Shattering Stereotypes

Women and Girls in Non-Traditional Career Technology Education
Samantha Dorwin in Machine Technology Class at McCann Technical School in North Adams, MA.

Ian Schiffer / U.S. Dept of Education

Although progress has been made to ensure all girls and women have access to a quality education, I am reminded that forty-four years after the passage of Title IX, there are still lengthy strides to be made; fewer than two percent of plumbers, and three percent of electricians are women. In contrast, women and girls are disproportionately enrolled in career and technical education (CTE) programs for many traditionally lower-paying jobs.

This is why, the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) recently released guidance to make clear that all students, regardless of their sex, must have equal access to the full range of CTE programs offered.

Following the White House’s United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., ED joined other federal agencies and held an event focused on improving the lives of women and girls. In keeping with the theme, “Today, we’ll change tomorrow,” ED hosted over 100 community advocates, government leaders, students, influencers and innovators to discuss how access to CTE is helping all students, including girls and women, change the world.

The event was filled with architects, engineers, and other non-traditional advocates who shared personal experiences, best practices, and resources with the goal of making these professions more accessible to young women everywhere. Samantha Dorwin, the student speaker who gave an impassioned TED talk on her experiences in CTE, said, “As a graduate of a Machine Technology program, it is comforting to know that strides are being made, advancing opportunities for all students with special emphasis on helping strong, capable young women develop their voices and follow their dreams.”

Samantha’s passion for CTE and community building among attendees made me think of my education and how I can be an advocate for CTE.

Upon reflection, I believe, to achieve equity in CTE, men should not be left out of this conversation. As an aspiring male educator, I hope to teach boys to break down the lines between non-traditional and traditional. Currently, men make up less than three percent of early childhood education teachers; it is a shame that most boys will not experience the rewarding work of reading, laughing, and growing with young scholars. While studying at Pomona College, I have the distinct privilege of working as a pre-school teacher through Jumpstart; in the pre-school classroom, I experience the joys of learning in its purest sense, free from distractions and based on discovery and enthusiasm.

When thinking about my experience working in early childhood education, I recognize that, as a male, I face much different, and lesser, barriers than a young woman may face entering a field like architecture. While I confronted a strong internal bias that is rooted in gender roles, women have to face systemic discrimination in recruitment, admissions, and access. In tandem with pushing young boys and men to pursue careers that are fulfilling, we must support women and girls in CTE, to ultimately achieve the goal of universal access to CTE, regardless of gender.

Throughout the two days in Washington, over 5,000 women engaged in this summit, working toward meaningful change for girls and women across the country. From President Obama who said “that [he] may be a little grayer… but this is what a feminist looks like,” to Vice President Joe Biden, who highlighted efforts to end violence against women, to a powerful conversation between First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey who inspired attendees to work together to continue breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes. Throughout the day, speakers and participants chanted “When women succeed, America succeeds!” Events like the USOW bring us closer to realizing that goal.

Ian Schiffer is an intern in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.