Guidance, carrots, and whips

NordForsk has written a nice text about our Nordwit research – available in English and in Scandinavian (Danish)

Guidance, carrots, and whips will get more women into the IT industry

… there is no point in having political guidelines for gender equality that cannot be implemented in practice. These guidelines need to be followed up to ensure that they’re implemented. Only then do they take effect — Gabriel Griffin

…We want politicians to wake up. We know that politics is a good tool for strengthening gender equality. So we have to look at how to regulate it. Gender equality rules and norms are very general and overarching. If you really want a change within, for example, the IT industry, you must regulate things more clearly. — Hilde G. Corneliussen

Gender troubles in research and innovation work in Finland

Organizations are places where gender inequalities are experienced in the everyday work life. However, the highly educated Finnish women, some identifying themselves feminists, that we interviewed within the Nordwit program seemed not to emphasize gender issues very strongly in their organizations. On the contrary, in our analysis we found that the women often seemed to downplay gender effects in the R&I organizations. In addition, they seemed to find gender insignificant in their working environments. When being asked questions related to gender, the interviewed women usually referred to two issues: (1) their own, often non-existent, experiences of gender discrimination, or (2) themselves as mothers. Why is that?

Continue reading “Gender troubles in research and innovation work in Finland”

A need for taking into account the boundaryless work cultures in family-oriented policies

Though digitalization is changing the landscape of information and communication technology (ICT) work and increases the need for ICT expertise in non-technical fields, the unequal gender divisions of labor in care and household responsibilities remain barriers to women’s career development in ICT research, development, and innovation. In our study we have asked how women working as ICT experts in such settings negotiate work and family responsibilities in the context of Norwegian gender egalitarian culture.

In male-dominated ICT fields with a ‘greedy’ and boundaryless work culture, the image of the ‘ideal worker’ is still shaped according to a male norm involving less responsibility for childcare. In this vein, women’s negotiation of work and family responsibilities is about navigating gendered work cultures and norms. Our study shows that women experience that career development in ICT requires working more than full-time. The women who experienced losing out on career-development, worked ‘full-time’ while describing their experience as a choice of having family over a career. Women who worked more than full-time found the solution in private support rather than work-life balance policies such as publicly available childcare. These women argued that it was often the partner’s predictable and less ‘greedy’ work patterns that enabled them to work more than full-time.

Our study illustrates working more than full-time is experienced as a requirement for career development in fields of ICT. Family-oriented national policies and work-life policies such as ‘flexibility of work’ become less relevant for supporting career development. Instead, the necessary navigations and negotiations to achieve career development in fields of ICT are left to individuals and to be dealt in their private sphere.

The measures to tackle these challenges are:

  • Family-oriented policies should to a larger degree take into consideration the boundaryless work cultures in male-dominated fields such as ICT
  • Work-life policies should look beyond ‘flexibility-of-work’ as it is not sufficient for career development in the fields where the norm is to work ‘more than full-time’
  • Work-life balance policies should also have career-life solutions

Read more about this in the Nordwit research:

Seddighi, G. & Corneliussen, H. G. (2021) The Illusion of Balance: Women in ICT Working Full-Time and Still Having a Feeling of Opting OutFeminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics, 5(2): 26.

To be published during the spring of 2022: ‘If it has been only me, it would not have worked out’: women negotiating conflicting challenges of ICT work and family in Norway, by Seddighi and Corneliussen, to be published in a book edited by Gabriele Griffin: Gender Inequalities in Tech-Driven Research and innovation: Living the Contradiction.

Gilda Seddighi

What about gender equality plans?

The new Horizon requirement, that each institution applying for European research money has to have a gender equality plan covering certain areas pre-defined by the European Commission, has stirred quite a lot of activity all across Europe. In the Nordwit countries we have had mandatory gender equality plans for quite a number of years. Have they helped to alleviate the “Nordic paradox” – relatively few women on the higher echelons of research institutions and enterprises in the technical sector?

In the Nordwit team we can agree that they certainly haven’t solved the problem as the issue is still well alive. We also agree that we haven’t come across gender equality plans in our research – they are conspicuous by their absence in our material, i.e. our interviewees and collaborators did not refer to them as tools for working with gender equality. When discussing the reasons for this we first established what we already knew: Despite the legal requirements, not all employers have crafted such plans.

This is bound to change with the Horizon requirement. However, we also talked about other aspects, which probably will remain: We know that even when plans do exist they often are not implemented or are implemented only partially. The employees are often not aware nor interested in the plans and do not know what the plans contain.  And as long as gender equality work is perceived as negative and conflictual – a stance we, as well as other researchers in the Nordic countries, have come across in our studies – any gender equality plans are difficult to implement.

The Horizon requirement has raised high hopes among gender equality workers and gender equality proponents. Certainly it has put gender equality on agendas, in particular in countries where such issues have hardly been touched in organizational management. However, it remains to be seen whether the plans actually will lead to significantly increased gender equality. The expectation that they will do so seems to build on a view that gender equality an organizational change process that can be implemented top down – disregarding the substantial amount of research showing what kinds of active and passive resistance at different levels in an organization often obstruct gender equality initiatives.

In 2017 the legal requirement for employers to have a gender equality plan was discontinued in Sweden. At that time such a legal requirement had been in force for more than 25 years. Now there is a legal requirement for employers to be able to account for the gender equality work they have done. While this may not change things as such – law enforcement is necessarily not changing – it still signals what we have learnt during those 25 years: Plans do not promote gender equality. Only engagement and actions do.

Minna Salminen Karlsson

Nordwit documents the need for better statistics of women’s participation in ICT work

(Shutterstock: License Vestforsk)

A continuous under-representation of women in ICT has been the focus of research in Nordic as well as other western countries. A recurring question has been: how can we recruit more women to ICT? Answering this question, however, requires knowledge about what make women enter fields of ICT.

Our study of women who have already chosen a career in various fields of ICT and digitalization has shown that many women have not followed a ‘conventional’ route to ICT, that is: making the “right choices” at high school and moving on to ICT at university level. Rather, most of the 28 women we interviewed in a case study in Norway had found other, less conventional routes to ICT:

  • Some of the women had already started on a non-tech university degree, before changing direction or returning to university for a second degree in ICT;
  • some of the women had gradually moved towards ICT through the increasing digitalization of their original non-tech discipline or field;
  • and some of the women had found work opportunities within projects and companies focusing on digitalization and ICT innovation because their non-tech competences were needed.

The routes that the women have followed, and the consequences of their movements and changing directions, are not fully reflected in publicly available statistics. There are gaps, for instance, in identifying ICT as a second degree after a change of educational direction, thus also women’s double education/competence background when entering IT work remains invisible, and the same goes for the pattern of women with a non-tech education entering vital positions in IT and core fields of digitalization.

The Nordwit research thus suggests that improvements are needed in statistics about women’s participation in ICT-driven work, and here are some examples:

  • We need to develop statistical models that enable accurate capture of new forms of working, circuitous routes into ICT and technologized fields, and movement across jobs;
  • Make it a routine to have systematic entry and exit interviews when people start/leave jobs (for instance to identify how women’s career/work paths are gendered);
  • Gender equality statistics, as illustrated by the Nordwit research, should be informed by qualitative research findings, suggesting also that national offices of statistics could benefit from collaborating with researchers in the field.

Target groups for the advices are not only the national offices of statistics, but also ministries, EC, trans/national bodies (e.g. OECD, governmental labour surveys), trades unions, employer-employee forums, private research organizations, and NGOs.

Read more about these topics from the Nordwit research:

  • Simonsen, M., & Corneliussen, H. G. (2020). What Can Statistics Tell About the Gender Divide in ICT? Tracing Men and Women’s Participation in the ICT Sector Through Numbers. In D. Kreps, T. Komukai, G. TV, & K. Ishii (Eds.), Human-Centric Computing in a Data Driven Society (379-397). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
  • Corneliussen, H. G. (2021). A Random Choice, Late Discovery, and Penalty Rounds: Mapping women’s pathways to information technology education. In P. Kommers & M. Macedo (Eds.), Proceedings of the IADIS International Conferences ICT, Society and Human Beings; Web Based Communities and Social Media 2021; and e-Health 2021 (37-44): IADIS Press.
  • To be published during the spring of 2022: Unconventional routes into ICT work: Learning from women’s own solutions for working around gendered barriers, by Corneliussen & Seddighi, to be published in a book edited by Gabriele Griffin: Gender Inequalities in Tech-Driven Research and innovation: Living the Contradiction.

The ’work-work balance’ – an old issue that had no name?

Covid-19 has taught everybody much more about the dreaded ‘work-life’ balance, a term that has been around since the women’s liberation movement to describe the imbalance between the demands of work and those of home that affect women. Relegating much work to the home, covid-19 demonstrated just how difficult working from home actually is if one has inadequate housing/space for this and also has other family members at home making competing demands on one’s time and resources.

But amidst the now long-standing debates about the work-life (in)balance, another equally important issue, here termed ‘work-work balance’ has been obscured, namely the ways in which one’s working life can be made impossible by simultaneous conflicting irreconcilable work demands. We know about these issues mostly through statistics associated with burn-out and stress amongst workers, and through long-term sick leave statistics which in Sweden are notoriously high.

Continue reading “The ’work-work balance’ – an old issue that had no name?”

Action research for gender equality in research and innovation

Lessons learned regarding the benefits and shortcoming of the methodology of action research as a source of recommendations for practical measures through which organisations can achieve change.

I have done action research (AR) to examine gender equality and the engagement of actors at various levels of society over decades. In Nordwit, for example, researchers collaborated with regional developers in South-West Finland. Action research (firstly) engages with the practices of the participating actors and (secondly) explores the dynamics of these practices. The first aspect, engaging with the practices of actors, can be achieved also with other methods such as ethnography or fine-grained interviews. Researchers who use all these methods often, for example, observe that gender equality is implemented in the practices of research and innovation (RI) organisations, funding agencies and governmental bodies only in a limited manner, although gender equality is supposed to be mainstreamed in the Nordic countries. They then suggest that RI organisations should take measures to implement gender equality in a more appropriate manner. The second aspect of AR takes this on board and interrogates the specific dynamics of the RI organizations’  practices, for example, why and how the implementation of gender equality fails and how it could be made successful effective. In AR, researchers and actors together reflect on the findings (i.e. gender equality is not implemented), then collaboratively identify key practices which fail, and then tackle them together. Researchers can facilitate the process at the very level of the actors’ practices in question. Collaborative workshops are commonly used methods in AR, allowing actors to learn new perspectives at the level of their own everyday practices, and then applying new knowledge in their further work.

Continue reading “Action research for gender equality in research and innovation”

Final Nordwit Conference goes online-only

In mid-January 2022 we are still in the grip of covid-19, or omicron, as the current variant is known. Uppsala University has advised teaching and working from home where possible and travel restrictions continue to abound and change in unpredictable ways. Given this, the Nordwit team have, with considerable regret, decided to hold the final conference online only.
It will take place on 10-11 February 2022, and the program will go ahead as planned.

Conference registration deadline: 1 February 2022
Read more and register here!

The postfeminist discourse of women entrepreneurs in Finland and Turkey

In my previous blog post, I briefly explained my PhD project “Gendered entrepreneurship in innovative sectors: A comparative study between Finland and Turkey”. In this blog post, I will give some insight into the main findings. I analyzed 29 interviews with women entrepreneurs from both Finland and Turkey to find out how gender shapes the entrepreneurship of innovative women and what strategies they develop to overcome gendered structural and interactional constraints in the sector.

Through a discourse analysis of my data I find that gender is constantly done and re-done and both Finnish and Turkish participants use postfeminist discourses as a tool to ignore existing inequalities. For example, Finnish respondents mostly see existing inequalities as a problem that concerns other countries and states as Finland is considered to have achieved gender equality. The Turkish participants express that structural inequality is part of Turkish society, but interestingly they state that inequality is not a problem for themselves but for other women who work in the same sector or other sectors. Another interesting common point between Finnish and Turkish participants is the use of postfeminist rhetoric of “individualization”.  However, Turkish and Finnish participants address this postfeminist concept from different perspectives. While Finnish participants express the inequalities they encounter in enterprises they do not view it as a structural problem but as a problem arising from the personality of individual men who work with them. Turkish participants, on the other hand, consider gender inequality to be structurally based. Still, they express that they do not encounter any inequality because they are women with strong characters who can overcome inequalities. They blame other female entrepreneurs for not taking the correct actions to address the inequality problem in the sector. They display statements that support the “strong,” “do-what-you-want” woman figure that postfeminism constantly keeps on the agenda.

To put this simply, participants in both countries commonly use postfeminist discourses to ignore inequalities, but different sociocultural characteristics make a difference in the way these discourses are used. However, the different expressions of postfeminist discourses do not eliminate the inequalities existing in the sector and strengthen the claim that postfeminism renders inequalities invisible.

Demet Demirez
PhD Student at Tampere University