding ways to present, but my thoughts are “what do I have to offer? I haven’t figured anything out yet!” Or maybe we, as women, are more worried about whether or not what we have experienced has value outside of ourselves. We share to connect, not to promote or dictate. So we worry that if what we say is challenging, it will be rejected and we will lose our connection with others.

  5. Kevin Honeycutt February 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    I have always surrounded myself with intelligent, talented people because I know that the association enhances my abilities and extends my capacity to create positive change. As I look at pictures of conference proceedings I am struck by the lack of women at the front of the room. I hadn’t given this phenomenon enough thought and this post woke me up. I know so many talented, intelligent women and I try to share their gifts with anyone I can. I promote people but I will redouble my efforts to ensure I promote women. There is so much here to explore and this conversation demands an honest look into our own perceptions. I’m glad you started this campfire and rest assured I will take some of these flames back to my own hearths.

  6. Amber Karnes February 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    This concept of gender equality – it’s a tricky one to wrap my head around. I (like you) don’t think that the solution to equality in the workplace, in the leadership space, etc. is total gender neutrality. Gender is a social construct invented by humans – so it is malleable… but just because it’s a social construct (other social constructs: money, property laws, nations, social class) doesn’t mean it isn’t useful.

    Gender’s just a social construct – but it does exist. Just like an office building is a construct. But it exists. It doesn’t HAVE to… but it does because humans created it. What we have to decide is – what does gender look like? How is it useful to us as a society? Is the gender construct we’ve created harming or helping women and men? In the wider world, it’s easy to see glaring examples where it’s hurting women… now narrow that scope into the edtech space and you’ve got a good place to start.

    What does gender in edtech mean to us? How is that construct helping or hurting? Women have a lot to offer this space, and I think asking questions, and then really listening is absolutely the right position to take.

    • Mary Worrell February 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

      Good point. And we can’t just talk about gender in terms of the man/woman binary. Transgender folks are out there too.

      Gender is one of those things I like to say doesn’t exist in my worldview, but I know it does. It’s damn near impossible to try and view the world through a completely gender-neutral lens given the power this binary has over everything in our world. Just like race – certain races have incredible privilege over others and to deny that fact is counter-productive to reaching a more equally-represented ____. We might complain about someone pulling the race card (just as Sheryl mentioned the gender card), but really the people complaining are the ones afraid of tackling that socially-constructed undercurrent because dealing with it is sure to be painful and difficult.

      • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach February 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

        Peter Skillen at the session mentioned transgender too. But to be honest with a 90 minute session and as much as we wanted to tackle there was no way to fit all ideas in- such as color and transgender and such. It is an interesting question though isn’t it?

        • Mary Worrell February 5, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

          It seems like the women that have shared their experiences in the EdTech world say that they feel like they’ve been gender neutral – that they’ve packed away their femininity for the sake of their career (as women have done in other industries). This makes me believe that the EdTech world seems to expect a more masculine, “dude” mentality than anything else. The women that fit this bill are welcomed and those that don’t or don’t want to change because of it aren’t included in the fold.

          Rather than men and women it seems to be a masculine vs. feminine thing.

          I’m surprised you were able to unpack such a loaded question in only 90 minutes!

    • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach February 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

      You said, “Gender is a social construct invented by humans.” So help me unpack that a little. Do you feel any of the traits associated with being male or female are hardwired and related to DNA and the way we are created in the womb? You know the nature/nurture debate. Do you feel that we basically are all the same and how we are raised and society then paints who we become- male or female? Interesting concept.

      • Bill Ivey March 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

        From what I know, both biological and cultural factors affect our gender identities, and there’s a great deal of controversy on the subject. Some research suggests there are patterns of brain wiring that predominate among either females or males, but that there is some overlap (a common figure given is 5-10% of women have “male” brains and the same holds true for men). Additional research documents the effects of hormones on brain wiring – so an adult female with a female brain will still have somewhat wiring than an adult male with a female brain. Different theories on the role (or lack of a role) of evolution in shaping these brain wiring patterns abound, as do different theories on to what extent cultural expectations colour the perceived gender differences between the male-brained and the female-brained (which is different from male and female).
        Indeed, there is also a lot of research that suggests that how we are raised affects our gender identity far more than how our brains are wired. And these gender roles do vary by culture. Think pre-colonial Africa, where roles were much less strictly gender-linked, or North America, where two-spirit people once held a special place of honor.
        Essentially, our goal is to achieve equity for people of all genders and all ways of being and not privilege one over the others. Right? To my mind, blurring the gender binary by taking this kind of research into account, and also including transgender people in the discussion, can help us make our way toward that goal. The deeper and harder work is shaping our society’s attitude toward the underlying ideas that are currently related to gender. For example, it seems that hierarchical, “take-charge” leadership is still valued more than relational, collaborative leadership. How do we go about changing that?

  7. Nancy Flanagan February 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    It’s hard to define and describe a problem when you don’t see it. A few months ago, there was a spate of ed-blogs using sports data as a metaphoric model for the need to improve school data–bloggers getting all excited about the possibility of slicing education numbers as finely as it is now possible to look at baseball statistics. If we can know with certainty the precise conditions under which Player A is most likely to hit a home run (left-handed pitcher, final inning, extra-deep outfield), why can’t we target the conditions under which students are mostly likely to raise their standardized test scores by half a standard deviation? And so on…

    There was a lot of guy-talk (actually, there’s often a lot of guy-talk on ed-blogs–that’s the point) and linking to other blogs addressing the same topic. For a few days, Ed Blog World felt like Sports Center, each blogger trying to be One of the Guys.

    Some of their sports-data analogies seemed off-point to me. So I wrote a blog, freely admitting I know close to zero about sports statistics, but that I was troubled by the implication that the things happening as a result of better and more fine-grained sports data (player trades, salary negotiations) weren’t really applicable to public services like education. I linked to four or five blogs where everyone had been making like George Will.

    The first thing that happened was a smackdown by a Famous Ed Blogger, suggesting that my lack of sports knowledge made me unqualified to write about sports. It wasn’t hostile–just patronizing, without addressing my arguments at all. I wanted to respond that his lack of classroom experience made him unqualified to write about teaching–but that wasn’t the point.

    I’m not sure how to address the issue of gender in edtech. But I can testify that it’s a very real thing.

    • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach February 3, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

      Interesting story. Thanks for sharing it. The gender diversity issue spills over into just about every facet of work. For example, I was reading an article (it’s in the delicious links) about the disparity of female conductors in the orchestra. Now there is a topic you know something about and look at the numbers of female superintendents–dismal. It is an issue we all own and just as women should do what they can to honor what guys know and can do. My wish is that both genders would honor each other — None of us is as smart as all of us– together.

  8. Dolores Gende February 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    Excellent posting!

    I really enjoyed attending your session. It was eye-opening for me as my attention has mostly been the lack of gender diversity in math and science.

    A while ago I wrote an article for AP Central: “After 100 Years: The Legacy of Marie Curie” where I made reference to gender inequalities:

    Thank you for the great suggestions!

    • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach February 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

      Dolores I was glad you were there too. You really could be the poster child for much of this. I hope you will choose to mentor other women to seek math, science and technology opportunities.

  9. Ron Millar February 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    I work in a school district where my superintendent and assistant superintendent are female as well as most of our principals and vice-principals. The resource staff that I work with is mainly female. They are all highly qualified and very effective. The bigger and root problem is that less than 15% of our teachers are male. Both male and female students are not seeing enough male role models. We have a definite problem with male student achievement. We need an affirmative action program that increases the number of male teachers in our schools.

    • Nancy Flanagan February 4, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

      I agree that having a larger percentage of male teachers would serve the healthy purpose of representing male role models, especially in schools where lots of children have absent fathers. The data on that is interesting; there are more men in teaching in strong-union states (especially at the secondary level) and in the north and east. I believe the percentage of men varies relative to power and autonomy in the workplace, as well as salary levels.

      So any “affirmative action” would have to address root causes for lack of males in the workplace, rather than simply trying to attract more men.

  10. Audrey Watters February 4, 2011 at 1:12 am #

    Thank you very much for running this session. As someone who’s admittedly more on the tech than the ed-tech side of things (I’m a tech journalist), I found it to be incredibly thought-provoking.

    I must say, my solution for fixing the death of women in tech is to promote CS at a much earlier age. So your panel was a good reminder that that’s just a small part of what needs to happen as Karl Fisch (who facilitated the discussion at our table) reminded me that that might do little to address the ed-tech leadership piece of the puzzle.

    I still need to pull together my thoughts for a blog post on this, but I wanted to thank you nonetheless.


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