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 

We like statistics!

Nordwit recently had its two-day Spring meeting, through zoom of course. One of our topics was statistics and particularly statistics on gender and gender (in)equality in research and innovation.

We all agreed that we like – or even love – statistics. The academic world is full of statistics that we produce and use in many ways. The world outside the academy –  politicians, media, experts in public and private sector organizations –  eagerly wants to have statistics to be able to name facts. Statistics and numbers are found equivalent to factual knowledge social phenomena including gender inequalities. Thus, the statistical figures represent an image of a hard and true knowledge. People rely on facts, and the possibility to present numerical facts provides convincing truths. However, during our discussion it also appeared that statistics are far from easy to find, and even more difficult to interpret in the analysis of gender inequalities.

Statistics around gender inequalities are produced both in national institutions such as Statistics Finland, ministries, labor unions, Technology Industries of Finland, and supranational institutions such as OECD, ILO and European Commission. The numbers presented in the statistics derive from various sources. These sources also include a variety of definitions and guidelines according to which the raw data is classified. My close colleague Merja Kinnunen (1997) analysed already twenty years ago how gender was embedded in statistical classifications in Finland. She showed that classifications are institutionalized texts, which are also a means to manage and control the material world. The classifications include cultural perceptions, symbols and images and at the same time they describe structural features of society. Thus it is worth remembering that the statistical descriptions also shape, maintain and legitimate the existing structures.

Currently supranational statistics such as She Figures, a key source for an analysis of gender questions, are based on other supranational databases such as Eurostat. However, the assumption is that these originally national sources, are equivalent and they measure the same issues in each society. This has needed a lot of standardization and negotiation. It has been necessary because equivalent information provides better chances to make comparisons between the countries. Still, it is relevant also to ask the same questions that Merja Kinnunen (2001) posed: How do the classifications and statistics as institutional texts participate in the legitimization of the differences and hierarchies between women and men in society? As statistics is highly standardized across the (Western) countries, it is also relevant to ask, what kind of reality do the standardized numbers tell and what kind of reality remains hidden behind the figures?

Päivi Korvajärvi


Kinnunen, Merja (1997) “Making Gender with Classifications.” In: Rantalaiho, Liisa & Heiskanen, Tuula (eds) Gendered Practices in Working Life. London: Macmillan, 37-51.

Kinnunen, Merja (2001) Luokiteltu sukupuoli [Classified Gender]. Tampere: Vastapaino.

She Figures 2018 (2019) European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union.

What motivates girls to choose a career in technology?

(Photo: NHO)

Studies of young people’s motivation to pursue a career in technology have often focused on when and how interest in technology develops. Many teenagers lose interest in science and technology, and because his affects girls more than boys, it leaves a short gap to capture girls’ interest, it has been argued. Many initiatives to increase girls’ interest have been designed based on images of boys’ interest in video gaming and programming. The problem is that this type of interest is also gendered.

We are in the process of concluding a survey among girls in Norway with nearly 700 respondents who were studying science and technology at high schools and universities.

What has been the most important motivation for your choice of studying in science and technology?

When we asked the girls this question, the top 9 motivating factors were all related to working life and society:

  • 93% agreed that exciting job opportunities in technology was an important motivation
  • 80% were strongly motivated by the possibility of using technology for solving social issues.

In the opposite end of the scale we found activities associated with boys:

  • less than 5% of the girls have been motivated through after-school/leisure time activities involving technology
  • less than 14% found video games motivating for choosing technology at high school or university.

These findings support our previous empirical research finding that many girls are motivated by other things than technology when they enter tech education.

The report (in Norwegian) will be out soon, for those who want to read more!


Corneliussen, H.G. (2020) “Dette har jeg aldri gjort før, så dette er jeg sikkert skikkelig flink på” – Rapport om kvinner i IKT og IKT-sikkerhet, Sogndal: VF-rapport 8/2020.
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).
Talks, I., Edvinsson, I., & Birchall, J. (2019). Programmed Out: The gender gap in technology in Scandinavia. Oslo: Plan International Norway.
McKinsey & Company and Pivotal Ventures. (2018). Rebooting representation – using CSR and philanthropy to close the gender gap in tech. Tech Report 2018 [Accessed March 2021].
Microsoft Corporation. (2017). Why Europe’s Girls Aren’t Studying STEM. – Microsoft Philanthropies.

In eager antipication of interoperability and user-friendliness…

This is the time of year when all academics in Sweden, and possibly elsewhere, are either busily writing funding applications or – and for many it is and – doing annual or final reports for their funded activities. In the digital world, much of this work for which we once had specialists falls on academics not trained in such accounting activities. Somehow the notion that we all have computers translates in many institutions into the idea that therefore we can also all – quasi-osmotically? – undertake all the processes for which we once had trained staff. Research time thus turns into research administration time, and since this is not what academics were trained for, we spend more time than is appropriate on tasks that we do not do routinely but intermittently.

This is made worse when accounting to funders requires the translation of the same information into multiple forms that are incompatible, use different categories each, and are not interoperable. One way in which this happens is when funders have a local system but also then decide to buy an ‘off-the-peg’ system from elsewhere (usually the US) where other discourses, categories, and assumptions prevail, and where the system may have been set up for certain disciplines (medicine or certain science/s spring to mind) that answer to other accounting imperatives. For the researcher this creates added administrative burdens in an age when ‘lean’ is the norm, and academics have virtually (or actually) no support for the burgeoning of administrative tasks they are meant to fulfill. Systems with a variety of automated functions including e.g. the selection of journal titles or funders (where one has to enter information manually which one ends up doing almost entirely – after all, how many of us have e.g. the DOI handy at all times?), but where the journal titles and publishers are really all the US ones, and to find non-US ones takes ages, are not helpful. So what is one to do?

In posh hotels now they have IT butlers, ready to help you with your IT needs in smart rooms with systems that your average punter cannot operate. Maybe it’s time universities appointed IT butlers, too, ready to do the digital labour that is research administration which takes researchers many unproductive hours. This measure would help researchers through the current stage of lack of interoperability and user-friendliness that bedevils the add-on strategies of organizations grappling with their digitalization processes.

Gabriele Griffin

Work beyond Crises – WORK2021

Turku Center for Labour Studies (TCLS) at University of Turku, Finland are organizing the WORK2021 Conference that will take place on-line and offer three virtual conferences:

WORK I (18-19 Aug)
WORK II (13-14 Oct)
WORK III (8-9 Dec)

The theme for this year is Work beyond Crises and will address contemporary transformations and reconfigurations of work, such as digitalization and changing work relations stirred by the current pandemic.

One of the streams is Gendering Work and will be chaired by Nordwit researcher Päivi Korvajärvi, Tampere University, and Minna Nikunen, University of Jyväskylä.

Gender and work are entangled in several complex ways. Work is embodied and person-related, and its percussions to gendering society reach beyond the work itself. It is therefore crucial to analyze how gender relates to work and how it is located in structures, meanings, interactions and subjects constituted and reconstituted in work. The questions of embodied work and ways through which the gendering of work takes place are among the topics of interest in this stream. The contemporary questions in relation to gendered effects of pandemics to working life, and inequalities in relation to gendered working life are welcomed. Also papers and studies addressing the gendering taking place at different levels and in different processes of working life are especially welcomed. Papers exploring more generally the theme of the conference from gender perspective are welcomed.

According to the preliminary schedule the stream will have its sessions on 13-14 Oct and 8-9 Dec. The deadline for abstract submission is 15 March.

Welcome to submit your abstract!

Gender in knowledge-based entrepreneurship: Comparing Finland and Turkey

My doctoral research is about how gender affects research and knowledge-based entrepreneurship in Finland and Turkey. I aim to analyze the inequalities that women entrepreneurs face because of gender ideologies and their strategies to overcome inequalities in the research and innovation sector. My general aim is to bring out the women entrepreneurs’ experiences related to structural and interactional constraints and analyze their experiences in terms of similarities and differences. Throughout the conferences and doctoral courses I’ve attended, the main question asked about my research is “why I compare Finland and Turkey since they have very different cultural routes in terms of gender equality debates.” As Ahl (2006) argues, a comparison between countries with different socio-cultural backgrounds gives more global perspectives to understand better common features and crucial differences of women entrepreneurs among countries. For example, Finland is often regarded as already achieved gender equality, but according to the European Commission Statistics on research and innovation, only 17.3% of private-sector researchers are women. Despite being influenced by the intensive religio-conservative gender climate for the last few decades (Günes-Ayata and Doğangün 2017), the proportion of women researchers in the private sector is 24.4% in Turkey.  As the statistics show, regardless of country, women researchers are significantly under-represented in the research and innovation sectors, leading to a gender gap in technology-based firm creation. 

For this study, I interviewed 29 women entrepreneurs (16 from Turkey and 13 from Finland). There are surprising similarities between Finnish and Turkish participants’ experiences in the highly gendered sector. In my next blog post, I would like to discuss my findings.

Demet Demirez,
PhD Student at Tampere University, associated with Nordwit

Ahl, H. (2006). Why Research on Women Entrepreneurs Needs New Directions. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 30(5), 595-621.

Güneş-Ayata, A.,Doğangün, G. (2017). Gender Politics of the AKP: Restoration of a Religio-Conservative Gender Climate. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 19(6), 610-627.

Zoom spreading

One of the amazing effects of being locked down during the current pandemic, which has just passed its first anniversary, has been the rapidity with which everybody – or in any event many people working from home – have adapted, and had to adapt, to working pretty much entirely online. In many ways, however, this is not work as usual. For one thing, self-isolation and being largely tethered to one’s home has created the expectation that one is always available – unless one is in another zoom meeting. The effect of this is what I would describe as ‘zoom spreading’ whereby online meetings, whatever platform they occur on, have now infiltrated every working day, and to a much greater extent in terms of numbers of meetings, than before the pandemic. Many meetings require ‘tech check’ pre-meetings, as well as pre-meeting meetings to discuss the process of the meetings to be had etc. It’s rather reminiscent of the workings of Charles Dickens’ Circumlocution Office where metadiscursivity takes up as much, ney sometimes more, space than discursivity – so to speak. But this new normal of having several online meetings every day, of the assumption that you are never off, also brings with it new distortions of one’s working life, with little time for tasks that are not or do not involve meetings. Time to research, read and write is at a new and unprecedented premium, an effect of zoom spreading. I am as guilty as the next person in respect of this but: we need to learn to guard against this.

Gabriele Griffin  

Advancing gender equality through collaboration between researchers and regional agencies

On December 3rd 2020, Nordwit’s Tampere team helped organise and participated in a seminar, titled Why does it benefit small and medium-sized businesses to consider (gender) equality? The seminar was part of a series of discussions titled Research and innovation in the Pirkanmaa region: gender equality as a solution, organized collaboratively by the Council of Tampere Region, the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, Nordwit at Tampere University and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. The previous events in the series were workshops, which mapped the current state of gender equality in regional research and innovation (workshop 1) and focused on practices in university and regional funding (workshop 2). The third event was a open-to-all online seminar of about 30 participants, and its objective was to discuss the meaning of (gender) equality for a small or medium-sized business’s innovativeness and resilience.

Continue reading “Advancing gender equality through collaboration between researchers and regional agencies”

Gender Budgeting – a tool to increase the sustainability of gender equality plans?

In the previous blogpost, Gabrielle Griffin wrote about gender equality policies that function as “non-performative performatives” (Ahmed, 2012). Such policies not only fail to bring about institutional change but are also taken to be the action itself. It has been argued that gender budgeting is one solution to this problem in the implementation of gender equality plans. This is also one of the ten topics we, Nordwit-Pillar 1, focus on in our action to increase women’s participation in technology related innovation.

 The CoP GenBUDGET of the ACTonGender project recently organized a webinar on the same topic, gender budgeting in higher education and research institutions. In it, two of the webinar’s presenters, Tiandara Addabbo and Jennifer Dahmen-Adkins, asserted that gender budgeting can be seen as a lever of structural change in research institutions. They argued that following research institutions’ money can reveal and help act against gender biases in the allocation of funds and resources. Thus, as the budget reflects an institution’s real policy commitments, an analysis of budgeting can also increase the sustainability of gender equality plans.

Another presentation, however, pointed to a challenge in implementing gender equality through gender budgeting; namely, the lack of transparency in budgets. Carmichael, Steinþórsdóttir and Taylor’s research on gendered workloads in research institutions showed that detecting gender biases in budgeting might be more difficult than assumed. Despite of the extensive use of management tools in workload allocation processes, transparency of process and equity of outcome are not ensured (ibid, 2020).

As we enter 2021, many research and higher education institutions might be readying to institute gender equality plans due to the new GEP requirement for eligibility in Horizon Europe. As the GEP requirements in research is in a new phase, it is critical to put the difficulties related to the implementation of gender equality policies on the agenda.

Gilda Seddighi

Carmichael,F., Steinþórsdóttir, F. S. and Taylor, S. (December 11th, 2020). “Gendered workload in universities as a feminist issue: A case study of a UK Business School.” Webinar on Gender Budgeting in research organizations. ActonGender