Women and technology

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For museum professionals, Museums and the Web – an annual conference focusing on (you guessed it) the intersection between museums, audiences and technology – is an exciting opportunity to learn about the latest trends, have hallway conversations with people you’ve only heard about through their projects or blogs, and be blown away by ideas that turn around (in a good way) your professional growth and projects. MW never fails to be the week where one can come away feeling refreshed and inspired to think about audiences and technology in new ways.

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The author at a reception at Baltimore Museum of Art during Museums and the Web 2014.

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Emily Lytle-Painter

Among the many themes that bubbled to the surface, one of the most compelling was a professional forum on women, technology and leadership in museums. My friend and colleague, Emily Lytle-Painter, education technologist at the J. Paul Getty Museum, led this tough, but much overdue discussion to lead the museum community toward cultivating an environment that supports and encourages female leaders in museum technology.

According to an American Alliance of Museums 2012 report (pdf), women make up 70% of museums, 17% of museum technology; 20% of computing, 10% of tech Fortune 500 executives/board

Both women and men came together in this forum to discuss the imbalance between the number of men and women in the technology community, specifically in museums. Stories emerged about gender bias in the workplace — women not being taken seriously by contractors, not taking credit for their projects or feeling unsupported to take on leadership roles.

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Emily Lytle-Painter, education technologist at the Getty Institute at Museums and the Web 2014. Photo by Emily Fry

We asked ourselves, why women are highly represented in some areas of the museum field, but not others? How can the women in current leadership roles make changes that create a space for young female professionals to own their careers with intentionality? What resources and training, can a professional community support future leaders in this field? More questions were raised than solutions, but I walked away feeling part of a united front, driven to create a future that actively challenges the myths and champions women doing amazing things in museums and technology.

To compare our industry with others, Business Insider recently reported some interesting stats. Pitch Interactive’s Ri Liu and Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou have compiled data that shows just how large the gender gap is at some of today’s biggest tech companies.

“Dropbox, for example, has 134 men on its engineer team and only nine women. Mozilla is another extreme scenario, as Chou’s data shows that there are 457 male engineers and only 43 female engineers.”

What’s next? How do we keep up the momentum and dialogue? Changing perceptions takes time and commitment and doesn’t happen overnight or in one week of a conference. However, I am excited to see how this forum evolves and impacts future conferences and museum professional groups. If anything, this was the first step to creating a space for open dialogue and awareness, and the beginning of offering opportunities for women to actively collaborate and mentor each other. A future where young female professionals interested in the crazy world of museum technology are validated, supported and given the training needed to be leaders in the field.

Other resources about women in technology:

National Center for Women and Information Technology

Women in Technology

Anita Borg Institute

Want to be part of the conversation? Follow #wmusetech #musetechwomen and leave your comments below.

2 Comments

  1. gail spilsbury says:

    This is an important subject for the field and part of the larger discussion going on about the gender pay gap. Glad supportive resources are building.

  2. Michelle Moon says:

    Great post, Emily! It is odd when you consider that many of the underlying skills – visual design, development, game theory, instructional design – already exist in the museum talent pool. What’s missing is that comfort level with tools and methods. This is one of the areas we hope to address with events and programs in the new Maker Lounge, where programs will start to break down some of the barriers that separate girls and women from exploring technology.

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