Gender and Technology

Have you ever noticed that almost all the commercials designed to sell or promote a certain type of technology, i.e. cell phones, laptops, and cameras are featuring a male actor? Think about it for a second and then just try to remember the last time you saw a female as a leading presenter in such commercials. The current distance between females and technology in general is a big issue, not only for advertisement industry which I am sure they would do better if they used a female, but also when it comes to education and future plans. There is a lack of the female element in many areas where technology is considered the major aspect. According to Chen (1985) boys and girls are considering computers more masculine than feminine, with boys being more extreme in their stereotyping than girls. Boys have demonstrated higher levels of interests, more self-confidence, less anxiety about mastering computer skills, and the belief that females cannot be as skilled with computers as males.

A brief review of historical trends in the computing field, as well as data from research demonstrating equally high achievement levels for males and females in technological domains, provides strong-support for the argument that the technological gender gap is not biologically predetermined. For example, the Navy assigned women to program ENIAC, which was the first operational computer. Also, in 1960, when there were only 2,000 computer operators, 65% of them were women. An amazing example is Dr. Grace Hopper, who developed programs for the world's first digital computer and created COBOL, the first compiler (Sanders, 1981).

The term technological gender gap refers to the idea that males and females have different technology-related attitudes, behaviors, and skills. The American Association of University Woman (AAUW) has concluded from their observations that technology is rapidly becoming an essential element of the educational process and that educators should be more involved in ensuring that females gain the ground and the skills needed to achieve economic independence in the industries of the 21st century. In addition, women are significantly underrepresented in information and communication technologies (ICT) in most countries, including the US, down to a level of 10 % or less (Charles & Bradly, 2005; ENWISE, 2044).

In addition females have demonstrated less self-efficacy with regard to complex computing tasks than their male counterparts, they also had less computer experience in programming and computer games, they were less encouraged by friends and parents, and they had less access to a home computer (Busch,1995). Another study conducted in Malaysia, found significant differences between males and females with regard to their attitudes toward the use of technology in their teaching (Wong & Hanafi, 2007). Their findings used three factors, usefulness, confidence, and aversion to test the difference between males and females. The differences were higher on usefulness and confidence, but that high in aversion. To understand the issue from a broader perspective, a study was focusing on whether parents explain more often to boys than to girls while using interactive science exhibits in a museum (Crowley, Callanan, Tenenbaum, & Allen, 2001). The study suggested that parents when engaged with their children in informal science activities maybe unintentionally contributing to a gender gap in the children scientific literacy.

On another level, according to (Varma, 2009) there are big gender differences in how students’ develop interest in computers. It found that there are three factors that influenced the gendered digital divide, early exposure, access to computer at home and school, and high-school preparation for computing studies. On each one of these factors, females rated their level either as limited or non-existence.

So what caused these differences between the genders and what are the factors that influenced such differences. There are many factors at play as we look into the causes for the gender divide in technology. We briefly look into each factor in light of the issue.

Societal Influences:
a. Parents.
Parents are one source of gender stereotypes with respect to computing. Also as (Crowley, Callanan, Tenenbaum, & Allen, 2001) found that both parents but especially fathers explained the content of interactive science exhibits three times more to sons than to daughters, resulting in a gap in science literacy between genders.

b. Media.
Magazines have been reviewed for gender stereotyping and found inadequate by several researchers. When examining computer advertisements, the Internet, television and movies and found rampant gender stereotypes about people in technical roles.

c. Race and Ethnicity
Many reports exist that students of color are afforded lesser computer opportunities than white students. When it comes to females, girls find themselves less engaged with computers either because of lack of access or of self-segregating actions.

d. Socio-Economic Status
While children of higher economic backgrounds are encouraged by their parents to learn the technology, others attending low economic status schools are struggling with the limited access at school or even home. However, girls were reportedly less encouraged to engage with computers even ones from high economic backgrounds.

e. Male culture of ICT
The male culture, condescension, hostility, an emphasis on speed and competitiveness, and other dynamics dominated in the information and computing technology fields drive females away. Women students speak of the harassment of continually bumping into male egos. Consider the violent language of technology may be invisible to males but can be a problem for females. Consider hard disc, hard drive, reboot, cold boot, hits, permanent fatal error, and so forth. Recreational or even educational software for children often includes title words such as “attack” or “war.”

· Pipeline Issues
The term “pipeline” refers to the trajectory from taking computer courses in high school on through college or graduate school and into ICT careers. A 2004 survey of college freshman in the US revealed that 88 percent of students who intended to major in computer science were male. A 2005 study found that the proportion of women in the U.S. considering a CS major has fallen to levels unseen since the early 1970.

· Experience
Boys have greater computer experience than girls, and in many countries boys have an edge in home computer use, school computer use, computer course taking, games, and in free-time exploratory use.

· Attitudes
o Liking and Interest
With some exceptions, many studies and in many countries find that boys have more positive feelings about the computer than girls — boys tend to like computers more and are more interested in them Comfort and Confidence Correlated with experience.

o Anxiety.
A study by (Nelson, Weise & Cooper, 1991), followed students for three years, found girls more anxious about computers than boys in grade 7, equal in grade 9 and lower in grade ll. This finding could result in early separation between girls and technology that might last for extended times.

o Self-Efficacy
The overall conclusion from the research in this area, is that females consistently under-estimate their technology skills regardless of what their skills really are. Thus creating a self-imposed wall between them and the technology.

· In the classroom
o Peers
Several empirical studies revealed substantial gender stereotyping among students, which influences their peers. In a study in 1995, students were asked to rate a written description of a male and a female programming level, both genders rate the male as higher in programming abilities.

o Pedagogy
Curricula that allow collaboration provides better engaging opportunities for females as Sixth- to 12th-grade girls preferred software that required them to collaborate rather than compete (Miller, Chaika & Groppe, 1996).

· Cultural aspects of the use of technology.
Huyer (2003) cited a Nigerian study by Ajayi and Ahbor in which women opposed ICT study because it overexposed young women to a Western lifestyle, thus endangering their chances for marriage (Huyer, 2003). In addition, concerns about girls’ limited access to computers in such areas, while well founded at the time, have receded now that schools tend to have sufficient hardware and more advance curriculum. Access to home computers, however, is still problematic due to competition with male family members (Gunn, 2003), this is very important because students can get as much access to a computer in one weekend at home as in an entire semester at school.

· Suggestions to remedy the gap of technology use and improve female approach toward technology.
There is evidence that when educators assume a proactive stand toward ensuring gender-equitable computer opportunities, the gap narrows. For example, the lack of a gender gap in Minnesota students' computer skills is the result of the state's commitment to computer literacy, which ensured all students equal computer access and training. Also, matching computer training to women's cognitive structures helps in attacking more women to take advantage of the available resources. An example is the work of Deborah Brecher at the Women's Computer Literacy Program. Her program is based on theories that men and women learn in different ways. Brecher believes that traditional methods of teaching about computers have hindered rather than facilitated women's mastery of the technology. Her techniques strive to match computer training to women's cognitive structures.

Another approach is structuring the physical and social environments of computer facilities to enhance female students' learning opportunities. Gilligan (1982) explained that the physical structure of computing facilities, with their individual and segregated cells, conforms more to the masculine separation and individuation social style than to the description of the feminine social style, which is characterized by personal connections and networks. Moreover, removing competition as the basis for computer instruction and use should be incorporated into educational and training endeavors. Also more utilization of technology with arts is needed to give females additional options for using the technology by integrating computer work and programming skills across the curriculum. Using computers in science and math classes only, which are considered male dominant, reduce female chances in interacting with computers.

Finally, we need to Eliminate sexist stereotyping and stereotypic themes from computer software. A clerk at a video game rental store reported that the top three video game rentals for December 1989 were Megaman II (space and destruction theme), Tech-Mobile (futuristic football), and Jordan vs. Bird (basketball). What is more interesting is that the clerk was unable to recommend any games that would be especially appealing for young girls (Canada & Brusca, 1992). In the Mousecapades
game, Minnie Mouse literally follows Mickey around as he combats foes and racks up points.


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