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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Celebrating Women in Technology

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

As I've been reading about and following conversations during this year's Women's History Month, I wanted to reflect on women in the IT and edtech world.

As an elementary educator, I have found that women are often the majority in elementary schools and at education conferences. However, when attending tech conferences or when looking at tech departments in schools and districts, it becomes harder to find female representation. The women that I do connect with in the IT/edtech world, however, are some of the most intelligent, self-directed and innovative women I know. Most of them were always the "odd one out," the "nerd," the "dork" or some other kind of label, and often it involved a process of proving oneself as a bona fide "techie." While it seems almost normal for a man to be a "computer nerd," it is not so easily accepted for a woman to hold that title. This stigma has always bothered me. Perhaps it's the voice of my grandmother in the back of my head telling me that girls can do anything boys can. Or maybe it's the fact that, with two boy cousins and a brother growing up, "boy stuff" never seemed separate from stuff I liked to do.

In a culture that recognizes beauty over brains, with female celebrities as "mean girls" or scantily clad music stars, the idea of technology careers for young girls often doesn't even register. Our culture also values easy over challenging, so it's no wonder that, when it's not "cool" to be smart, kids take the easy road rather than pursue studies that involve failure, experimentation and charting the unknown.

Women and IT

What I didn't know before writing this post is that the person who is considered the first programmer was a woman named Ada Lovelace. Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was considered the first person to document algorithmic computations that closely resemble computer programming. So how is it that, according the National Center for Women in Technology, a field credited to a woman attracts so few women? Only 18% of computing and information sciences degrees are awarded to women.

There are a number of reasons why we should be making IT jobs more accessible and desirable for young women and girls.

  • Most jobs in the future will require some kind of IT skills or knowledge of computer science, programming and/or apps and software.
  • According to Salary.com, the current median income for a software engineer with 0-2 years experience is $58,000/year.
  • Jobs in the world of programming, software engineering, app development, etc. offer opportunities for creativity, flexibility and collaboration with others.
  • Without women creating and adding content to the web, mobile devices and other technology fields, these fields will be dominated by male voices and male projections of what women need and want.

I fear that without being given the opportunity to program, build websites, create web content, or explore robotics and engineering in school, girls will not see these fields as a possible future path. These young girls also need role models and examples of successful women to look up to, which is why it's also important to connect young girls with women in the field, whether through internships or a simple Skype interview (or series of "visits"). Also inspiring is the annual Ada Lovelace Day, held this year on October 16th. The "day" is a 50-hour international celebration of women in technology that is accompanied by blog posts and inspiring stories.

It is also very exciting to see national organizations like National Center for Women in Technology and grassroots organizations like WebStart Women here in Philadelphia work directly with women to bring more of us into technological fields. Even the amazing group Code for America, which believes that coders can help connect citizens with their government, has a number of women on its staff.

As we guide young girls toward discovering their passions, let's make smart and nerdy beautiful. And let's start building that image early and often!

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