Release Date: February 8, 2001
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Why are there so few women in technology practice? What does it mean for women and for the development of various technological fields? A major debate is raging among educators, the technology professions and women themselves as to what is causing problems and what should be done about it.
The University at Buffalo will take a long look at these questions through a series of free spring lectures devoted to issues of gender and technology sponsored by the Center for the Study of Technology in Education in the UB Graduate School of Education
The first will take place Feb. 16 and will feature Aliza Sherman (aka "Cybergrrl"), one of the most visible activists promoting women's participation in the online world. Her talk, "No Girls Allowed: Changing the Gender Landscape of the Internet," will take place at 4 p.m. in the Screening Room of the Center for the Arts on the UB North (Amherst) Campus. The talk will be preceded by an informal reception, to which the public is invited.
Sherman, who established "Femina," the popular woman-focused search engine, founded the WebGrrls organization, which has a chapter in Buffalo that is sponsoring her visit to the area.
In addition to founding a number of news-based Web sites for girls and women like and , Sherman is the author of "Cybergrrl!: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web" (1998) and "Cybergrrl Work: Tips and Inspiration for the Professional Yu," which has just been published by Berkley Publishers Group.
Hank Bromley, associate professor of education at UB and director of the Center for the Study of Technology in Education, says the issues to be addressed by the lecture series are important to women of all ages.
"Women historically have been underrepresented in technological professions," he says. "If that has to do with lack of encouragement, fewer opportunities for mentoring or lack of confidence, it suggests a need for various kinds of mutual support for women in the field.
"The participation of women on the Internet is itself a very curious case, in that things have changed so quickly," Bromley points out. "As recently as six or seven years ago, surveys suggested that the online population was as much as 95 percent male. Since then, we've moved all the way to approximate gender parity in Internet use, measured simply by who is online, although not necessarily by their level of involvement.
"At the same time," he says, "college and university departments of computer science have continued to struggle with recruitment and retention of female students. We have actually lost much of the progress that had been made over the previous decade.
"It's possible that problems with technology work itself make it less appealing to women," Bromley says, "which suggests a need to alter the nature of the technological practice in order to make it less male-oriented.
"Some working in the field maintain that discriminatory exclusion on the part of men already in the field has discouraged women from pursuing careers in technology. If this is true, then it may call for a politically conscious movement to shift the balance of power in the field."
Should efforts to change the status quo, then, emphasize the distinctive interests and needs of women -- thus risking a reinforcement of stereotypes about male-female differences? Or should they emphasize that, if given the opportunity that men have now, women can perform in the same way, thus leaving intact what Bromley and many others consider to be the anti-humane aspects of technology practice?
"The extent of this debate is evident from a look at the Amazon.com reader reviews of Aliza's 1998 book," Bromley says. "Most readers express passionate appreciation for efforts made to meet women's needs in the field, but others maintain that such efforts demean women by implying they need handholding.
"The same debate is taking place in academic circles over the question of how to increase female enrollment in computer-science departments," he says, "and these disagreements echo the world of feminist politics where there is a division between what is sometimes called 'difference' feminism and 'equality' feminism."
While visiting Buffalo, Sherman will participate in a dinner talk on Feb. 15 with Judy Feldman, chief technology officer of Remarketing Services of America, sponsored by the local WebGrrls chapter and infoTech Niagara. The event, "Women in IT: From Cradle to Boardroom," will begin at 5:15 p.m. in the Center for Tomorrow on the UB North Campus.
The cost of the dinner is $10 for students and members of WNY WebGrrls and infoTech Niagara, and $15 for the general public. Participants should pay by check or cash at the door. Reservations must be made by Feb. 12 by contacting Julie Giles at 433-2260 or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Sherman also will participate in a booksigning at Borders bookstore, 2015 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga, from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 15.
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