Samantha Swift is joined by Heidi Fraser-Krauss, Mandy Phillips, and Sarah Sherman to talk in more depth about the issues faced by women in technology.
Sarah Sherman chaired this panel discussion about women in technology, noting that whilst 35% of delegates at FOTE14, she often attends leadership meetings at her institutions where she is the only women. Regardless of gender, she wanted delegates to think about how they can be more aware of this issue and how they could make a difference.
Panelists discussed their own personal journeys in IT. Heidi Fraser-Krauss noted that she fell into IT, and never thought that her gender was an issue or made a difference at all. She also felt that she had not actively taken steps to support and encourage other women in technology – she hired staff based purely on skill and did not consider gender. In reflecting on this, she suggested that we need to think about what we do every day to address the imbalance and how we ourselves behave. Should we be doing more to encourage women?
Mandy Philips came to IT as a career change at 26. She set up WIDIT (Women in Digital and IT) in her institution, and noted that this brought together digital artists and producers, not just the IT department. However, Samantha Swift made the point that the aim of these women-only organisations should perhaps be to make themselves unnecessary.
Sarah asked a range of elearning membership associations about their female membership. She found about 45% of ALT members are women, about 40% of HeLF members are women, and about 17% of UCISA members are women. She asked whether why we are not seeing similar numbers within technology, and opened the debate up to the floor.
One of the problems identified was the lack of women applying for jobs in technology, making it difficult for employers to hire more women. Samantha noted that this may due to a confidence issue, citing research that suggests men will apply for a job if they feel they could tick 50% of the advertised requirements, whereas women will not apply unless they feel they can meet 80% of the job requirements. This created some debate about the wording of job applications. Should we be reviewing our job descriptions to ensure they really reflect what is important and are attractive to applicants? Mandy referred to her conversation with a recruiter, where she asked for a .Net developer, and cited communication as the key skill. Her justification was that she could teach someone to code, but communication skills were important to engage in the workplace. She herself did not apply for a job because of the wording, which led her employer to reword the advert.
The issue of losing girls from technology subjects between GCSE and A Level was highlighted. Sarah highlighted Project Yamina – an online magazine to inspire young girls to break gender stereotypes and enter male dominated careers, which was set up by a second year student. An audience member noted that there is problem in the media with women being presented as experts, and that the BBC is making a concerted effort to address this.
Amber Thomas from the University of Warwick asked whether this is as much of a problem in elearning? She suggested possibly not. Is this a problem in IT services? Probably. As learning matures and becomes an established part of institutions, we need to differentiate from IT services culturally.
Throughout the debate continued to come back to the issue of whether this is a problem that really exists. Do women want roles in technology? Should the women in technology be getting on with things and setting an example or should they be talking about the issue of women in technology as we have today?
If you have any comments to add to this discussion, please comment below or join the Twitter discussion on the #FOTE14 hashtag.