- Gender and Information Technology: Moving Beyond Access to Co- Create Global Partnership by Mary Kirk
In Gender and Information Technology, Mary Kirk puts forth an original and holistic analysis of the information technology sector. While the title of this work seems to suggest an instructional manual, Kirk situates structural problems that diminish the role of women as developers and consumers of information technology (IT) in the context of feminism. Viewing IT through the lens of women’s experience provokes a sometimes inspiring discussion of disrupting and reshaping institutions characterized more by dominance than inclusion. The book is organized into three sections: “One Feminist’s Perspective,” “Perspectives on Dominator Social Institutions,” and “Perspectives on Partnership Social Institutions.” Each chapter concludes with “Questions for Reflective Dialog,” often prodding students and teachers to examine chapter content in light of their own experience with science and technology.
The three chapters in part 1 contextualize the subject of gender and IT. In “Demyth-ifying Feminism: Reclaiming the ‘F’ Word,” Kirk discusses myths about feminism and feminists, as observed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (STEM). While this chapter is not a substitute for key texts or a course in feminist theory, Kirk offers unfamiliar readers an overview foundation of the excuses, stereotypes, and divisions that seem to inhibit women developers and leaders in the IT sector. Subsequent chapters in part 1 examine the dualistic structures and historical stereotypes that explicitly or implicitly discourage women from advancing in STEM fields, including I T.
Dominance, a theme introduced in part 1, carries forward into part 2, whose chapters illustrate the IT sector’s posture towards women, using well-defined examples from media, the workplace, education, and business. For readers who might think that Gender and Information Technology was published exclusively for “techies” or those whose work involves design and maintenance of computers and software, Kirk clearly links popular media [End Page 71] institutions to the barriers women face in the IT sector and STEM fields. In chapter 4, “Mass Media as Social Institution,” and chapter 5, Kirk discusses language and messaging in the media and IT workplaces, offering diverse examples from the products, workplace culture, and public discourse of the IT sector. The discussion of Wired magazine is a thoughtful critique of a popular publication, suggesting that women are not taken seriously as either subjects or reporters of journalism related to science, technology, and digital culture. These chapters bring to mind media coverage of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s affinity for cupcakes and fashion, in spite of opportunities to discuss Mayer’s degrees from Stanford University or her accomplishments at technology companies like Google. Chapter 6 stands out as a concise survey of the experience of women in STEM education and industry; this section alone is an excellent primer for any reader unfamiliar with the topic and would be a thought-provoking addition to a curriculum covering women and science. After reading the preface to Gender and Information Technology, with its introduction to the concept of the “digital divide,” I looked forward to chapter 7, “Business as Social Institution: Global Issues in IT.” Although this chapter does offer a cursory look at the global problems introduced by the IT sector, Kirk gives the sense that more could be said about where women stand in the “digital divide.”
After examining several angles of the IT sector, part 3 begins to offer solutions to the problems that may seem intractable in parts 1 and 2. Introducing the idea of “Partnership Social Institutions,” Kirk explores communication, pedagogical, and business strategies that could liberate the IT sector from an inhospitable tradition of dominance. In discussing “partnership” strategies, Kirk offers a framework for recasting women in media and for creating lasting opportunities for women in STEM education, research and development, and business. Chapter 9 is perhaps the most thoughtful portion of part 3, offering inspiring examples of how STEM education can support the talents and ambitions of women. While Kirk challenges readers to rethink all aspects of the IT sector, she is decidedly...