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Women in eLearning: A Retrospective

by Julie Dirksen

January 14, 2016


by Julie Dirksen

January 14, 2016

“In retrospect, I’m really glad we had the opportunity to dig deeply into a complex issue and involve so many voices in the discussion. I learned a lot from my fellow contributors. One of my favorite lessons was on the importance of inviting men into the conversation. I knew from the outset that I wanted to avoid the implication that this is only a topic for women to discuss amongst themselves (it’s not), but I was interested in how surprised some of the men were to be asked to contribute.”

As a woman, I think eLearning is a great field to work in. I’ve never encountered the kinds of dramatic and persistent sexism that occurs in other technology-related fields like computer programming and video game development. Many of our best companies are managed or owned by women, and we are closer to a balanced gender ratio than many fields.

That said, we aren’t perfect, and many of the persistent gender issues that occur in the modern workforce (e.g., gender pay inequity) are just as present in eLearning as in any other field.

At DevLearn 2014, I helped organize a panel called Bridging the Gender Gap to look at some of these issues. Bill Brandon attended and suggested we collaborate to run a series on this topic in Learning Solutions Magazine.

The articles and links

I wrote the first article myself—Women in the eLearning Field: Beginning a Conversation (January 22, 2015). I was curious why the gender diversity that I knew existed in the field wasn’t being represented at some of our events. To investigate that, I looked at what was happening at the system level to influence outcomes.

Next, Koreen Pagano took a deeper look at what some of the issues are, and how they affect women in management and leadership roles in The Gender Riddle in Learning and Development (February 19, 2015).

Mark Lassoff, who has worked on helping get women and girls involved in computer programming, wrote Women in the eLearning Field: Was Your Father a Programmer? (March 19, 2015), in which he talked about the disparities in the tech fields, and his own experience witnessing gender bias.

In Women in eLearning: We're Bringing Women into Tech the Wrong Way (April 16, 2015), Aisha Taylor talked about some of the limitations of the current dialogue about women in tech. She exposed some of the limitations of how we are defining “working in technology,” and reminded us (as would other contributors) that this isn’t about women learning to be more like men, but rather about bringing our authentic selves to work.

One of the persistent issues when dealing with any group inequities is the fact that often people from that group are unfairly dubbed the representative of their whole group. For example if a woman gives a bad keynote at a conference, it gets pointed to as proof that trying to find women keynotes is a bad idea (I’ve witnessed this personally) while a man who gives a bad keynote only represents himself. In Women in eLearning: Language, Gender Equality, and Leadership (May 21, 2015), David Kelly talks about the importance of being careful with language, and how to label behaviors, not people.

In Taking Responsibility for the Gender Gap (June 18, 2015), Sam Savela cuts through the doubletalk that can occur, and challenges the oft-expressed notion that women are primarily the ones who need to change their behavior in order to redress some of the imbalances. She cites several case studies of organizations who are addressing inequities head on.

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