May 1, 1996
Historical approaches to the study of women's involvement with technology have focused on the ways in which women have been at the mercy of technology rather than being empowered users or creators of technology, or contributors toward technological change (McGaw, 1982; Wright, 1987). During the 1970's and 80's, however, women entered the skilled end of the computer industry in increasing numbers. As of 1990 women held 32.4% of the systems analysts jobs, 41.1% of the jobs in operations and systems, and made up 35.7% of our nation's mathematical and computer scientists (Frankel, 1990). Despite these in-roads, computer science continues to be a professional arena which is perceived and experienced as hostile to women (Pearl, et. al., 1990).
For the past several years a group of us at Bank Street's Center for Children and Technology have been doing research on adult technology experts. Our inquiry was designed to counter traditional deficit model studies, which claim women are excluded from technological professions and thus have limited knowledge about technology as a whole. We were interested in the women who had gained access to and achieved a certain level of professional stature within technological worlds. In particular, we wanted to investigate their interpretive and meaning-making processes — what significance did they attribute to their work and what did they find compelling about it?
This report discusses research work done by CCT staff and others to understand the relationship of gender and technology.