Graduate course in gender an eHealth

In the fall of 2021, the Nordwit team at Uppsala University will arrange a course at advanced (PhD and Master’s) level on gender and digital technologies in healthcare. The course will run on Zoom during Tuesday and Thursday mornings in October. The primary target group is advanced students in medicine and care related disciplines, but other disciplines are not excluded.

Caring professions are becoming increasingly digitalized. People who chose to be nurses, doctors and other kinds of healthcare professionals find themselves increasingly interacting with digital technologies instead of directly with patients. This development is experienced as both good and problematic. However, how gender is intertwined with the entry of computers in healthcare organizations, and how it influences both staff and patients is a topic that is insufficiently discussed.

Our aim with the course is to help and inspire those who plan for a further career in healthcare research and development to consider the potential gender aspects of the digital transformation that is taking place. We do not expect particular prior knowledge on gender issues, but start with discussing gender in healthcare organizations and gender and technology more in general, before turning to the actual topic of the course: digital tools that are used by healthcare staff. Our guest lecturers come from Sweden, Norway and Ireland, each representing their particular research areas: gender and AI in healthcare; women, technology and careers in healthcare; implementation of digital health services for carers and cared; gender, age and technology; and gender, ethics and healthcare technology. Taken together these different areas show how gender is relevant in many different ways in the digitalization of healthcare. They are also pointing at a number of issues and aspects that are still waiting for being researched to inform practice, so that digital healthcare will provide effective and empowering tools for different kinds of users.  

Åsa Cajander, one of the course leaders is professor at the Institution for information technology, in Human-computer interaction. She does research in relation to ICT and work, mainly health care and the IT systems that connect health care with the patients, and public authorities and their IT systems used for administration of services. In addition to having a gender perspective in her research, Åsa is a gender equality practitioner, being the gender equality adviser to the university vice-chancellor. The other course leader is Minna Salminen-Karlsson, associate professor in Sociology at the Centre for Gender Research. She has researched ICT education and ICT workplaces in a gender perspective, and has also worked as a practitioner, being a gender equality specialist at the university. Their common interest in gender, ICT and work has brought Åsa and Minna together in researching gender aspects in the digitalization of healthcare, from the perspective of healthcare workers.

We look forward to meeting postgraduate students with different experiences and different research interests in the domain of healthcare. The course is free of charge, but the number of places is limited. For those who only want a taster as an eye-opener, the readings and seminar discussions on the course will give 3 ECTS. For those who already want to try their hands on examining a particular issue more in depth, writing a course paper will give additional 2 ECTS.

We are happy to provide more information about the course:

Åsa Cajander,
Minna Salminen-Karlsson,

Registration page to be found here >>

Measures ensuring gender equality fall short when the boundary between working hours and family life becomes increasingly blurred

The pandemic has made the boundary between working hours and family life even more blurred, and many wonder how this will affect working life in the future. We may find some answers in fields such as information technology (IT), where measures ensuring gender equality fall short and the gender balance is still uneven.

Norway is celebrated as a country with good arrangements ensuring women to participate in working life on an equal footing with men. But is that so?

If it had been only me, it would never have worked,” said a mother when she described her career in IT. She was one of 28 women we interviewed for our Nordwit-study on women’s careers in IT.

Norway and the other Nordic countries score high in international indexs of gender equality. This is the result of many decades of political struggles of which we are reaping the benefits today, in the form of schemes such as full daycare coverage for children over one year, flexible parental leave and a separate paternity leave. This policy has helped many women to return to the labor market earlier after giving birth. By comparison, one in three Italian women leaves work after having their first child.

IT is one of the fields in Norway where arrangements supposed to ensure gender equality come short. The field is still today male-dominated, characterized by competition, high wages and long working days, and consequently a difficult working place for women with care responsibilities. Some studies have shown that women in IT often have more flexible working conditions, but also longer working days, than women in female-dominated occupations. This reflects a work culture that we can call “greedy” – that is, a culture demanding and expecting work commitments exceeding normal working hours.

In contrast to the dominant narratives of working women in media, for instance describing a tradition of women reducing their work engagement due to “a choice to prioritize family over work”, the women in our study work full time even when they have described a choice of prioritizing children and family over careers. These women felt that they had given up their careers even when they worked 100 percent.

The women who described their experience of having a good career development, by comparison, worked more than full time. This was possible because they had a partner or close family who could contribute to care for children and family. This indicates that the balance between work and family life is an illusion in industries where the job routinely supplies itself with the employee’s leisure and family time in the form of frequent work trips, courses and meetings in the afternoon and long working days.

Flexible working hours has been an important work arrangement for creating a better “balance” between responsibilities related to family and work. Like other studies, our analysis shows that flexible working hours can, surprisingly, put more strain on women by making it acceptable (even expected) to work both evenings and weekends. The problem is that flexible work in this form, as more work in the space and place of family life, is an addition to other care responsibilities that women often have the main responsibility for.

Our study thus shows that when women succeed in career development in fields such as IT, it is not women’s flexible working hours that are the most important measure. On the contrary, it is their partners’ flexible working hours and predictable work routines and their choice of using it to childcare, that gives women the space they need to develop their career. As one of our informants said: “I commute to work, and then my husband picks up and delivers the children every day. But also the one day a week that I work from home, it is still him who picks up and delivers the children, since he is a teacher.” Here we move into an area that politicians cannot reach directly: the private sphere – the way couples negotiate to make their everyday lives run smoothly. Negotiations that are necessary for women in fields such as IT to achieve a better balance between family and career appears to remain a chapter between those at home. A different way of seeing it is to ask for new ways of promoting gender equality in working life. An important issue right now is to keep an eye on the changes that the pandemic has brought with it: the home office – working where and when we want to. The new home office might strengthen women’s participation in working life. At the same time, the increased flexibility at the home office may prove to be a double-edged sword for working women. This should, however, not be considered a private sphere issue, but rather be noticed by both employers and trade unions, and it should concern everyone who still cares about gender equality.

Gilda Seddighi and Hilde G. Corneliussen

Changing workscapes

Two weeks ago we had our 6-monthly extended Nordwit Centre meeting – who would have thought a year ago that in April 2021 we would still all be on zoom?! But the experience made clear, in more ways than one, that we have all begun to get used to what I call ‘changing workscapes’ – changing work environments in which where and how we work has adapted to the necessities of the covid situation.

But beyond that it has catapulted many people including our Centre members into much more strongly technologized work environments. Many of us now work in what we in the Centre describe as ‘tech-driven’ jobs, of necessity, as we commune and do our work mainly or even exclusively via various types of digital platforms. And only yesterday morning (6 May) it was announced in the news in the UK that 43 out of 46 large organizations surveyed had declared that they did not envisage a return-to-the-office-as-before scenario for their workers post-covid (this is, of course, assuming that there will be a post-covid situation… if the World Health Organization is to be believed, this is not on the cards any time soon…).

The ‘deep reach’ of tech, which many of us have experienced for the first time during covid, is clearly here to stay. What covid has taught us is how quickly and competently many of us can adapt, technologically speaking, to this situation. This raises questions around the classification of jobs and professions. Are we not all becoming some sort of ICT expert now? One of the discussion points of our Centre meeting two weeks ago was the extent to which statistics accurately reflect contemporary work situations. There are many thing statistics can do but also many things they cannot do. They cannot, for example, record in-job changes or the shift to technologized work environments very readily. They also do not show professional development (in the form of additionally acquired skills in/through one’s work environment), on-the-job informal learning (which we have all had to do so much over this past year), or the acquisition of knowledge and skills through second degrees. However, one might argue that these modes of professional development have become much more endemic over the past few years. In our Centre we have seen many examples of professionals in diverse contexts whose jobs have changed beyond all recognition over the past few years through the technologization of workspaces. It’s time we started to reflect more sustainedly on how we can describe and account for these changes.

Gabriele Griffin