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Can women ride the tech-wave to emancipation?

Women are under-represented in top education positions... but how do we move forward?

Posted by Rianna Newman | June 19, 2017 | People

It’s no secret that women have had to struggle to move into positions of authority, breaking any number of glass ceilings. A combination of biases (unconscious or otherwise) and social factors have made it difficult for women to enter the C-suite across most industries. 

Many public sector organisations have taken it upon themselves to dismantle these barriers with questionable success. Within education, whilst women represent 4/5 teachers, only 1/5 UK higher education institutions are headed by female vice-chancellors. This issue of gender representation doesn’t seem to be improving, as the higher education funding counsel reported that between 2013 and 2016, only 29% of new VC recruits were female.

Women are clearly doing a lot of the work without reaping much of the benefit. So the question arises: how can women turn their vast teaching experience into hard career progression? I think the answer may lay in tech, more specifically, edtech.

If there is an industry that is renowned for being inaccessible to women it is the tech industry. However, this male-dominated industry is one that thrives on disrupting cultural and business norms, constantly tearing up the rule book in the name of innovation. We have seen key players in this world turn industries on their head and I think this can happen with women and education. There are a few reasons I believe this to be the case.

1. Good products come from experienced industry professionals

You can’t make anything that will benefit the industry if you don’t know the industry. Women who make up the bulk of teachers and administrators across education are in the right place to solve problems because they know the problems that need solving. Within edtech, there is a real need for the technology to serve the needs of the people on the front line, i.e. teachers. As a result, edtech companies are proud of the stamp “made by teachers”. UK-based edtech company, Pobble, prides itself on a team built of teachers, another example is CEO of Classting who claims “[he] is a teacher before he is an entrepreneur”. This cross pollination of industries is the stuff that innovation and tech empires are built on.

2. The Edtech scene is open to a variety of different backgrounds

Remember when I said that tech is often inaccessible to women? Well I spoke to the lead developer in the research technologies team of CoSector, University of London, Julie Allinson, who claims that her sector of edtech has a different, inclusive culture.

“The culture within my industry is more open because of the necessity of different skills that has come from different [professional] backgrounds. There is a real understanding that more is required than just [IT] development skills; library skills, knowledge of metadata and other industry-based skills are needed to make a successful product. Because of that there is a real open and tolerant culture.”

3. Educational institutes are hungry for change

I attended the Digital Transformation in HE conference in London two months ago and education institutes are actively looking for ways to enhance the student experience, measure results and most importantly, cut costs. The industry is trying to engage with new technologies to improve every aspect of their organisations and, as a result, a huge market is opening up.

Underrepresentation of women in positions of authority is a problem that needs to be solved – there’s no question about that. Systematic and social barriers to women’s career development need to be removed. But maybe one solution is to get ahead of the game rather than rising through the ranks. We need more talented women to address the problems facing educational institutes with new approaches. We need more experienced women in the vanguard forging the way ahead. And I believe that it will fall to the frontline to make the change. 

To find out more about CoSector – University of London and our products and services, visit cosector.com or email info@cosector.com.

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