Technology, Social Problem-Solving, and Gender

Last summer I helped write and teach an innovation curriculum for teens and young adults in Saudi Arabia. The teaching team knew going in that we would have to work with the teenage men and women separately–this is common practice in Riyadh. I like working with women in tech, so I was looking forward to this. But what surprised me by this separation was how I was able to observe and compare how the different genders responded to the same programming.

Our curriculum was ambitious. We had projects that emphasized play, exercises that emphasized problem identification and solution finding, and lessons with programmable electronics and digital fabrication. Our strategy as a teaching team was to teach these modules separately and then help students put it all together in their final projects.

What we observed was that the young men were enthusiastic about the electronics and DigiFab, but felt uncomfortable doing the problem identification exercises and were slow to warm up to the play and tinkering exercises. While the women were enthusiastic about all of the content, but that they really lit up when asked to identify problems and use creative methods to explore potential solutions. (The guys kept telling us that women take education much more seriously than men do).

These gender differences are much easier to see now that I’m back in the states. As a rule, the guys like robots and the women like solving complex social problems. There is overlap, of course, there is. But for me, what this difference confirms is that the need for diversity and inclusion in tech is more necessary than ever. If we don’t prioritize inclusion, we have social problem-solvers working in one silo and tech experts working in another. This separation is a barrier to innovation. There is value to be found when we create systems that combine and support diverse teams of innovators. Technology alone won’t save us. But technology combined with complex social problem-solving will.

 

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