Maximising the impact of women in science Afdrukken

“Maximising the impact of women in science, engineering, and technology; optimal use of digital tools”

This third Studium Generale of Ict-STER was combined with the European Workshop of E-WIT (European Women in IT). The transnational partners, Italy, United Kingdom and the Netherlands, all added to the programme. The University of Amsterdam hosted the event on the 29th of September 2006 in the Turingzaal (!) at the Science Park. Chair was Alfons Hoekstra, director of Bachelor of Informatics of the University of Amsterdam.

First speaker to welcome everyone was Thea van Schoot, Head of Academic Affairs of the Faculty of Science of the University of Amsterdam.
She pointed out that there is no easy and short term solution to raise the percentage of women in science and technology (it is only 5% in the Netherlands). It is important to start at an early age and to focus on a whole chain of activities. Important are more attractive curricula, prevention of early drop out, guided entrance on the labour market, and female role models. The university tries to realize this in several projects, for instance partnerships with secondary schools, summerschools for teachers in primary education, ‘deficiency’ programmes for female students, Bèta 1-1 in which science students adopt secondary school pupils, new studies with a broader scope and more multidisciplinary, for instance in psycho-biology is more than half of the students female and forensic science also attracts more women.

Jacobijn Sandberg of the Faculty of Science talked about “Creating social robots, a feminine touch”. Her talk addressed social aspects of technology illustrated by robot research. Not only are women participating in research which aims to endow robots with social features, they also appear to value interacting with a socially behaving robot. Examples of research have been presented in relation to ways of interaction preferred by women. The issue is important, because men and women are equal but not the same. Girls and women look for different features in the technical tools they use than men. Both content and form shape the interaction, but most content and form is produced for men by men. In general women want more social interaction, cooperation, sharing, and caring. The iCat robot is an illustration of a science application that appeals to women both as developers/researchers as well as users. Jacobijn’s final conclusions were:
Social technology appeals to girls/women
Female researchers can serve as examples that technology is not just for men
In schools, we should place more emphasis on the social side of technology

Marina Larios, founder and managing director of Inova Consultancy and coordinator of WiTEC UK, explored “E- Mainstreaming - What is it about?” An important topic, in which she is also involved as advisor for the Cambridge Centre of Gender Studies, and as consultant expert in European project management and evaluator of national and EU initiatives. The definition includes everyone and everything: “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality.”
Because of their impact websites are an important ‘tool’: there are about 35 million websites on the Internet, and by 2014 there will be an estimated 150 million (personal websites not included). Marina illustrated the importance of web credibility (this is about making your website in such a way that it comes across as trustworthy and knowledgeable) by showing several examples of websites, on which the audience had to score seven items: professionalism, design, well know organisation, international scope, support of private sector, large organisation, appealing to both men and women. This way everyone was confronted with his or her own stereotypes, revealingly.
According to Marina mainstreaming is a journey, it is interesting and fun, and it cannot be done overnight. Use new technologies to promote e-mainstreaming: provide a bulletin board or chat room, allow beneficiaries to contribute to publications and newsletters, invite stakeholders to give you feedback on your website and to contribute, encourage focus groups for new areas of development in your website. Finally she invited the audience to be our change agents.

“The other side of networking: feminist social networks on the net” was the title of Federica Fabbiani’s presentation. She works for Associazione Orlando in Boglogna, Italy, and is coordinator of the European project TechnéDonne. Their focus is that women should not remain mere users but become producers of new technologies as well.
The policy you use for the design and development of your systems plays an important role. In general, culture not technology is the main obstacle for women. Women are less focussed on outcomes and more on communication. Important keywords for social networks (face-to-face and virtual) are collaboration, sharing and participation, conversation and interaction, connection and reciprocity.Web 2.0 is interesting and useful, because it is an attitude, not just technology. It makes the Internet more social by a new way of user participation. The social software in Web 2.0 makes bottom-up community development possible. Internet has the capacity to be a dynamic source for networking and activism. But there are still things to do to make it work: increase the impact of women on all aspects of technology, empower women’s self-assessment on technical abilities, strengthen the female presence in innovation and research, fight gender stereotypes in the use and production of technology, and mainstream good practices. Women are not only the majority of Web users, they can also be ‘producers’, says Federica, just believe it!

Cor de Beurs works at the Amstel Institute, Faculty of Science of the University of Amsterdam. He has a long and diverse history in bèta and technical education and the development of courses. As project manager for Bèta partners, he talked about the question: “What is possible within networks of bèta partners, and how to motivate more girls in secondary education for bèta courses?” Cor uses the system approach of problem solving in the classroom, and his experiences are: boys do and girls think before doing; don’t interrupt thinking; girls and boys perform equally; no mixed groups; both girls and boys love learning by doing; boys are more fanatic. One of the good examples is Eyes in your backpack, a problem that pupils themselves introduced in a project for secondary schools ( design and realize an alarm system to protect a backpack. This approach has positive effects on girls. Their way of dealing with a problem, thinking before doing, is good for design. An important issue is that Bèta partners connect schools in a regional network, with shared ownership of ‘the problem’, shared goals, cooperation of all partners (pupils, teachers, parents, industry, science and others), and bottom up activities. Connecting problem solving in science, technology and IT with human needs is a good practice, for girls and in general.