School & District Management

Ed-Tech Leader Gender Gaps Identified in New Study

By Benjamin Herold — September 16, 2014 8 min read
Jean Tower, the director of technology for the Northborough and Southborough public schools in Massachusetts, says “superintendents who do the hiring need to own the data” about gender inequities in the educational technology profession.
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Female technology leaders working for U.S. school districts appear to earn less money than their male counterparts and face more limited access to the top positions in their field—despite tending to be more experienced and equally, if not better, credentialed.

Those findings come from original research conducted by Education Week and the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN, a Washington-based professional association for school technology officials.

“This is a wake-up call that gender bias does exist in K-12 technology leadership,” said the consortium’s CEO, Keith R. Krueger. “School districts need to be conscious that this is a problem.”

The results—drawn from a relatively small survey administered by CoSN early this year—do not offer a definitive verdict on the existence or scale of gender gaps in pay and professional opportunities in K-12 educational technology. They do, however, offer some quantitative validation of the concern increasingly being voiced by groups such as the International Leadership Network for Women in EdTech, formed in June in part to improve career opportunities and compensation for women in the public and private ed-tech sectors.

At the national level, the difference between what women and men are paid for similar work is receiving renewed attention as a significant policy issue. The so-called gender pay gap is widely recognized, although calculating its exact size and nature can be difficult because of differences in workers’ qualifications and variations in how their work and compensation are structured.

In recent years, President Barack Obama and other leading Democrats have pushed for, but failed to pass, a federal Paycheck Fairness Act.

For workers in technology-related jobs in the private sector, the gender pay gap is significant, but narrower than for workers with similarly high-paying jobs in finance, business, or health care. Women, however, are underrepresented—often dramatically—in such positions.

In public education, meanwhile, the dynamic appears different: Women are well-represented, but information on their access to, and compensation for, specific district-level leadership positions is scattered.

If female officials in school technology are being undervalued, as the new CoSN/Education Week analysis suggests, it’s important to call attention to that reality, said Jean Tower, the director of technology for the 4,700-student Northborough and Southborough public schools in Massachusetts.

“Superintendents who do the hiring need to own the data,” said Ms. Tower, who also chairs CoSN’s board of directors. “And my colleagues have to make sure they understand the playing field so they’re equipped with the information they need to advocate for themselves.”

Less Pay, Lesser Titles

The Education Week Research Center’s analysis of CoSN survey data focused on responses from 230 individuals—152 men and 78 women—who provided enough information to determine their gender. The survey targeted the highest-ranking technology official in each school district.

Eighty percent of the women responding reported having an advanced academic degree, compared with 68 percent of the men.

And 85 percent of the female respondents reported having been in the K-12 ed-tech field for 10 years or more, compared with 73 percent of the male respondents.

Jean Tower meets with Andrew Mariotti, the network administrator for the Northborough and Southborough public schools. Ms. Tower is also chairwoman of the board of directors for the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking.

Despite those advantages in credentialing and experience, just 37 percent of the women reported earning more than $100,000 a year, compared with almost half the men.

And 64 percent of the female respondents reported holding a relatively prestigious title, such as chief technology officer, chief information officer, or district technology director, compared with three-fourths of the men. A significantly greater proportion of women than men had lower-level titles such as technology coordinator or manager.

For Mr. Krueger, who has led CoSN for 20 years, the findings were a surprise, mostly because women have traditionally found more technology-related career opportunities in public school systems than in other sectors.

“There simply haven’t been women in [technology] leadership positions in business and health care and higher education,” he said. “But in K-12, a lot of [women] come up through the instructional side of the house to head up technology.”

The numbers back up that perception. Women who responded to the CoSN survey were significantly more likely to have professional backgrounds in education or instruction than were males: Fifty-nine percent of the women came up through the classroom versus 42 percent of the men.

That women appear to earn less than men even when they do land a district-level tech-leadership position may reflect a continued overvaluation of the technical skills frequently associated with men who come from a technology background, especially among the leaders of the country’s largest districts, Mr. Krueger said.

One reason for optimism about correcting the apparent gender pay gap in the K-12 ed-tech field, he said, is an emerging recognition that an effective district chief technology officer must also understand the educational mission of schools and the importance of effective collaboration across departments as diverse as curriculum and finance.

“We see more and more superintendents saying, ‘I want someone I can communicate with, who has a vision of what learning looks like,’ ” Mr. Krueger said.

Long Climb

Women currently hold the top technology jobs in the 345,000-student Miami-Dade County, Fla., schools; the 316,000-student Clark County, Nev., school system; and Tennessee’s 81,000-student Metropolitan Nashville schools, among other prominent districts.

But for Alice Owen, now the executive director of the Texas K12 CTO Council, which is a state chapter of CoSN, the new survey data offer a disappointing reminder of the professional barriers women still face, despite such advances.

Ms. Owen retired last year as the division director of technology services for Texas’ 34,000-student Irving school district, where for 10 years she managed one of the longest-running 1-to-1 student computing initiatives in the nation.

Throughout her career, she said, opportunities in educational technology were available for women with curiosity, initiative, and a willingness to move in search of better situations. But it wasn’t easy.

As a classroom teacher in the 1980s, Ms. Owen said, she became an “early adopter” of the newfangled personal computers that her school purchased. She checked them out from the library and kept them in her classroom for the entire school year because other teachers weren’t sure what to do with them.

Later, as a principal, she made such successful use of her school’s first computer lab, she said, that her superintendent was persuaded to invest in providing more machines for every classroom.

And after becoming a district-level staff-development director, Ms. Owen said, she found that there was no existing computer program capable of effectively managing the extensive records she had to keep. So she and a friend built their own software, which they eventually sold to a number of other districts.

After her own climb up the K-12 ed-tech ladder, she said, it’s disheartening to see that a gender pay gap apparently persists for those following her.

“Women should receive the pay they deserve,” Ms. Owen said.

It’s not clear whether such a gender pay gap exists in other K-12 leadership positions.

According to the Alexandria, Va.-based AASA, the School Superintendents Association, for example, the overall median salary of female superintendents is actually higher than that of their male counterparts, although male superintendents still outnumber women by roughly 3-to-1.

There is also evidence that women who do land private-sector technology jobs are paid more equitably than women in other high-paying fields.

“Science and technology occupations have the lowest [pay] gaps, by an enormous amount,” said Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University.

In her research, based on extensive analysis of U.S. Census data, Ms. Goldin concludes that the size of the gender pay gap within a given profession is largely a function of employers’ willingness to pay extra to individuals who are willing to work more hours within more rigid schedules (often men), and an inclination to penalize those who want flexible schedules (often women) by paying them lower wages.

Building Confidence

More and better data are needed to more precisely understand how women and men are compensated and otherwise rewarded in the K-12 ed-tech field, Mr. Krueger of CoSN and others agreed.

In the meantime, groups such as the International Leadership Network for Women in EdTech are focused on raising awareness of possible gender inequities, as well as providing both personal and professional support to women in the field.

“My sense is that women in ed tech have the opportunity to grow their careers to any height. The piece that I don’t know is whether they have the same financial opportunity,” said Lillian Kellogg, a founder of the group who works as a vice president for client services at Education Networks of America, a Nashville-based company that sells technology infrastructure to schools.

Individual women also say they are committed to helping spur change in their field.

A 20-year veteran of the public education arena who often mentors younger female colleagues, Ms. Tower, the district technology director from Massachusetts, said she often sees the human reality behind the numbers.

While men tend to think they’re ready for promotions before they actually are, she said, “I’ve coached women who I thought were ready for years before they were convinced they could go for a position as a tech leader in a school district.”

Now, Ms. Tower said, she plans to redouble her efforts to encourage such women to push for leadership roles—and for equitable compensation.

“The way you tackle it is you shine a light and you show a path,” she said. “But it’s going to take some time.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2014 edition of Education Week as Women Face Ed-Tech Opportunity Gap


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