Trondheim Workshop on Gender and Equity in Academia

Image from Pixabay

A couple of weeks ago, just before the expansion of the corona-virus in the Nordic countries, I attended a workshop “Gender and Equity in the Contemporary Academy: Kick-Off Workshop for the GENDIM Project in Trondheim, Norway. The GENDIM project, led by Professor Vivian Lagesen from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, investigates the gender dynamics underlying gender imbalance among university academics. The project takes as its starting point the concept “epistemic living space” (Felt 2009), enabling the investigation of epistemic, spatial, temporal, symbolic and social dimensions of academic work and career building in the current neoliberal environment.

Several presentations discussed the discrepancy between gender balance and meritocracy. It is generally agreed that gender balance is a good thing and work to reach gender balance in academia is an important goal. At the same time, people, both men and women, emphasise the importance of academic merits in university recruitments and career progression. Female academics in particular, tend to assure over and over again that they have attained their positions due to their merits, not because of gender balance measures. The same tension between gender balance and meritocracy is apparent also in our interviews with Finnish female academics.

How to become a professor and have career success was another topic that resonates very well with our Finnish findings, just to name a few issues that were eagerly discussed over the workshop. Based on interview material gathered in Norway, Vivian Lagesen distinguished four narratives of how professors make sense of their career trajectories: 1. Narratives of self-inclusion, emphasising hard work in a meritocratic and competitive system, 2. Narrative of ‘tailwind’ in which the interviewees, often with an academic background, have always taken more or less for granted that they will become professors,  3. Narrative of supported inclusion, characterised by help, encouragement and support from networks, and 4. Narratives of ‘headwind’, involving various hardships in a chilly university climate. Sarah R. Davies, drawing on her interviews, gave four pieces of advice of how to become a professor: Work hard, Know the right people, Be lucky, and Be focused. This logic, she underlined, represents individualisation of responsibility.

As a whole, the workshop raised a wide array of important issues concerning, among other things, gender, career, race, policy, power, and inclusion in the neoliberal university context. Both similarities and differences among the Nordic countries became evident. This will offer valuable background against which our Finnish findings can be mirrored and reflected on.

Felt, U. (2009) Knowing and living in academic research: Convergence and heterogeneities in European research cultures. Prague: Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.


Oili-Helena Ylijoki

Defining Digital Excellence from a Gender Perspective

NordWit has a new brief spin-off project where the results from our work in the centre gives important input. The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet, UKÄ), together with the The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket), has been commissioned to analyse and propose how the supply of digital excellence can be developed in the short and long term. The assignment includes the development of improved statistics and forecasts of the total need for competence in business and the public sector with the aim of improving the conditions for universities and universities to meet the need for excellence in the short and long term. However, there is no accepted definition of what digital excellence is. The new project hence aims to develop a definition of the concept of digital excellence. The definition should form the basis for UKÄ and the Swedish Growth Agency’s project.

Åsa Cajander will be a part of a team that will work on a definition of Excellent Digital Competence in the spring 2020. The work will be led by Professor Jan Gulliksen and the other members of the team are professor Arnold Pears and Mattias Wiggberg. The team is composed of people with complementary skills to create the best possible working group, and my area of specialty in comparison to the others is the gender perspective.

Digital excellence is likely to include a basic broad knowledge of the basics of digitalisation as well as in-depth expertise in one or more sub-areas, such as programming technology, AI, data security or user experiences, just to name a few. Digital excellence also certainly includes some form of documented practical experience of actively participating in several successful development projects. One can also discuss how digital excellence is connected to ethics, and how gender plays a role. Our studies from NordWit about careers in technology driven areas are of course a great input in this work. My perspective is that it is important that the definition of digital excellence is gender inclusive and opens up for aspects that are traditionally female coded, such as caring for society and people.

The OECD notes that the lack of digital specialists and digital excellence is a bottleneck for innovation and growth in Sweden. The need is expected to increase in the coming years as digitalisation develops and new technologies such as AI will have an impact.

In order to work with this on a political level there is a need for a definition of Excellent Digital Competence, and the team is working with this using several different methods:

  • Literature studies to map the state of knowledge, analyses of identified documents
  • Short interviews to capture the different needs of the target groups, both from industry and academia
  • Continuous reconciliation meetings with clients to clarify the work and give it direction and to iteratively refine and improve the quality of the result
  • Workshop/Focus groups to discuss and anchor proposed definitions, as well as to anchor the work and to get input into problem picture
  • Design thinking methodology for developing creative innovative solutions

Our work will be presented in a report in the spring 2020.

Åsa Cajander

NordWit presenting at Vitalis 2020

Svenska mässan
Svenska Mässan, Gothenburg

Vitalis is a yearly event in Gothenburg, and presents itself as the Nordic region’s leading eHealth meeting. At Vitalis, people from municipalities, regions, authorities, companies and academia meet to discuss the challenges and solutions of the future in healthcare. This year NordWit will be presenting a study on managers and the implementation of patient accessible electronic health records in different regions in Sweden. NordWit’s Åsa Cajander and Hilde Corneliussen has been working with the study together with Gunilla Myreteg and Kari Dyb.  The presentation will be part of a session on health care professional’s perspectives and will take place on Monday the 5th of May 14-14.30. The session is organised in collaboration with INERA who coordinates eHealth in Sweden. 

In the presentation we will present different implementations strategies used in five different regions in Sweden when patient accessible electronic health records were implemented, and discuss how gender is perceived to have played a role in the work. In our study we interviewed fourteen different leaders in the implementation process, and the questions ranged from how they perceived the implementation to how they experience that gender plays a role in their work.

Åsa Cajander


Identified knowledge gaps on women in ICT

Gender imbalance is a key issue in the ICT research of Western Norway Research Institute. In a recent report, two researchers gather all available statistics on the participation of women in the ICT sector, which is expected to see rapid expansion in coming years. – We aim to fill the identified knowledge gaps through qualitative research, says Hilde G. Corneliussen.

By Idun A. Husabø
Researcher and communication advisor at Western Norway Research Institute (Vestlandsforsking)

The statistical report on women in information and communication technology (ICT) in Norway is the result of fruitful, inter-disciplinary collaboration between ICT researcher and historian Hilde G. Corneliussen and Morten Simonsen, statistician at the same institute. The purpose of the research was to build a foundation for further research on the topic of the lasting and worrying gender imbalance in professions related to ICT.

– Western countries all share this gender imbalance in ICT. This also characterizes the Nordic countries, contrary to how they are usually associated with a high degree of gender equity. It is of great importance to establish the exact figures in order to gain closer insight into the issue, says Corneliussen, who has conducted considerable research in this area and is currently part of a Nordic Centre of Excellence on women in technology-driven professions, Nordwit.

A widening gap

Statistics tell a story of underrepresentation of women in ICT, both in Norway as well as in many other countries. Although the balance has been somewhat improved in later years, a satisfactory balance is far ahead, as the digitalization of society is only about to begin.

Soon, a large share of jobs will require formal competence within ICT. The current gender gap is therefore likely to widen, rather than the opposite, unless more women are recruited to ICT educations and careers.

Preparing the ground for comparison

Gaining an overview of the Norwegian statistics and deeper insight into the figures, has been a prerequisite for later comparisons with statistics from other countries.

As an example, the report shows that female employees constitute approximately 20 percent, i.e. one fifth, of the total number of ICT professionals.

– The exact share at which one arrives in each country, is highly dependent on the chosen approach to counting and coding employees. Therefore, it is necessary to study the underlying premises. Having completed this process, we are now ready to start comparing the situation in different countries, says Corneliussen.

Decisions and power

Digitalization is expected to spread across professions previously not considered ‘technical’, including, for example, nursing, which is already facing increasing use of digital technologies in health care services. Thus, soon, people without an ICT background will be required to take important decisions regarding the use of ICT.

ICT experts will also be given many important tasks on the basis of their technical competence.

– Unavoidably, a group of professionals who develop solutions and services for all of society, will hold a certain power. This is why gender balance in ICT is of such great importance, says Corneliussen.

Shedding light on a variety of stories

One might say that the main purpose of the report compiled by Simonsen and Corneliussen is to identify the missing pieces in the larger picture.

As an example, a small group of female employees has caught the attention of the researchers: those who are employed in the ICT sector, but do not receive a salary – in other words, women who are self-employed and freelance workers.

– One of the issues we will be looking more closely at, is what motivated these women to be self-employed, and whether their decisions were related to factors such as working conditions in ICT enterprises, Corneliussen says.

– Figures are important, but we will not find all the answers by looking solely at the statistics. Qualitative research is needed in order to shed light on a variety of stories from women in ICT work. Hopefully, a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods will eventually provide us with a deeper understanding of women’s participation in the ICT sector, says Morten Simonsen.

Read the full report here:

(Produced for by Idun A. Husabø)