Charlotte, North Carolina, March 08, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The realm of technology remains predominantly male, with women making up only 25.7% of computer science workers and 15% of engineers, according to the US Census Bureau. The cultural stereotype of technology as a masculine field remains, with the media most often portraying the image of a “tech genius” as a bespectacled man wearing a hoodie while working on computers with black and green screens.
Dr. Sharon Jones, Ed.D, founder, and CEO of education consultancy firm the dot. consulting and the non profit Dottie Rose Foundation is working to change that stereotype and encourage more girls and women to join the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field by nurturing their innate interest and helping keep it alive through adolescence and into adulthood.
Jones says that, while many girls express interest in science while in grade school, this seems to wane in their middle and high school years, which is when students usually make major decisions on their future career paths. She observed that girls’ confidence in their abilities to succeed in math and science, and their corresponding achievements in these subjects, drop during middle school.
During these formative years, a gender-based division of abilities is introduced, which assigns boys to traditionally masculine areas like technology, engineering, and sports, while girls are pushed towards “feminine” careers such as teaching, literacy, and nursing.
Jones says that this is harmful to both male and female students, as they are unable to reach their full potential by being pigeonholed into careers due to their gender. And our education system does play a role in perpetuating this system of thinking.
“I, myself, have experienced that. I was pushed towards literacy despite being better at math. I was told by teachers that I wasn’t good at math based on one end of grade test,” Jones said. “There are many reasons why more women are not in the technology field, and a lot of it boils down to a lack of support and opportunities. Women and girls should be given the opportunity to see themselves in tech. If they can't see themselves in it, then they can't dream it.”
Another major hindrance for women is the cultural norms around family, childbearing, and career, where women tend to step out of their careers to have children. However, when they try to step back, they are already behind their male counterparts who have been in the workforce uninterrupted, gaining more experience and knowledge.
To help address the shortage of women in tech, Jones and the dot. Consulting guides teachers to never place limits on their student’s career choices, no matter how indirect.
“When I encourage teachers, the first thing I will say is that they should never tell a child that they are not good at math or any other subject, instead encourage them to find their niche in a subject. While some may be great at geometry, others may soar in solving equations, each is important and can be utilized to encourage students as they move through their math learning journey. Students take what their teachers say to heart, and they see their teachers as responsible adults whose opinions matter.”
This means that teachers have to carefully consider the messages that they are relaying to their students, even unintentionally, due to deep-seated personal biases.
“The first thing we teachers have to recognize is our own biases towards what we think we can and cannot do,” Jones said. “We also must think about how we are influenced by them and whether we are pushing those biases on our students. So, for teachers to be able to encourage their female students to maintain their interest in the sciences and technology, we must also get over the hump of feeling like we aren't sufficient to teach our students, girls in particular, about technology.”
Aside from the dot. Consulting, Jones also founded the Dottie Rose Foundation, which works to encourage girls to improve their technology skills to boost their own future by making them more confident and competitive career-wise. Both organizations are named after Jones’ grandmother, Dorothy Rose Moore, who she credits with inspiring her about the power of education.
“To encourage more girls to pursue studies in tech, we find content that would be relevant to a female persona,” Jones says, adding that providing girls with an educational environment outside current computer science stereotypes will increase their interest in computer science courses. These also provide grounds for interventions to help reduce gender disparities in computer science enrollment. Women want to use computers in real-world applications that will benefit people, and they are not interested in computing just for its sake. Many young women want to avoid the “geek with a monitor” stereotype, so a more inclusive image is needed.
“If we gather girls and expose them to computer science and technology in a safe and inclusive environment, we find that they are far more likely to break out of their shells and try new things. They won't put up a wall with statements like ‘this is nerdy’, or ‘I don't seem smart enough’, which diminish their interest in the field. We want to showcase that tech is a creative space and isn’t as rigidly structured as most people think.”
Name: Heather Gilbert