Gender, Technology and Higher Ed

Is our industry different?

April 6, 2014

It is hard to read Claire Cain Miller’s NYTimes article Technology’s Man Problem without coming to the conclusion that technology has a serious man problem.

The question is not if the technology industry, as a whole, is characterized by both overt and subtle forms of sexism and lack of equal opportunity for women. The evidence, both from the proportions of developers that are women, and the stories of women working in the technology industry, is pretty damning.  

(Miller’s article quotes stats showing that only about 1 in 5 software developers are women, and that this number is considerably lower in tech startups).

Our question, rather, should be if our higher education technology world (or the broader edtech world) is any different from the rest of the technology industry?

Higher education will need to attract and retain top technology talent.  

The role of technology as a catalyst for higher education progress will only increase in the years to come.

In higher education we don’t offer our technologists (even our best technologists) things like stock options or free meals. Rather, what we do offer (our should be offering) is an amazing mission driven culture in which to build a career.  

If, however, we are guilty in any way of the sins described in the NYTimes article it is clear to me that we will not attract or retain the top tech talent that we will need on campus.  

If our smartest women choose to forgo or leave academic tech careers for any reason then higher ed quality will suffer.  

Does higher ed technology have a male problem?   

I’ve tended to look at this question with glasses are perhaps a bit too rose colored

I’ve long thought that the future of higher ed technology is a positive one for women, as technology resources (and headcount) begin a re-balancing towards the academic/learning side of the technology house and away from the administrative/infrastructure side.   

In my experience, women are better represented in academic/learning technologies than in other parts of the higher ed technology organization.  

The importance placed on academic technology grows as colleges and universities look to increase the quality and productivity of existing residential classes, as more classes are taught in a blended learning format, and as new online programs come developed. Learning designers are much in demand.

At the same time, new options in cloud based applications and the growing commodification and consumerification of previous enterprise and custom (one-off) applications and technologies will bring large changes to our traditional higher ed tech organizations.   As we move from producers to consumer (renters) of technology services, skills around campus relationship building, strategy, communications, and partnering will become ever more important in higher education technology.

I tend, therefore, to have an optimistic and positive view of the medium-to-long term story of women and higher ed tech.

Am I wrong?

What has been your experience?

How should we proceed with a discussion about gender, technology, and the future of higher ed?


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