Andrea M. Matwyshyn’s article Silicon Ceilings: Information Technology Equity, the Digital Divide and the Gender Gap among Information Technology Professionals truly opened my eyes to the seriousness of the disenfranchisement issue facing women in the computer age. As a woman and mother of two daughters, I should have been jolly well on the ball about this matter before now. The fact that women are considered minorities stings me just a little, but to think that we may be left out of mainstream society in a way that reaches back to the time before women’s suffrage threatens my security as a living being Numerous books have been written about the differences between men and women, particularly in the area of communication so it should come as no surprise that there are huge gender gaps in the IT field, considering the fact that computers are definitive communication devices. Maybe our classes should start with a textbook about the communication differences between men and women.
While reading this article, I started thinking about ways that I could make a difference in the matter. A project that I usually do whenever I teach weather related terms is to have students create a Spanish news report. This activity involves using computers to research news, weather, sports, and an on-the-spot interview of their own creation concerning the Spanish-speaking country/city that they have chosen. Students have the choice of filming (and editing) their news broadcasts or performing live before the class. In the past, I have divided the five-student groups into approximately equal numbers of males and females. This time I think I will divide them into same-sex groups and observe the outcomes. Of course at least one group will be a mixed group and I can observe those differences, too.
Additionally, now that I am aware of the vastness of the inequality issue, I am going to see where I can make other changes and improvements to encourage females to take more leadership roles in computer usage. Silicon Ceilings makes reference to “spillover effects” as regards the tendency of people to buy computers when many of the people around them are also connected. My hope is that a similar spillover effect will occur among females in information technology. Since I teach 9-12 grades, the older ones could mentor the younger ones, which is one way the article suggests to address the problem. Actually, age might not be a factor at all in the matter; the younger females may be better able to help their older counterparts.
Something that gave me pause for thought about the article was the repeated mention of the necessity of help from the private sector is statements such as:
The existence of this gender gap, which might be termed the “gendered digital production divide,” has been acknowledged repeatedly in Congress and internationally for over twenty years to no avail. Despite repeated acknowledgement, only limited legislative and private sector efforts to eliminate this gender gap in information technology production have been implemented.
The private sector could be of great assistance, but I wonder how this will work in reality. I wonder if the private sector will pick and choose the most talented students. That is the nature of business. But, will minorities continue to be marginalized? The article advocates Constitutional approval for aid that comes from the private sector, which I agree is a good idea. Our public school system doesn’t seem to be satisfying the needs and requirements of minorities in the digital age and it is apparent that urgent help is needed in the situation. My concern is that the public school system will continue to decline.
We are forced to acknowledge that help is needed from the private sector in addressing the digital divide with statements from the article such as these:
As such, innovative experimental educational programs in cooperation with the private sector should be encouraged to the greatest extent permitted by the Constitution. Most importantly, a cooperative effort across the public and private sectors is required for long term success. If provided with proper incentives, the private sector offers a useful source of assistance for schools and communities in continuing to bridge access divides. Public sector efforts alone to solve problems of digital exclusion will not be socially optimal in terms of efficiency.
There is an air of unfairness connected with the whole subject. Those in the forefront of the information technology movement seem to have most of the balls in their corner not to mention the money. Another problem that I have with the idea of “proper incentives” is whether tax monies are going to be used for these incentives. Will this increase our tax burden? Maybe the positions of those on the ceiling have been earned because of educational acquisition and work, but others should not be left in the dust simply because they were not born in the right place at the right time and/or of a certain sex, color, race, ethnicity, or religion.