Women and Academic Technology

Is academe more welcoming of female tech leaders than the tech industry generally?

October 9, 2013

Have you been following the discussion about the absence of women in top positions at Twitter?

According to the NYTimes coverage on the Twitter IPO:

"The board? All white men. The investors? All men. The executive officers? All men but for the general counsel, Vijaya Gadde, who has had the job for five weeks."

The lack of women in leadership roles at Twitter mirrors larger trends in the tech industry:

"Even as women make significant headway in fields from law to business, and technology zooms along as one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, its doors remain virtually closed to women."

It seems that we have a very different, and much better, track record of women reaching leadership roles in academic technology.

I'm not aware of any studies about the distribution of women at the top rungs in edtech (are you?), but my own experience in academic technology has been very different than what we are learning about the larger tech industry.

In 15 years of academic technology I have had a number of bosses.  My academic tech bosses (in order of when I worked for them), go by the names: Louise, Marilyn, Cindy, Malcolm, Barbara, Ellen, Katy.

Out of my 7 bosses, 6 have been women.    

Perhaps my experience is not typical, and I would be the last one to argue that we should base any larger conclusions on one person's experience.   

Beyond my own work experience, I do see many examples of our top leadership in edtech being filled by women.

To take EDUCAUSE as one example, we have Diana Oblinger (President and CEO), Julie Little (VP),  and Susan Grajek (VP), to name just a few of the people in the top leadership positions at the organization.  

If indeed my hypothesis that women well-represented (or at least better represented) in academic computing is true (again, a hypothesis), what could explain this trend?  

Why should academic tech be so different from the rest of the tech industry when it comes to gender?   

3 ideas:

Idea 1. A Focus on the "Education" side of Educational Technology:   

It remains true that women make up the minority of technology staff at our postsecondary institutions. Men are still much more likely to be server administrators and programmers than are women. On the education and learning side, however, women are much better represented.   The professionals moving into academic technology leadership roles are increasingly coming from the educational side of the house.  

I anticipate the the number of women in high positions in academic technology will only increase as traditional technology operations migrate to a software as a service model. We will focus less on servers, and more on pushing technology closer to the learning process. This will benefit everyone in academic technology, (as academic technology becomes the new route to the CIO position), and will lead to a growth CIO roles filled by women.   (Although there is certainly evidence to contradict this prediction).

Idea 2. Flexible and Non-Linear Career Paths:

All of us have benefited from the acceptance of non-linear career paths in the development of academic technology leaders.  

For years I was the primary caregiver in my family (as my wife went through medical school and residency), and the more flexible schedule of an academic technology professional allowed me to better balance work and family. I was also able to get edtech jobs in 3 different cities, jobs I got as a trailing spouse as I followed my wife from place to place as she completed her training and launched her career.  

While men (like me) are taking a much larger role in kid raising, and more men are trailing spouses (like me), it still seems to be the case that significant numbers of women fill these roles.  

An academic technology career may more flexible (at least geographically) than a traditional academic tenure track career. Academic technology jobs may be a better option than adjunct teaching jobs for talented academics (whatever their gender). The ability to follow non-linear and geographically flexible career paths may help explain why many women (and lots of men) end up choosing this profession.

Idea 3. Social Intelligence?

I put a question mark on this one because I am very reluctant to make any generalizations around behavior based on gender. I know many men with very high levels of social intelligence and many women with very little. One's gender should not and does not determine one's ability to form and nurture relationships.   

I will only say that social intelligence is emerging as a key attribute for leaders in academic technology.  

The success of an edtech leader will largely depend on her (or his) ability to form strong relationships with faculty, vendors, staff, and students.  

Technological competency is a necessary but not sufficient skill for edtech success.  

To the extent that social intelligence may be found in higher levels among women at the aggregate (if that is indeed the case), we may glimpse some reasons why women might be thriving in academic technology.

Can anyone enlighten us on the gender distribution of leaders in academic technology?

What are your thoughts on why women seem to be so much better represented in academic technology than in consumer and enterprise technology?


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