Technology: A Catalyst To Women’s Emerging Roles in the World Of Work

real logo hi resYears ago the role of women was also a dominant force – but largely at home, as the wife and mother made what we called back then, a “happy home.” Classroom40sAnother important role for women was the classroom, as our teachers. In our own era, all our teachers were women. In fact, in those days, those two important sectors of home and school, a man in charge could hardly be found.

In the business world back then, men were largely in charge and women played the all-important subordinate, “secondary” roles of secretary or office manager that made the gears of business turn more smoothly and rapidly.

Along came post-WW2 and the work world changed dramatically. During the war years women showed the world they could do virtually any work a man could do, and they often did it better. After the war, our burgeoning economy needed a much bigger labor pool and, promising a better life, many women went off to the world of work.

TransistorRadioTechnology began to emerge everywhere, and so did more opportunities for women. From the transistor, which brought us the first pocket radio, came the shrinking, ever-faster micro-circuits , and a new, mobile digital world was born. Along with it came more schools to house more learners. We needed new tech-tools to help teachers teach better and kids to learn more effectively.  WomenTechOutside the classroom, a growing number of savvy women became involved in working in, starting up, and eventually growing and selling ed-tech companies. Women had become, and still are today, a major force for new K12 media resources and tools for learning.

Has this educational business leadership change impacted the movement toward more gender equality in the workplace? We think it has, and that more will follow. There are many more roles for skilled and ambitious women today than ever before. Education is a great provider of the skills needed to take advantage of the opportunities when they come our way.

WozSteveGarageConsider the Apple Computer Company, today it has the largest market value of all publicly-held corporations in the world.  It wasn’t always so. Two California kids built a simple computer in their garage and hadn’t much of a clue about what to do with it. But some software leaders from MECC in MN saw a great chance to replace clattering teletypes with real computers to run their K12 computer programs. They contacted Steve  Jobs, ordered a couple Apple II’s and the rest was history. Computers in the classroom, along with good software, changed the K12 world.

Apple was one of the early leaders in putting more women into key roles in the computing industry. Steve Jobs wanted talent in both the design of his computers and the marketing. DaleTeletypeSo did Dale LaFrenz, CEO of MECC, the creators of the software in K12 that Apple needed. Dale employed able software designers and publishers, and gender was not an issue in hiring the most able talent force he could find.

MECC helped propel Apple into prominence with game-changing software products on a floppy disk. Foremost was Oregon Trail, a simulation game that entertained and taught lessons at the same time. Soon, a whole new learning world began evolving. The career opportunities weren’t restricted to “geeky” males (we use the word “geeky” in a complimentary way here to describe the remarkable skills of those who know how to make technology do things it had never done before). Equally brilliant young women took on some of these geek jobs, too. Soon, these and other new technologies would wow the world at the annual Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Shows and the teachers and kids whose classrooms soon had them.

SusanSchillingMany young women across the K12 Education industry took up leadership roles in both Apple and MECC and other emerging Ed Tech companies, as well. One was RE@L’s own Susan Schilling who worked at MECC and with other high profile EdTech projects. Many girls who were in K12 schools during the 70′s and 80′s saw career opportunities they had never seen before. Computers and software are gender-blind, and, even more, provide kids with the chance to consider careers previously not considered.

STEMgirlsThe current STEM push in K-12 is furthering the involvement of girls and boys of all ages. The hands-on, project-based, tech-driven STEM curriculum is a powerful force for change. Gender is no longer an issue. Interest is what makes learning happen. Using new technology tools to provide exciting classroom experiences creates interest and curiosity for all learners.

What makes K12 STEM so promising is that it opens the doors to both boys and girls, involving kids in real-life explorations that can lead to satisfying careers. RE@L will continue to bring this important message to all students, everywhere.

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.