Gender troubles in research and innovation work in Finland

Organizations are places where gender inequalities are experienced in the everyday work life. However, the highly educated Finnish women, some identifying themselves feminists, that we interviewed within the Nordwit program seemed not to emphasize gender issues very strongly in their organizations. On the contrary, in our analysis we found that the women often seemed to downplay gender effects in the R&I organizations. In addition, they seemed to find gender insignificant in their working environments. When being asked questions related to gender, the interviewed women usually referred to two issues: (1) their own, often non-existent, experiences of gender discrimination, or (2) themselves as mothers. Why is that?

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A need for taking into account the boundaryless work cultures in family-oriented policies

Though digitalization is changing the landscape of information and communication technology (ICT) work and increases the need for ICT expertise in non-technical fields, the unequal gender divisions of labor in care and household responsibilities remain barriers to women’s career development in ICT research, development, and innovation. In our study we have asked how women working as ICT experts in such settings negotiate work and family responsibilities in the context of Norwegian gender egalitarian culture.

In male-dominated ICT fields with a ‘greedy’ and boundaryless work culture, the image of the ‘ideal worker’ is still shaped according to a male norm involving less responsibility for childcare. In this vein, women’s negotiation of work and family responsibilities is about navigating gendered work cultures and norms. Our study shows that women experience that career development in ICT requires working more than full-time. The women who experienced losing out on career-development, worked ‘full-time’ while describing their experience as a choice of having family over a career. Women who worked more than full-time found the solution in private support rather than work-life balance policies such as publicly available childcare. These women argued that it was often the partner’s predictable and less ‘greedy’ work patterns that enabled them to work more than full-time.

Our study illustrates working more than full-time is experienced as a requirement for career development in fields of ICT. Family-oriented national policies and work-life policies such as ‘flexibility of work’ become less relevant for supporting career development. Instead, the necessary navigations and negotiations to achieve career development in fields of ICT are left to individuals and to be dealt in their private sphere.

The measures to tackle these challenges are:

  • Family-oriented policies should to a larger degree take into consideration the boundaryless work cultures in male-dominated fields such as ICT
  • Work-life policies should look beyond ‘flexibility-of-work’ as it is not sufficient for career development in the fields where the norm is to work ‘more than full-time’
  • Work-life balance policies should also have career-life solutions

Read more about this in the Nordwit research:

Seddighi, G. & Corneliussen, H. G. (2021) The Illusion of Balance: Women in ICT Working Full-Time and Still Having a Feeling of Opting OutFeminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics, 5(2): 26.

To be published during the spring of 2022: ‘If it has been only me, it would not have worked out’: women negotiating conflicting challenges of ICT work and family in Norway, by Seddighi and Corneliussen, to be published in a book edited by Gabriele Griffin: Gender Inequalities in Tech-Driven Research and innovation: Living the Contradiction.

Gilda Seddighi