You may recall my project with several other smart, talented ladies: Strong Women in Tech. If you have been wondering how that is progressing, I’ll tell you right now that it has been stalled in implementation by one major element: the school system.
It may be a signifier that I am a little “kumbaya” at heart, but when I started this project I thought local and national schools would embrace the idea of strong female role models mentoring girls to stay in school and on a path to more involvement and possible future careers in science, math and technology. You know, those “hard” classes many assume girls aren’t into.
As it turns out, the schools do want to have mentoring in many cases, but there is much rampant paranoia out there these days and that has turned into a list of rules and regulations that has to be navigated in each district, and often, at each school as well. The red tape is astronomical. I’ve never seen so many road blocks to getting kids what they need to succeed in life, and I’m not just talking about Strong Women in Tech here, people.
The number of days kids spend out of school due to paranoia over everything from illness and vaccinations to school violence and weather is stunning. When are our kids even learning? Add to that the fact that many programs in arts and music (two things that help kids learn in other subjects like math and science) are cut, labs are under stocked, teachers are overworked, and logical thought is being supplanted by shortcuts (Everyday Math is an atrocity and an insult) and teaching to the test (MCAS, and the “all children left behind” mentality) and you wonder what we’ve become that we would choose to hold our kids back like this.
All ranting about the school system aside, I think that Strong Women in Tech is still an idea with legs (pun not intended). I have the support of a growing number of women who want to mentor at a local level in various areas, now I need to tap support from within school systems. Ladies: please offer up advice and ideas for surmounting this hurdle in the comments here or in the Ning group.
Last night was Part Two of the Gender Gap and Technology/New Media Episode on my podcast Topics on Fire. Panelists for the show were myself, Leslie Bradshaw, Jen Nedeau, Meg Fowler and Shireen Mitchell. On the first episode, we had Chris Brogan, Aaron Brazell and Micah Baldwin offering the male perspective as we hammered out what the issues were, but for this episode, we were an all-woman solution generating dynamo.
We took a look at the issues from the previous episode in a “big picture” perspective with the intent to come up with as many concrete, real world solutions as possible. The issues covered were how the gender gap intersects with education, opportunity, confidence, communication, perception and objectification. All of the panelists did a great job staying on topic and making valuable contributions to the goals we reached. I can’t thank them all enough for sharing their knowledge and passion and bringing attainable ideas to the table.
What concrete ideas did we come up with? Perhaps the biggest were the Strong Women in Tech campaign and grassroots mentoring in education, as well as a concerted effort to change how we promote our fellow women in tech. The Strong Women in Tech campaign is an idea that has the lofty, but attainable, goal of bringing some of the strong female names in technology to girls in school to act as role models and inspiration.
The idea is that these women, all beacons in various aspects of technology, engineering, social media, gaming, software and more, would embark on a national campaign to inspire today’s girls to pursue careers in any of the various aspects of technology and new media. Using the tools available to us to jump start the campaign, I created a Ning group called Strong Women in Tech, which you can find at http://strongtechwomen.ning.com/. The idea behind the group is to have a place to plan this nationwide campaign using the most powerful weapon in our arsenal – our networks. Please join us, and help find women to stand as role models and help get this campaign off the ground in earnest.
The Ning group is also a hub for some of our other ideas, which we all thought fit well under the umbrella concept of Strong Women in Tech. One of these ideas was to generate a grassroots movement in social media to bring education and inspiration to the teachers who are out there in the trenches. We want to empower them with an understanding of technology and new media and how it can help them. To that end, we hope to embark on an effort to have every strong woman in tech start to either mentor local teachers in how to use these tools or create a network of local mentors to do so.
We all thought it is much easier to inspire and encourage girls to stay on a technology and new media path if there is understanding. By creating a network of resources for teachers we can help them find ways to relay a love of learning in these fields to the girls (and boys) in their classrooms, which will have lasting benefits for the work force and for fostering innovative ideas. Keep in mind that while the conversation was centered around women, all of us think that part of empowering women is to learn to teach to each individual instead of to gender stereotypes. We feel that the powerful people in our social media and offline networks can make that happen through reaching out and mentoring. We also hope that some of the teachers from our education in technology episode will also sign up and help us start to pool resources into one place for teachers.
We covered some heavy ground in just over an hour, including how to use cultural differences to inspire students into careers in technology, new media, sciences and maths. The most interesting point made here was how encouraging other cultures were to students who wanted to learn, and how the often competitive, rote nature of education here in the States can hamper that enthusiasm and desire to stay on the technology or science path in school. That’s another issue we hope our grassroots campaign for mentoring will address, incorporating the cultures of some of our immigrants to make our own eduction system that much better.
Each of us also offered up tools fro our personal arsenal in how we dealt with various degrees of gender issues online. The advice each woman gave on communicating and overcoming communication differences was great, including an interesting discussion on what it means in perception for a woman to “speak with authority” and how to push past the often negative connotations of that. We also addressed the issues of objectification of women in technology and new media, and tendency for looks to over ride worth on the road to success in these fields. The answer to that was to create an effort as part of Strong Women in Tech to change how we market each other.
The greatest asset a woman has is the innate ability to collaborate, communicate and build consensus. We hope to change how we promote each other and thus the face of the stereotypical woman in technology to be more the face of every woman, and not just the face of shallow beauty. We hope to empower women to promote on worth, not on popularity. We understand that popularity will always play a part in success, as will image, however, popularity and image should not rule success. It is up to women to help other women succeed on more than just the “homecoming queen” mentality that can often prevail.
We want all women in tech to find a way to be a strong woman in tech. We want our daughters and grand daughters to live in a world free of gender bias, where it is the individual that counts. We know that Blog Her and other organizations are tackling the network building part of the issue, and now we want to use that network to branch out into the real world. It’s up to us. I think we are powerful enough to do it. If you agree, please come participate in the Ning group. We need your ideas, your connections, your networks and your time. See you on the Strong Women in Tech site!
I highly recommend giving the podcast a listen. It is about an hour and fifteen minutes long, and it captures the details and individual advice far better than I ever could in a simple recap. I’ve embedded it below.