The real issues facing women in tech

May 14, 2019
  • AACRAO Leadership and Governance
  • Committees and Caucuses
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • Technology
  • Technology and Transfer
  • women's caucus
Graphic showing survey results, grouped by gender, for the question "what's holding #WomenInTech back?"

Coming off the energy and enthusiasm of the Women’s Caucus first meeting at AACRAO 2019, a number of inspired members began to talk about the possibility of building a stronger community of practice specifically supporting women in technology in higher education. Many who attended the caucus worked directly in IT or in Registrar’s and other offices with significant technological roles.

“What is the experience for women working in a male-dominated industry like technology, particularly in higher education, which has its own nuances?” said Helen Garrett, University Registrar and Chief Officer, Enrollment Information Services, at the University of Washington. Moreover, she asked, what’s it’s like for women of color and other intersectional identities working within this context?

As the snapshot of survey results above demonstrates, there’s a significant mismatch between what women identify as their professional challenges and what men perceive women’s challenges to be. Raising women’s voices can help reframe the discussion, foster meaningful professional development opportunities, and engender an inclusive IT culture that is supportive of all professionals. This survey also demonstrates the need for men to be active listeners and participants in the conversation.

Garrett and others who attended the caucus, including Mark Simpson, director of the AACRAO Technology and Transfer Conference to launch a targeted effort, knew the demand was there for some targeted programming around Women in Tech at the upcoming Technology and Transfer Conference.

“Though there were only a few months between the Annual Meeting and Tech Conference, a group of us got together to discuss how quickly we could come up with ideas to devote a couple of hours at least to explore ‘What does it mean to be a woman in technology?’” Garrett said. “There isn’t enough time between conferences to really do it justice, but we can get the ball rolling and then plan more for next year’s conference.”

As the snapshot of survey results above demonstrates, there’s a significant mismatch between what women identify as their professional challenges and what men perceive women’s challenges to be.


Mentorship with a small “m”
Every day at lunch, Garrett makes herself available for informal “mentoring” lunches for faculty, staff, or students who want to discuss their career trajectories.

“Often I meet with women who are working in technology and I hear a lot of stories about how their careers are not advancing the way they want” due to the kind of gender stereotyping and discrimination indicated by the above infographic, Garrett said. “They are looking for someone to talk to who’s a little further ahead in her career. It doesn’t have to be a formal, long-term, big-M Mentorship -- it can be just be a discussion around one issue they’re working through.”

Hearing stories about women in tech’s career challenges on her own campus, Garrett reached out to the campus IT’s professional development arm, who invited her to present at their annual TechConnect conference.

At TechConnect, Garrett presented insights and leadership lessons around these topics in one of the most well-received sessions at the conference, “Mentors and Messes: Top Leadership Lessons Learned.”

For the AACRAO Technology & Transfer Conference, Garrett and other panelists will expand on the lessons from this original “Mentors and Messes” session, followed by a roundtable session for people to share stories and strategize from the perspective of women in technology leadership.

“It’s really important for men to be part of this conversation; this session isn’t only for women,” Garrett said. “They’re working next to women, helping with mentoring, and need to be allies in the workplace.”

Learn more about the Women in Tech workshop and other offerings at this year’s AACRAO Technology & Transfer Conference, July 14-16, 2019, in Las Vegas.


AACRAO's bi-weekly professional development e-newsletter is open to members and non-members alike.