We need more research on gender and innovation

innovation-561388_1920The first of November we were a group of people gathered in Stockholm University, invited by Inger Danilda from Quadruple Learning and Karin Berglund from Stockholm University. The issue that had brought us together was gender and innovation and what we need to learn for promoting better gender balance in innovation. Researchers, research funders, innovators themselves and women’s movements were represented. Even if the group wasn’t large, there was a lot of competence, also when looking at the development of the area the last couple of decades.

And here are some of our preliminary thoughts, which will be developed in documents and future meetings, next time in January:

The concept of innovation needs to be broadened in different ways, and we need to investigate how it is used, and what that usage means for different groups of potential innovators. The everyday definition of innovation, connecting it to new “things”, preferably technical ones limits what is recognized as an innovation and how a new idea, with a possibility, for example, to improve work processes or working environment, may or may not get funding to be developed. We also need to reflect on and find out about the relationship between “innovation” and “implementation”, as innovators still are mostly men, but their innovations may be put to use in female dominated environments: if a new product, an innovation, is deployed, but a lot of adjustments are needed from the users for it to function – why should the original innovator with the patent get all the credit, when quite a lot of development work is done by others?

We need to know where innovation happens in organizations – and whether women are there or not, and why. Is it the Nobel Prize problem, where results are often achieved by a group, but only one person becomes visible, i.e. is it actually so that women contribute to lots more innovations that what they get credit for? Previous research indicates that women are pushed to or choose to be in organizational roles (managerial, administrative or below their competence) which are farther away from direct innovation. We need to know more about that.

We also discussed the problem of ICT being so extremely male dominated. Much of the technical innovation today requires competence in IT, and if there are few women with that competence, that may hamper the innovation potential of “women”, at an aggregate level. We need to know if this is the case.

But it is not only the gendering of those who innovate, it also the gendering of those who are the target groups when innovations become products that we need to investigate. Not only if those groups are seen as being composed of women or of men, but also how those women and men are conceptualized. Would the intended use of a product reinforce stereotypical gender roles or not? Is there other uses for the innovation or a wider market for a product, if innovators and developers can free themselves from stereotypical thinking? We need to know more about how innovators and developers think about the user.

Working in diverse teams, both when it comes to gender, ethnicity, age, physical functionality etc, and when it comes to disciplinary background, is seen as a solution to issues like the one about users. However, we need to know more about the pros and cons of diverse teams. While previous research has shown that diverse teams can be more creative, it also indicates that less diverse teams can function better for some tasks. What implications does this have for innovation? How do multi-disciplinary teams function? What about the internal workings of multi-gendered teams? How important is gender balance; or are there also advantages with single sex teams, female or male, with variation in discipline, ethnicity, age, functionality etc?

These were just some of the issues discussed. Gender and innovation, in particular when also counting in social innovations opened up as a large research field with few trodden paths. Finally, we also stated that we were there to discuss research, which is basically an activity separated from the innovation activity itself. While action research is one way of doing research, trying to directly influence an activity, the main task of research is to find new knowledge about different, often vague issues. This knowledge may or may not feed into improvements, for example gender-wise, in the innovation sector, but whether that will happen, how and in which time frame, cannot be told until we have the results.

Minna Salminen Karlsson 

Emotions as part of feminist knowledge making

Blog Image - Design #2Doing research has been particularly emotional to me this year. All phenomena that I have studied as a feminist anthropologist have been emotional, but this year I have specifically focused on emotions as part of the knowledge making in the expert interviews that we have made in Nordwit. The aim of these interviews made with women and men who represented local universities, as well as public and private sectors, was to understand the current RDI situation in the region of Tampere.

The interviews were made during the merger process of three local universities. The new university that will start next year is expected to create positive “buzz” in both science and industry. In the interviews, we were particularly interested in the ideal academics that the new university is hoping to attract; and the mobility of the former/current researchers. The university policy in Finland emphasizes the need to lure (global) excellences into universities to ensure the high quality research and the success in global competition. In practice, this means that the research inputs, especially number of publications in the highly ranked journals and received external research funding are the most valued merits while recruiting new people at the universities. This recruitment policy was supported by many of our interviewees.

As a researcher who has been working all her career with short-term contracts, these particular interviews felt very emotional and personal to me, because I had to wonder whether my own academic background, lists of publications and received funding, would be considered as less ideal in this meritocratic university. Therefore, I must consider, how these emotions affected the interviews, in other words, what kind of affective space the interviews came into being; and how the knowledge of the paths of gendered research careers became generated in this space?

Reflecting emotions is an essential part of the feminist and anthropologist knowledge making. For example, feminist scholar of international relations, Megan MacKenzie (2011, 692) writes that “reflexivity should place emphasis on the ways in which the consumption, exchange, and witnessing of emotions through research alters and affects the researcher and the research process.” We know from somewhere, from our socio-cultural positions and from our bodies. We cannot erase emotions from our analysis; instead, they must be considered as affective element in our knowledge making. Through them, we might learn new things about researchers and their career choices and opportunities.

Tiina Suopajärvi

Reference

MacKenzie, M. H. (2011). Their Personal is Political, Not Mine: Feminism and Emotion. International Studies Review 13(4), 691–693.

 

Production of knowledge on women’s career in ICT-related work

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The “gender equality paradox” of Nordic countries has often been captured through quantitative research examining gender divided labour market. The latest statistics from Statistics Norway shows that larger proportion of women still work part time compared to men, and women and men choose different sectors and industries that directly influence their career path (SSB, 2018). For instance, 36,8% of employed women work part time compared to 12,5 percent men (SSB, 2017). The statistics that can guide us to measure gender divided labour markets are often categorised by sectors, industries and types of professions.

However, in the societies that have heavily been influenced by post-industry economy, digitalization processes in both public and private sectors create patterns in women’s career in ICT-related works that cannot be fully captured by the mentioned categories. There is much pressure on researchers to justify their research and findings by numbers and graphs. For several decades, feminist scholars, such as Harding (1995) and Haraway (1988), have been engaged in conversations about objectivity and production of knowledge and methodology. For instance, Harding (1995) has argued that stronger reflection on social and historical context of particular knowers will increase and strength our ability to achieve objectivity. We probably gain much by re-visiting feminist engagement in the question of objectivity, in a time when knowledge is critical aspect of societal and economic development.

Gilda Seddighi 

References
Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575-599. doi:10.2307/3178066

Harding, S. (1995). “Strong objectivity”: A response to the new objectivity question. Synthese, 104, 331-349. doi:https://doi-org.pva.uib.no/10.1007/BF01064504

SSB. (2017). Indikatorer for kjønnslikestilling i kommunene 2016. Statisctics Norway. Retrieved from https://www.ssb.no/befolkning/statistikker/likekom/aar/2017-12-18?fane=tabell&sort=nummer&tabell=333200

SSB. (2018). Dette er kvinner og menn i Norge. Retrieved from https://www.ssb.no/befolkning/artikler-og-publikasjoner/_attachment/341883?_ts=161e302ccb8

Grappling with Paradoxes

fileDigitalization and new digital technology – it is not about the future, but about here and now. Almost daily we can hear in the news about how digitalization changes working life, requiring new competences of employees and new strategies for industry. ICT is not neutral, but in many cases rather operates as a new instance responsible for social, cultural, juridical or economical choices. In our new chapter, we point at the importance of questioning how digitalization is made and who are involved (read the chapter or have a look at the presentation).

The report Digital21 was recently published – written on behalf of the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries to explore how Norway can deal with the increasing digitalization, referred to as an “industrial revolution” that affects not only trade and industry, but also society.

The report, which explains how digital innovation will lead Norway into a prosperous digitized future, is absolutely void for reflections around the question of who it is that is involved in digitalization. Words like inclusion, diversity, gender, men/women, girls/boys do not exist in this document. As if we did not know that only about one in four are women in IT education and IT industry in Norway, and that we are below the EU average if we expand the picture to look at sciences and engineering (She Figures, see Figure 6.2); and due to slow improvement, in periods even negative change, of women’s participation, researchers have suggested that it will take several decades before we are even close to gender parity in this field in Norway (Vabø et al. 2012).

Change is dependent on politics. We have already argued that the low number of girls in programming classes in Norway is not a paradox, but a result of a policy that is gender blind! Change is also dependent on the ability to imagine that women have a place in the world of IT and digitalisation.

We certainly need stories about women in computing, a task that Sue Black has taken seriously. She is also indeed visible herself, so enjoy this video where she tells you How to find the superhero within you!

Good luck with grant hunting!

harishan-kobalasingam-512738-unsplash-2At this time of the year, academic life in Finland is particularly hectic. The end of September is the deadline for grant applications to the Academy of Finland, the most important research funding agency of our country. It seems that almost everybody is engaged in the application process, either writing research proposals or commenting on others’ plans. This creates a special atmosphere with a mixture of collective support and individual competition. All are participating in a shared endeavour and exertion, yet only very few will have success.

Last summer, I and Sandra Acker (University of Toronto) prepared a presentation for the ISA World Congress of Sociology on what we called ‘grant hunting’. As part of this, we looked at studies on gendered differences in research funding. The findings were ambiguous. Following the general gendered pattern in academia, the common trend seems to be that the number of applications from women is smaller than that of men and accordingly, women receive less research funding than men (e.g. Leberman et al. 2017). However, the studies do not reveal any systematic and clear-cut gender bias in success rates. Furthermore, there are differences between disciplines and national contexts. For instance, a bias in favour of male applicants was found in funding health research in Canada (Tamblyn et al. 2018) but not in the social sciences in the UK (Boyle et al. 2015). According to Tamblyn et al., one reason for the male bias in Canadian health sciences was that funders prioritize basic research and peer reviewers gave lower scores for applied science applications, which acted against female applicants who tended to be interested in more applied topics.

From the gender perspective, it was especially delightful to look at the statistics from the year 2017 on the Academy of Finland funding for social sciences and humanities. In project funding, the overall success rate was 14.9%. Altogether 60 applicants received funding and from these successful applicants 34 were female and 26 were male. In postdoctoral researcher funding, the success rate was 13% and the share of women of the successful applicants was 73%. In academy research fellow funding, the success rate was 11.5%, and the share of women of the successful applicants was 50%.

This is encouraging for female academics writing their applications at the moment. The competition is hard and there are so many things to worry about in the process, but perhaps and hopefully not gender bias.

Oili-Helena Ylijoki 

References:

Boyle, P., Smith, L.K., Cooper, N.J., Williams, K.S., & O’Connor, H. (2015, Sept 9) Women are funded more fairly in social science. Nature, 525: 181–183.

Leberman, S., Eames, B. & Barnett, S. (2016). ‘Unless you are collaborating with a big name successful professor, you are unlikely to receive funding’. Gender and Education, 28(5), 644–661.

Tamblyn, R., Girard, N., Qian, C., & Hanley, J. (2018). Assessment of potential bias in research grant peer review in Canada. CMAJ, 190(16) E489-E499. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/190/16/E489.

The Joy of Being an Entrepreneur

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Have spent the past couple of weeks interviewing female entrepreneurs who use the services of a co-working hub specifically designed for women. Such an interesting experience! These are all women with real drive – full of ideas, projects, visions. . . They love the hub – a life saver for some! Entrepreneurialism can be a lonely business, especially if the business is a company of one as many of those whom I talked with are.

It was also very revealing to see how different ideas about what kind of business one wants are related to life cycle and when in one’s professional life the business was started. Entrepreneurialism has tended to be associated with young people; the images of entrepreneurs are always of smart young men in suits, 30-somethings, working as chefs or in IT. These interviews have been a salutary reminder that it can be women in their 40s and 50s who start up businesses, often as an extension of work they previously did in an employed capacity. That relation between employment and self-employment remains somewhat under-explored – a project for the future!

Gabriele Griffin

Listening as important as making voice

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Some days ago, as I walked through the campus of Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL) in Sogndal, I saw two students trying to communicate verbal and non-verbal with each other while having headsets and listening to something else. Though it seemed as if they were happy whith their way of communication, the incident reminded me of controversies one observes crossing disciplines and working in interdisciplinary research projects.

I am from the Global South and immigrated to Norway as a teenager. This probably made me even more sensitive to the works done for living between and/or with two cultures, including the hard work of communication and translation. The Nordwit project has given me an opportunity to have new reflections on the ways in which Norway has been introduced to me through Norwegian media and public sector in the past years. I can see the dominant position the discourse of gender equality has had in introducing Norway to immigrants, and especially to non-western ones. An important feature in encounters with immigrants, and in international relations. “Norway is a pioneer for gender equality”, is written in the Norwegian Action Plan from Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016). Since the 1970s, Norway, through the same discourse, has contributed to making women’s issues relevant in development policies in the Global South and show the synergies between investing in women and earning benefits in terms of economic growth.

My encounter with policies on innovation and digitalization through the Nordwit project tells a different story of the discourse of gender equality in Norway. It seems that gender equality is taken for granted in a way that gender seems to often be considered irrelevant in the fields of innovation and digitalization. I see the need to contribute to translation between Norwegian legacy of gender equality and the fields of innovation and digitalization, which are national focus areas for value creation. Like the work of translation, there is a need to listen and understand both sides. So, as I walk through this journey in the Nordwit project, I hope I remember those two students communicating while listening to something else. Listening is as important as making voice of women’s life histories, barriers and driving forces in technology driven works.

Gilda Seddighi

Reference:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016). Freedom, empowerment and opportunities: Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020