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Why women are poised to turn education on its head

With women underrepresented in top education positions, Cosector UoL's Daniel Boonstra thinks edtech could hold the key to change

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 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 four out of five teachers in teaching positions, only one in five 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 how can they turn their vast teaching experience into hard career progression and transform their sector? I think the answer may lay in tech, more specifically, edtech.

Bear with me; I know that 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. Key players in this world have turned industries on their head and I think that this can happen with women and education.

There a few reasons I believe this to be the case: 

1. Good products come from experienced industry professionals.

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’. This cross pollination of industries is the stuff that innovation 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 claims that her sector of edtech holds a different culture that might be the key.

“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 don’t want to over-sell this because universities are notorious for being slow adopters, but I attended the Digital Transformation in HE conference in London two months ago and education institutes are activity looking for ways to enhance 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 – no question about that.   Barriers to women's career development need to be removed, one solution is to get ahead of the game.. 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 it will fall to the frontline to make the change.  

To find out more about Cosector UoL visit www.cosector.com    

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