What can you do to support workplace diversity? Highlight the role of hard work for success rather than innate talent

[Zombie ideas in understanding gender, vol. 3]

One of the most persistent and deep-rooted of all beliefs about human nature is that natural talent (i.e. an innate ability to excel at a specific activity) plays a major role in deciding who will be among the most excellent. No one has ever found a gene variant that predicts peak performance in any given field and no one has ever come up with a way to identify future stars early in their careers. Not according to the Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson. His research of expert performance in domains such as medicine, music, chess, and sports points to quite a different explanation of why some people excel, and others do not with deliberate practice (e.g. a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic) playing the leading role. As we can see from this quote, his rebuttal of natural talent has a democratizing intent, hoping to prevent those identified as not having the “right” genes from being marginalized or excluded:

It can beget a tendency to assume that some people have a talent for something and others don’t and that you can tell the difference early on. If you believe that, you encourage and support the “talented” ones and disencourage the rest, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy. It is human nature to want to put effort – time, money, teaching, encouragement, support – where it will do the most good and also to try to protect kids from disappointment. There is usually nothing nefarious going on here, but the results can be incredibly damaging. The best way to avoid this is to recognize the potential in all of us – and work to find ways to develop it. (Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool, 2016, Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things, 241-242)

There is also gender aspects in this prevailing myth that genetics strongly limit abilities. One study has found that the belief in natural talent, coupled with the societal tendency to associate brilliance with men and not women, can tip the gender balance in academic fields. The study shows a correlation between the belief that an academic discipline requires innate talent and the scarce numbers of women in that discipline. The culture of the field undermines representation because of stereotypes about intellectual ability, although there has never been proven any real intellectual difference between genders (Leslie et al. 2015). It is one of the persistent beliefs around gender, a zombie idea, which also explains why some ethnic minorities are under-represented in a similar way. According to the research, emphasizing that genius and natural talent are required to succeed can stop women and minority groups from pursuing careers in certain fields. Thus, recommendations for anyone wanting to increase the diversity in the workplace is to

  • Highlight the role of hard work for success rather than innate talent. It is unrealistic to expect peak performance from all employees in all types of works. Nevertheless, to give the right conditions for deliberate practice, such as time, money, mentoring etc. will give more leeway for developing the full potential and abilities of women (and men) at work.
  • Pointing out equal abilities might also help shatter the gender stereotypes. There is no better way to do that than to make counter-stereotypical female role models

Nina Almgren 

Nordwit represented at EuroScience Open Forum 2018

Next week, 9-14 July, the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) will take place in Toulouse, France. A huge event, with much interesting research. On the 10th of July, NordForsk will arrange a 75-minute session that will feature presentations by Nordwit and Nordicore and a panel discussion on challenges and potential remedies.

Here you can read more about NordForsk’s session on ESOF.

Exploring the Gendered Politics of Role Models in Technology

“Models” were the theme of the Fjordkonferanse in Norway 21-22 June 2018 in which Hilde G. Corneliussen, Carol A. Dralega, and Gilda Seddighi took part with a paper based on the interviews with women in technology-related careers in Norway.

Models are often developed to give an explanation about the relationships between two phenomena by focusing on the features that are identified as essential. Models are not representation of reality, however we might forget that the same hierarchies and power relations we observe in the society might influence the way models are developed. We took up this aspect of developing models through the discussion on “role models” and to discuss how women in technology relate to the question of role model.
This is the abstract for the paper:

Exploring the Gendered Politics of Role Models in Technology

Hilde G. Corneliussen, Carol A. Dralega, Gilda Seddighi

Western Norway Research Institute

Norway, among the highest scoring countries in the world in measures of gender equality (no.2 in World Economic Forum’s 2017 rating), is still lagging behind when it comes to equality in ICT and technology in educations. Less than one in four of the students are women, and less than 10% women in the more technical subjects. One circular effect of this is that there are few female role models for girls and younger women within these fields, and this lack of people to associate with creates an effect for girls suggesting that “you cannot be what you cannot see”. One solution is to create more role models by identifying and edifying women working in technology. But this is not as simple as it appears since there is still a strong discursive mismatch between feminine identity and technology in Western culture. For instance, it has been suggested that working with technology might appear as “gender in-authentic” for women and that women sometimes feel that they have to “give up” part of the gender identity when entering the field of technology. This is the context for our research question: how do women with a career in technology relate to the question of role models? The paper is based on interviews with women working with technology in Sogn & Fjordane that have been conducted for the project “Women in Technology-Driven Careers”, a Nordic Centre of Excellence funded by Nordforsk.

Gilda Seddighi

Space matters

grovemade-694870-unsplashWhat is your ritual to enter into the spirit of writing? Clean the room first? Listen to right music? Sit for a while just staring out of the window? These are some of the routines that came up to my mind when I listened to a presentation on academic writing at a recent conference on Academic Timescapes in Prague. Many of us seem to need some kind of rite of passage to get into a right mood of serious text production.

But what kind of space is needed for these rituals? At the last Nordwit meeting we talked a lot about the importance of space. This goes for academic writing too. At the Prague conference I heard about a new and trendy university building abundant in glass, open space and possibilities for continuous interaction and bustle. For some, this architectonic elegance was a real nightmare, which made concentration on writing more or less impossible. In this situation, one of the most bizarre coping methods was to flee to the fire escape, the only space available in the university building for reflection in peace and quiet.

Space matters, both physically and mentally. It is no wonder that people so often say that they go to the university only to teach and admin, for writing they stay at home. Home offers a protected space and therefore it is a cosy, intimate and safe place to write. Home is surely a good option, but then again, only for those who have ‘a room of one’s own’. Once more we end up with unequal conditions in academic work and career building: spatial inequalities create and reinforce social inequalities. What do your writing rituals tell about your spatial standing?

Oili-Helena Ylijoki

5o Years of Software Engineering – Challenges, Results and Opportunities in Education: Panel Discussion @ the conference ITiCSE 2018 in Cyprus

I have been invited as a panelist to discuss “50 years of software engineering – challenges, results and opportunities” at the 23 annual conference of Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE 2018) that will take place in Larnaca, Cyprus.

I will be on the panel with Stephan Krusche, Bruce Scharlau and Janet Hughes and we have submitted a short paper describing our different positions. In my talk I will focus on two ways in which software engineering educaiton needs to change to address future challenges. The first is that we need a stronger focus on development of professional competencies for our students to be able to address complex and wicked problems. The second is that we need to address the gender stereotyping of ICT as a male subject, as this is really hindering development of the field. To be able to change the male stereotyping we need to understand carreer trajectories and choises of women in technology driven areas – which is exactly what NordWit is focusing at. We also need to work with change preferrably driven by action research collabroations – we have that in NordWit too :-). We’ll see what comments and new insights I will get through the discussions and the panel. Looking forward to a nice conference and a nice discussion!

My position statement:

To develop and deploy information and communications technology (ICT) in organizations is difficult and often users think that the ICT is too complex and has major flaws. We are indeed getting better at software engineering, and we know that today’s approaches such as Agile work better than their predecessors. If we could make use of todays’ knowledge on the situation we had 50 years ago we would be fine. However, the complexity of ICT has grown substantially. Many users are engaged with around 15-25 different software systems in their work, and we have an ecology of different devices. The future is increasingly complex with virtual reality, robots and automation. We need to address these challenge in education in at least two different ways. First, we need to prepare our students to work with complex, wicked problems that are not easily solved. Second, the gendered stereotyping of ICT as a male subject means that we fail to realize the full potential of ICT talent in the population. Men and women have different, gendered experience, and can contribute with different perspectives.

Åsa Cajander

Paper Accepted for Frontiers in Education: “Why are We Here? The Educational Value Model (EVM) as a Framework to Investigate the Role of Students’ Professional Identity Development”

Sometimes papers materialize quickly based on many hours of discussions in good collaborations with people you share ideas with. A few weeks ago, one such paper that emerged from furious discussions of identity, gender and professional identity was accepted for Frontiers in Education.

Frontiers in Education is a well-known and highly ranked conference in computer science education that has a track on gender and computing. The conference will run in Uppsala in the fall 2020 and NordWit will most probably be involved in organizing it as my colleagues Mats Daniels and Arnold Pears are in the committee for the conference.

The paper is a discussion paper related to our experiences of development of professional identitues, and professional identity formation.

The paper was written together with Aletta Nylén, Mats Daniels, Arnold Pears, Roger McDermott and Ville Isomottonen and will appear online after the conference in the fall 2018.

Here is the abstract:

Education can be seen as a preparation for a future profession, where some educational programs very clearly prepare their students for a certain profession, e.g. plumber, nurse and architect. The possible professions for students following education programs in computing is quite varied and thus difficult to cater for, but to educate towards a professional life is still a stated goal in most higher education settings. We argue that this goal is typically not even closely reached and provide an analysis indicating factors explaining this situation. The analysis is based on the concept of professional identity. In earlier work [anonymous] a framework with which to reason about student interactions with the regulatory structure of higher education and teachers was developed. In that paper we developed a compound model which not only relates these players to one another, but also provides approaches to reasoning about misalignments which arise when students and teachers approach their shared learning context from different perspectives. This framework is in this paper applied to address different aspects of professional identity with the intent of bringing forth deeper insights into challenges with educating towards professions. This issue is highly complex and the framework provides a structure that is beneficial for analysing different aspects in a more holistic manner.

Åsa Cajander