Why do gender equality measures not work as expected?

Last week our ‘sister’ centre Nordicore hosted an excellent webinar at which Charlotte Silander from SLU in Uppsala spoke about gender equality measures in academe in Finland, Norway and Sweden. She and colleagues have categorized gender equality measures in terms of organizational ones and those aimed at individuals. They showed that all universities have organisational equality measures such as equality policies but measures aimed at individuals are less frequently employed. The higher education institutions in the three different countries also had these equality measures to diverse degrees. Interestingly, though, these measures and the extent to which institutions had them did not seem to effect the numbers of women in senior positions. Given that pretty much all institutions had organizational measures such as relevant policies, one answer which offers itself to this conundrum is Sara Ahmed’s (2012) analysis of institutional policies as ‘non-performative performatives’, i.e. as measures that are meant to do certain things but they do not. Those of us who live institutional professional lives are only too familiar with such non-performative performatives. The processualization of academic life since the 1990’s has certainly led to greater degrees of bureaucracy and answered demands for accountability but it has not necessarily resulted in better outcomes. Still, 2021 is only around the corner – let’s hope for the future!

Gabriele Griffin

An interesting question of research ethics

In her most recent blog post, Päivi Korvajärvi mentioned a conversation we had over Zoom with our Tampere Nordwit team, where we discussed the complexity of analyzing research interviews when the explicit and implicit content of the interviews are clearly contradictory. In this post I would like to expand on this conversation and the ethical dilemmas that arose from it.

One of my tasks as a research assistant is translating sections of interviews which were conducted in Finnish into English for international publication. This means that I’ve read through a lot of quotes from the interviews, intensely focused on capturing the exact meaning of what was said. What has caught my attention, more than anything else, is this: The women Nordwit has interviewed in Tampere for our research describe events and experiences in their academic careers that to us, reading the interviews with some level of gender studies expertise, seem obviously gendered and often openly discriminatory. The interviewees, however, appear to be very eager to offer up pretty much anything besides gender as an explanation or context for these experiences.

My belief is that this is a kind of defence mechanism: in order to survive in male-dominated fields that can be unwelcoming or outright hostile towards women, these women have had to choose not to acknowledge how their gender affects the way they are treated. To acknowledge that gender makes a difference in the workplace – often, for women, a negative difference – would mean having to acknowledge that there is a systematic problem and a structure of oppression, one that the individual academic employee is relatively powerless to change.

With a sense of powerlessness comes a lack of agency and feelings of victimhood, and women can’t function effectively in academia and do excellent research if they feel like they have no agency and are victims in their own workplaces. Therefore choosing to deny that there are gendered structures and inequalities becomes the only viable option for continuing their work in their chosen field. Not to mention that being one of the few women in a male-dominated setting and talking about gender equality is not a likely recipe for popularity among colleagues.

I am just an assistant and have not seen the entirety of the data, but in our discussion, my colleagues seemed to agree that this is a reoccurring theme in the interviews. They pointed out, however, that problem that then arises for them as researchers is how to address this phenomenon in their research and various publications. The goal, of course, is to treat the women who were kind enough to take the time to share their professional lives for the benefit of Nordwit’s research with utmost respect. Is it, therefore, ethical, let alone respectful, to call the interviewees’ experiences into question in such a way? And are we calling their experiences into question by pointing out the contradictions between the experiences they describe and how they explain them, or are we simply analysing the way they contextualise their experiences and through what kind of discourse they recount them? Do we have a right to do that, either?

Clearly, this is a significant problem, because it is fairly obvious that there are practices and structures in academia, particularly in male-dominated STEM fields, which produce gendered inequalities and injustice, and there is no other way to address and dismantle systemic injustice other than to first acknowledge that there is systemic injustice at play. Pointing out in research that there is a pattern of discrimination, despite the individuals’ claims that there is not, is essential in calling attention to the problems that must be addressed. But is it a disservice to our interviewees to contextualize their experiences in ways they don’t agree with? Are we sacrificing them to the cause of understanding gender inequality in academia? And if we are, can we justify it?

Liekki Valaskivi

What Brings Women to Cybersecurity?

This was the question I tried to answer at the European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference two weeks ago. Summing up a case study where we compare women in cybersecurity with women in other IT disciplines, I talked about which similarities and differences we found between the two groups. The study is based on 24 in-depth interviews with women studying or holding PhD, Postdoc or early research recruitment positions in academia, 12 in cybersecurity and 12 in other IT disciplines in STEM faculties.

Women are a minority in cybersecurity as well as IT in general, however, there has been some overall improvement in women’s participation, but not in cybersecurity. The graphs below visualize the massive male dominance in these disciplines.  

Women in Cybersecurity and women in other IT disciplines share some features, like a notable lack of knowledge about IT disciplines when they are in transition between upper secondary/high school and university. The unfortunate result is that stereotypical ideas of IT, with images of male «geeks» and «hooded gamers» who had started programming early, dominate women’s expectations of ICT at university, and they don’t see themselves fit within this image: «I had never programmed before in my life“. The interviews document that there is still a strong association of IT with masculine stereotypes, and more, such ideas about IT becomes a barrier for women to choose any IT disciplines, including cybersecurity.

There are also differences between women in cybersecurity and other IT fields, for instance that cybersecurity was described as open for a more varied set of competences. The women could recognize their own strengths and expertise from other disciplines, like arts and social sciences, as relevant in cybersecurity, and this became an important door opener for many of them. We also found that it was easier for women to understand and associate themselves with the goals of cybersecurity rather than with the goals of other IT disciplines. They saw cybersecurity as a field concerning «everybody» and everyday life, thus not only relevant for women but also in need of women.

You can hopefully read more when the paper is published by ACM as:
Corneliussen, H. G. (2020). What Brings Women to Cybersecurity? A Qualitative Study of Women’s Pathways to Cybersecurity in Norway, European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference (EICC 2020).

Update: the article is now published online by ACM

Gender Inequalities in Tech-Driven Research and Innovation: Living the Contradiction

A bit of good news during the November gloom: in the past week we had the offer of a contract from Policy Press (UK) for a book entitled Gender Inequalities in Tech-Driven Research and Innovation: Living the Contradiction which will deal with much of the research and many of the findings of our work in Nordwit. The book is likely to be published in the spring of 2022, so just when or immediately after our 5 years of Nordwit have finished. Writing it will keep us occupied during the next few months.

Among the issues that will be discussed in this volume is the question of how women arrive in tech-driven professions. Clearly at present we live in an age of workplace transformation as a function of the increasing technologization of workplaces. We have all found this during covid-19 when the need to work online – for those who can – has become paramount. For some this means that in the foreseeable future they will not return to an office; indeed, they may never. Simultaneously in many countries the acceleration of online retail etc. has changed both producer and consumer behaviour significantly. As I write this, one of the largest retail chains in the UK, Arcadia, is about to call in the receivers, with a potential loss of some 13,000 jobs. One reason for this business collapse is the massive move from offline to online shopping. For the 13,000 people whose job is at risk the immediate question is, where will they find new work? And what sort of skills will they need to make it in the new technologized/-ing workplaces? As we (still) struggle with zoom, even after months of self-taught adaptation to the new work situation, we note that many of us now inhabit technologized work places that were analogue in the past. This also means that our adaptation to our technologized work places has occurred in a context where we were not specifically trained for this.

Some of the studies in Nordwit have shown that women in particular arrive in technologized work places and work in tech-driven careers without necessarily having been educated or trained for this. They therefore do not make the education statistics (e.g. OECD) that detail the gendered structures of education. This also means that these statistics do not necessarily predict accurately what happens subsequently in people’s working lives. And: many jobs that are highly technologized are not necessarily labelled as such: the work of a university lecturer now is significantly different from what it was even a year ago. Covid-19 has certainly changed the world of work.

Gabriele Griffin