The new Horizon requirement, that each institution applying for European research money has tohave 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!