Where the Woman Are: Research Findings on Gender Issues in Technology Education: Once Investigations Discover Issues to Address, the Profession Can Make the Changes Needed to Attract and Retain More Female Students and Teachers

Article excerpt

This article reports some research findings about gender issues in technology education and relates some actual events that cause concern for our profession. It also includes a Self-Check Questionnaire that teachers and other professionals can use to examine their own behaviors and speech patterns, which could be turning females away from their classes or our profession. It is hoped that understanding some of the perceptions of women in the profession may help us all make it a more comfortable environment for females.

Prior to 1980, the industrial arts curriculum failed to attract many female students or teachers, but there were some early indicators that the more contemporary technology curriculum would be more appealing to females (Cummings, 1998; Hill, 1998; Sanders, 2001; and Zuga, 1998). Simultaneously, due to changes in society, women were more accepted in traditionally male-dominated professions, and standards of acceptable behavior in cross-gender social interactions were redefined (Foster, 1996; Haynie, 1999; Stevens, 1996; and Wolters & Fridgen, 1996). Still, few women enter technology education even today. Sanders (2001) noted that, despite some gains in diversity, "technology education is still taught mostly by middle-aged white men"--the troubling question is: Why?


The small body of professional literature concerning the lack of women in technology education, the need for more women, and the historical reasons and potential factors keeping females out has been spotty but useful (ITEA, 1994; Liedtke, 1995; Markert, 1996; Silverman & Pritchard, 1996; Trautman, Hayden, & Smink, 1995; and Volk & Holsey, 1997). Most of this literature, however, consists of opinion papers, library research, and journal articles; there is very little original or data-driven empirical research on gender issues in technology education.

What research is needed on women's issues in technology education? Markert (1996) indicated that educators should note a wide assortment of behaviors they display (possibly unknowingly) that "create a chilly classroom or null academic environment for their female students" (p. 28). These behaviors must be identified and changed because "Speeches and reports that extol the benefits of gender equality are nothing more than empty rhetoric if they are not followed up with commensurate action" (Akubue, 2001, p. 71). The empirical research conducted thus far, though helpful in identifying issues and demonstrating that more studies are needed, has done little to solve the problem. Rigorous quantitative and qualitative study is needed. Once investigations discover issues to address, the profession can make the changes needed to attract and retain more female students and teachers. More and more, funding agencies such as NSF are demanding clear results from empirical research as the basis for spending their money. The works discussed here help to lay such a foundation that could be used to seek funding for further work.

Recently, two research efforts have shed some light on gender issues in technology education (Haynie, 1999, & 2003). The 1999 effort was a survey based upon hard data that provided a basis for further research. The 2003 study was termed a "Quasi Ethnographic Interview Approach" in its title. That was an apt identifier because it did report data collected via interviews, but there were variations from traditional methodology. In that article, the author claimed that the triangulation required to draw useful conclusions was achieved via the survey, the interviews, and his own purposeful observations since 1966 (when he first developed interest in this topic).

Methods and Findings of Two Related Studies

In general terms, the methods of the 1999 study consisted of a survey of technology education professionals at the 1997 Technology Student Association conference. Of 150 instruments distributed, 95 were completed (63% response rate). …


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