Welcome to the NORDWIT final conference: Challenging the Nordic Gender Paradox: Gender in the Nordic Research and Innovation Area
In 2017, NORDWIT was established with the aim of investigating women’s career opportunities and trajectories in technology-driven research and innovation in both public and private sectors. As the project is now coming to an end, we invite you to a final conference exploring the topic of gender in Nordic research and innovation. Among the speakers we have European prominent scholars on gender equality, organisations, and research and innovation, as well as NORDWIT researchers from Sweden, Finland, and Norway.
This week, Heidi Holt Zachariassen from the Kif committee (Committee for gender balance and diversity in research) visited our institute, Western Norway Research Institute, to present the new qualification requirement of gender equality plan for obtaining funds from Horizon Europe. The already established national requirements for working actively, purposefully, and systematically with gender balance and diversity by means of an action plan target organizations with more than 50 employees. With the new eligibility criterion from Horizon Europe, national requirements will also encompass all academic institutions regardless of how many employees the institution has.
Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. (2020). Employers’ Mixed Signals to Women in IT: Uncovering how Gender Equality Ideals are Challenged by Organizational Context. In P. Kommers & G. C. Peng (Eds.), Proceedings for the International Conference ICT, Society, and Human Beings 2020 (41-48). IADIS: IADIS Press.
Tica, S (2021). FRA VISJON TIL PRAKSIS Komité for kjønnsbalanse og mangfold i forskning En surveyundersøkelse om likestillings- og mangfoldsarbeidet ved forskningsinstitutter, høyskoler og universiteter
Nordwit researchers participated in the WORK2021 Conference (13-14 Oct 2021), chaired by professor Anne Kovalainen, Turku University, Finland. The conference keynote speakers addressed the global working conditions under gig economies and digital platforms. Funda Ustek-Spilda, University of Oxford and the Fairwork Network, talked about fair work after Covid-19 and described five aspects that would make fair work in gig economies: fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation. Then, Uma Rami presented an ILO report of an extensive global study on how digital platforms transform the conditions of work.
The algorithms of digital platforms, measuring productivity and various other indexes, the results being displayed at the internet, coordinate the interplay of clients and workers. Simultaneously they influence on everyday lives of the workers (coming more often from the global South) and even the lives of Finnish mom bloggers, as was discussed by Katariina Mäkinen.
Digital platforms and gig economies make an illuminating context also for the Nordwit researchers who presented in the streams of Gendered Work, chaired by Päivi Korvajärvi and Minna Nikunen (Griffin, Salminen Karlsson, Vehviläinen), as well as in Digital Society, Technology and Work (Corneliusen, Seddighi).
Marja Vehviläinen presented a research paper, co-authored with Päivi Korvajärvi and Oili-Helena Ylijoki, to be published in the Finnish Journal ofWorking Life Research in November 2021, on the persistence of gender inequalities in the Finnish academia during the past four decades. The found persistent gender inequalities address many of the concerns of the Fairwork Network: work conditions, work contracts and management which are all governed with the neoliberal algorithms on productivity and competition. Universities have not learnt – in four decades – to implement fair recruitment, supervision or management, including, for example, of the reconciliation of parenting and research work.
Gabriele Griffin discussed work-work (in)balance in research and innovation. The multiple simultaneous projects, contracts, work roles and split work time, combined with constant work overload, found in her study on Nordic academic workers in Digital Humanism, do not sound very different from the workers’ conditions described in the ILO report of digital platforms. However, academic research and innovation work may partially have adapted even more extreme forms neoliberalism than the digital platforms. There are competitions of research funding in which even 95 % of research funding applications fail. Time spent on failing applications do not count and do not even get measured by the algorithms that measure the productivity in research and innovation institutions. Griffin suggested more research over the “multiple project culture”, and also change for it, as the multiple project culture is not sustainable for institutions nor for individuals who work in them.
Last week we came together for the last ordinary half-year meeting of the Nordwit consortium. We had two days of summing up findings from all our publications; a long and diverse list of 30 published and soon to be published manuscripts from our nearly 5 years of research together. You can see the proud list here: Nordwit publications.
Looking back at our studies of women’s tech-driven careers in academia, private and public sectors, in Sweden, Finland and Norway, we discussed similarities and differences of gender patterns, of continuous gender discrimination, and of a Nordic gender equality ideal that often fails to manifest itself in these patterns. One of the similarities we discussed was how the Nordic gender equality norm works as a confirmation that gender equality has been agreed upon and perhaps also achieved, with the effect that the actual institutional practices do not (have to) reflect the gender norm that is simultaneously endorsed. This creates a gap between the norm of gender equality and the institutional practices, where the narrative about the first to a great extent hides discriminating practices of institutions within fields of tech-driven research and innovation. You can read more about this in several of our publications, including the recent article “Unpacking the Nordic Gender Equality Paradox in ICT Research and Innovation“.
We will continue to discuss these and other issues as we prepare the final presentations of Nordwit’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations for improving the situation for women in tech-driven careers, inside and outside academia. While this meeting was virtual due to the pandemic situation, we hope that the final meeting and the Nordwit conference in February 2022 will be a face-to-face meeting in Uppsala, where we can hug when we meet, drink coffee together in-between the sessions, and share stories about all the stuff that is hard to include when the meeting room is virtual.
A number of years ago I made a study on how universities recruit students to computer and machine engineering, what messages they send out to potential students. Is there a reason why those messages are not so attractive to women? I also did a comparison with a programme that really recruits women: nursing.
The findings were that the engineering programmes tried an “add-women-and-stir”, approach, but the result was largely “add women” without really doing any “stir”. I.e. there were pictures of women who told how good the programme was, but generally the descriptions were quite different from the way nursing programmes marketed themselves. Bachelor engineering programmes often downplayed the academic content of the programme and stressed the connections to working life – in contrast to nursing, which gave a more detailed explanation of what the studies themselves actually entailed. It seemed obvious that the two different programmes targeted two different groups: young men who were not that interested or excellent at school and young women who were academic achievers. While both programmes often told about the importance of learning to communicate, the meaning of the word was quite different: for engineers it would be about putting forward one’s ideas, while for the nurses it was about collaborating with colleagues and educating patients. What I found striking was the frequent appearance of the word “responsibility” when the nursing profession was described and its almost total absence when engineering was described etc.
Just out of curiosity I’ve made some unscientific follow-ups over the years, just to see if things have changed. Largely they haven’t. Just look at the images: whose hands are displayed, who is active? A heading in one university’s webpage, beside a smiling young woman tells that ‘Josefin has always wanted to become an engineer’, while the next image, recounting a lecture by a visiting (male) star is titled ‘The nerd is the winner’.
But there have been changes, too. There are notably more women in the images. However, the ‘add-women-and-don’t-stir’ is still the main approach, as the texts have not changed to the same extent. Most changes seem to have happened in descriptions of the working life after graduation: public sector and maintenance, work tasks that several graduates from these programmes will have, are lifted up as realistic and positive alternatives, instead of leaving them out in favour of the more flashy development and project leadership tasks in computer companies. However, it is still very seldom that I come across ‘responsibility’.
Of course, these educational programmes are male dominated and it would not be fair to make believe that they are not. The male domination cannot be changed by changing the marketing. Rather, if the programmes are to recruit more women and not only those who have ‘always wanted to become engineers’, it might be a good thing to reflect on what it is, not in the marketing of nursing, but in the programme itself, and the working life that follows, that attracts women, and set about making more profound changes. After all, descriptions of nursing programmes were attractive to both male and female upper secondary students – as long as they did not know it was the female coded nursing profession they were reading about.
Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics has published a highly interesting special issue on Feminist encounters in research and innovation (September 1, 2021), with guest editors Gabriele Griffin, Yvonne Benschop and Liisa Husu.
The editorial of the special issue emphasizes the importance of feminist perspectives and feminist knowledge for the research and innovation that faces the grand challenges of the 21st century (e.g. ecological sustainability, and digitalization and artificial intelligence), intersecting with deepening inequalities.
In addition to the editorial, this special issue consists of ten research articles. They are grouped into three categories: feminist knowledge, stretching innovation, and career inequalities in research and innovation. However, the articles contribute to at least two of these perspectives as they all draw on feminist research. New alternative ways of understanding ‘innovation’, strongly connected to feminist knowledge, are the focus of three articles (Berglund & Petterson; Petersson McIntyre; Griffin), but also feminist uses of metaphors, as discussed in Moratti’s article, disrupt and unsettle conventional thinking, and thus produce innovations. In the same vein, most articles discuss gender inequalities in research and innovation, starting with Moratti’s analysis of metaphors that undermine women in academia, continuing with gendered paradoxes in the rhetoric of Norwegian information technology education (Corneliussen) and the expressions that ‘undo’ and then also undermine gender in Finnish research and innovation (Korvajärvi). Women face the persistence of gender inequality in all career stages in research and innovation in the Nordic countries (Griffin & Vehviläinen), and in Norwegian information technology (balancing work and motherhood: Seddighi) as well as in small and medium-size family firms in Canada (Hamilton, Thomas & Ruel). Despite this, they also find ways to continue their research and innovation work.
The first article in this special issue is Lea Skewes and Stine Willum Adrian’s research interview, ‘The Long March Through the Patriarchal Institutions: A Dialogue Between Rosi Braidotti and Nina Lykke’. Braidotti and Lykke are internationally well-established feminist scholars, activists and professors who have collaborated for decades. They mirror their lives and mobilities across countries and disciplines, and discuss their careers in institutions under academic capitalism. They reflect each on how they have come to understand feminist research that troubles mainstream epistemologies, and how they have developed Feminist, Gender and Women’s Studies. Although they did not do career planning, they found positions and spaces to develop feminist knowledge and establish new institutions within local, national and European patriarchal institutions. However, they do not claim that the development of feminist knowledge would have been possible for them in any circumstances. The long march included tensions and they had to tackle contradictions. They had to leave, move on, and find new places for knowing. The interview provides an illuminating perspective for the rest of the articles in the special issue. Contradictions and tensions appear all over in research, innovation and entrepreneurship in these articles. Several of these focus on gender inequalities and examine how they persist in current social and cultural practices, while other articles create new ways of understanding and knowing within contradictory institutions and societal practices.
Several research articles in this special issue originate from research conducted in Sweden, Norway and Finland, within the Nordwit centre, and/or from an international workshop ‘Re-thinking Research and Innovation: How Does Gender Matter?’ February 25-27, 2020, held at Uppsala University, both coordinated by Gabriele Griffin.
More than 600 researchers together for 3 days for the Gender, Work, and Organization conference, GWO 2021. This was an online and delayed version of the GWO 2020 conference, which should have been in Kent, UK.
There were nearly 40 streams of different topics at the conference; on professional careers, entrepreneurship, identities, discrimination, theory and a long list of other topics!
Minna Salminen-Karlsson and I organised a stream together with the title “Rural Frontiers In-Between Tradition and Change: GWO in rural contexts”.
This was our first dip into the rural in a GWO perspective, and we really enjoyed the fantastic papers from across the world, including Australia, the Netherlands, Mexico, the UK, Italy, New Zealand, the Solomon Island as well as from Norway and Sweden. After so long time of no travelling, it was wonderful to get those deep dives into these diverse cultures, as a next-best to travelling ourselves!
Thank you to everybody who participated in the rural stream! And a big thank you to the organisers of the GWO 2021 conference. It was amazing to share these three days with so many researchers!
Although I hope we will have the opportunity to have face-to-face conferences again, we certainly see the potential of digital conferences for including people from every corner of the world.
A friend who shares my interest in women and information technology asked me if I know anything about women in the Swedish history of computing. She was thinking of the gender conscious rewriting of British and American computer history, showing the important role that women programmers played in the infancy of computerization. The film Hidden figures is maybe the most famous of them, but there are also books like Programmed Inequality by Mar Hicks or Recoding Gender by Janet Abbate. How about Sweden – do we have unknown sides of our history, too?
I knew of no such study, but my curiosity was awakened and so I started surfing the net. The history is quite well hidden, but, finally I found a pioneer, comparable to the ENIAC girls who programmed the huge wartime computer in the USA. The Swedish person was Elsa-Karin Boestad-Nilsson, who programmed computers for the Swedish armed forces from 1948 on.
Elsa-Karin Boestad-Nilsson had studied mathematics and physics, and after graduation she got a job at the Swedish Defence Research Agency. Her story has clear similarities to that of the ENIAC girls. Just like in the US, it was mathematically educated women who did calculations by hand, while male colleagues travelled to the US to learn more about this new thing, computers. Boestad-Nilsson invented a mathematical method that shortened certain calculations, but nobody encouraged her to publish her findings. Her story tells about being looked down upon, as she recounts in an interview in the Swedish magazine “Forskning och framsteg”:
After one years’ employment she was allowed to attend a meeting, and heard the question: “What is such a small missus doing here?” The department manager replied, “Miss Boestad is daughter of professor Boestad in the Royal University of Technology.”
It was the calculation assistants that were to program the computers – as Boestad-Nilsson says, the male researchers thought it a dreary work, and rather used a female assistant who programmed for them. Boestad-Nilsson, however, did her programming herself. She was fascinated by computers, when they started to materialize, by the creativity and problem-solving challenges that the early machines required. The female programmers did very much unseen work to get the early programmes running on shaky computers. Boestad-Nilsson became the head of the calculation division and that division came to consist mainly of women – the first Swedish computer programmers.
Boestad-Nilsson’s story has clear parallels with the story of the ENIAC girls who programmed the first computers in the USA. No wonder – the position of women as pen-pushers was similar in both countries. In both countries programming changed genders and became a male activity, when it became clear that programming was about dominating the computer, rather than being attached to a computer as an auxiliary.
A student thesis by Patrik Persson brings history forward to 1978-1985. Persson has analysed the illustrations in the Swedish computer magazine Mikrodatorn. He shows how again women were seen as auxiliaries. Now it was the men who programmed, and women who used the office machines – a parallel to when men made the machines and women programmed. Again, women did the work that was regarded too simple and dreary, requiring no problem solving. Especially when usability was discussed, women came into the picture transmitting a message: this machine is so simple that even a woman can use it. While men took a dominating pose beside the machine in a photo, women stood by the computer humbly using its services. Only men could get recognition in the computer world, women were anonymous.
Men as the creators, women as the users. How about today? Things have changed. Nobody can deny that women can and do program. And things have not changed. The idea, very obvious in Persson’s material, that women are more “human” and less technical seems to be well and alive in our subconscious. Reading Persson’s thesis I recall a video from my own university, targeted to presumptive computer engineering students. Three alumnae are presented, two men and one woman. What do they do? The woman works with sales, the men are a system developer and a programmer.
This is the history we carry with us – and the history we transform.
In Finland, the last few weeks have a special meaning to researchers working in the social sciences and humanities as the most important funding agency, the Academy of Finland, announced its funding decisions. The Academy granted funding for 59 research projects and 21 posts as Academy Research Fellow. In the former, the success rate was 13%, the share of women of the funded researchers was 51% and of the applicants 48%. In the latter, the success rate was 11% and the share of women of both the applicants and the funded researchers was 62%.
The percentages tell the familiar story. In terms of gender, the story is positive, and the Academy keeps its reputation: no apparent gender bias is observable. When it comes to the success rate, the story is gloomy as described in the Academy’s web pages by Sami Pihlström, the chair of the research council for social sciences and humanities, “With scarce resources, the competition for research funding is fierce, and many excellent projects are sadly left without funding.”
Not surprisingly, funding decisions create heated discussions and strong emotions among academics. There are few who are happy, lucky, and successful, and the vast majority who are disappointed, frustrated, and angry. Since applying for the Academy funding is more or less an obligation in universities, and there is no vision for increasing resources, this yearly emotional turmoil cannot be easily avoided. According to what I have heard, someone has even suggested that the days when the Academy announces its funding decisions should be named as the annual days of structural envy.
What is more, discussions on research funding expand beyond academia. My colleague Pia Olsson, having investigated these discussions on Twitter, refers in a blog text to Finnish journalist Ivan Puopolo´s tweet: “Which one would you fund: cancer research or researcher’s self-reflection on the emotions while playing the cello?” The message is clear: public funding should be targeted at research which has obvious, preferably measurable, benefit for taxpayers. This emphasis has strengthened also in political discourse, demanding increasing societal and economic impact from science.
We who are working in the social sciences and humanities face these demands and doubts about the relevance of our work. In this context, we need to legitimate our research and justify why we should be paid from public money. Importantly, it is these fields under a growing pressure in which women researchers and students tend to be the most represented.
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: