At the center of 21st century culture is computer technology which presence and use just decades ago, were limited for the government and some institutions. Today, computer technology steps out from such isolation pervading all institutions, industries, commerce and other areas of life at what appears to be logarithmic speed, making its mastery or at least working knowledge an essential requisite if one is to keep pace with time.
The ubiquity of technology, continuous rise in the demands for technologically-advanced workforce combined with the application of basic economic principles make one think whether the study on gender differences as it relates to technology is really a matter worthy of anyone’s attention. Statistics say it is. Generally, in a technological workplace, women are still underrepresented: only five percent of computer programmers, ten percent of system analysts and ten percent of electronic technicians are females (Statistics: Women in Technology, 2008).
In major companies in Silicon Valley, only 5-6% is led by females (Statistics: Women in Technology, 2008). There has been a decline in the number of females pursuing careers related to science and technology. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of women who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science has decreased from 37% to 28. 4% from 1984 to 1995 (Statistics: Women in Technology, 2008). Female students who took the advanced placement computer examination comprised only 17% (Statistics: Women in Technology, 2008).
From these statistics, one may speculate that females’ future career choices still fall along traditional paths. This was confirmed by a study done by Lupart and Cannon (2002) on students’ perceptions on desirable career characteristics and career choices. With the rising demand for high-tech jobs (Statistics: Women and Technology, 2008), knowledge and use of technology become an essential condition to improve women’s participation in the workforce and to enable them to pursue higher status and better-paying jobs in the future.
However, the general belief is that not only are women underrepresented in the technology-related industry; they are also considered to be less interested, less confident and less skilled in this area. These three factors affect their usage of technology. Still, underneath these factors, women’s computer usage can be traced on socialization and upbringing. Boys and girls do not play the same games during childhood. While boys are usually made to play video games or games that promote problem-solving, hands-on skills and spatial-relationship skills, girls play with dolls, which tend to develop their value of relationships (Milgram, 2007).
Problem-solving, hands-on and spatial-relationship skills are critical to the study of computer and technology-related subjects. As a result of this discrepancy in development, males become more interested in technology and become better-equipped with the necessary skills as they reach adulthood (Milgram, 2007). The males’ generally higher interest in technology, however, does not affect the possibility of improving females’ perception and attitude towards technology. The effect of ubiquitous computing on gender differences was examined in a study done in 2006.
Here, the participants were given access 24-hour access to a laptop. Gender differences were observed in behavioral attitude towards future use of computers before the laptop program. Prior to the laptop program, males were more inclined to use computers. This changed after the laptop program. No significant difference was observed in the attitude towards the use of computers after the program (Kay, 2006). Before the program, males were observed to be more skillful in computer abilities compared to females.
No significant difference was observed in computer abilities between males and females after the program, except for the skill in programming (Kay, 2006). In central Georgia middle school, the study on 8th grade students showed a statistically significant difference between achievements of males and females. In this experiment, the participants were instructed and given an exam both written and applied on two modules, information and broadcasting. A greater improvement was seen in females for the information module while the males showed greater improvement in the broadcasting module.
This study partially debunks earlier findings that males generally show higher achievements compared to males, in the study of computer technology (Hale, 2005). These studies suggest that females’ do not have an inherently unfavorable computer skill, interest, and attitude which affect computer use. Provided with the right tools and knowledge, females may do as well or even better than males (Milgram, 2007). The comparatively lower use of technology by females can be attributed to the differences in perceptions on technology between genders.
While the females see technology through its social function, the males’ perspective is more focused on the hardware itself (Brunner, 1997). Males, therefore, are more likely to study more on the intricacies and technicalities of the use of technology compared to females which in effect allows them to maximize its use. Meanwhile, the females’ perspective of technology limits their use to only a number of functions.. According to Milgram (2007), “[females] are much less likely to retain interest if they feel they are incapable of mastering the material.
” Also, males tend to exaggerate their accomplishments while females tend to feel less comfortable even when they do well in tests (Milgram, 2007). The females’ initial lack of skill in technology affects their confidence and perception towards its use. However, like interest and attitude, these may be changed upon exposure. Nicolino, et. al. (2006) measured the confidence gain of male and female respondents in the frequency of use of computers at home and at work. No significant difference in computer use was observed between males and females.
Females exhibited greater confidence in IT usage after the course compared to their male counterparts (Wong and Hanafi, 2007). Given the males’ higher degree of confidence towards technology, the question now is whether such confidence really translates to increased use of technology. In a study on some 6,800 fourth and eighth grade students, it was reported that males significantly increase their use of technology with age while no such significant increase was seen in females (Barker and Aspray, 2006). It has been established that the males have a more positive attitude and higher degree of confidence towards technology.
These, however, are not solely gender-based but more importantly, based on their differences in upbringing, with males having more background in problem-solving and spatial-relationship. Based on the general principles derived from studies on gender-gap in technology, strategies can be employed to address such gap, improve computer attitude, increase computer use and create a culture where everyone can participate and take advantage of the benefits of technology, regardless of gender. Milgram (2007) lists some of such strategies targeting the middle school where attitudes in computer use start to emerge.
These strategies include the creation of same-sex groups in classrooms, the integrated and meaningful use of technology, the improvement of teachers’ computer skills, the use of gender neutral softwares, simulation games for all genders, and the discouragement of using technology and computers as a reward. Common among these strategies is their focus on building the confidence of females who often have less experience than males. Simulation games, for example, ensure that not only males are given the opportunity to develop problem-solving and spatial relationship skills.
Simulation games also promote hands-on proficiency which is necessary in developing technological skills and use. The creation of same-sex groups in classrooms and the discouragement of using technology and computers as reward minimize the males’ aggressive, assertive and self-assured behavior which stem from their confidence in their skills. In sum, it is by simulating the environment that contributed to the development of males’ skills that the gender gap in the use of technology can be significantly reduced.
The fact that females respond to technology more positively if given the right building blocks, as shown by previous studies support this.
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