What is our excuse?

photo of a woman holding an ipad
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It is that time of the year again: young men and women are applying for higher education, hopefully many of them excited about the transition to higher education and following their dreams. Close to 60% of all new applicants for higher education in Norway are women, but women are still a minority in IT and technology. There is a tiny improvement from last year’s 24,2% women applying to Information technology degrees, to 26,2% in April 2019 (https://www.samordnaopptak.no/info/om/sokertall/sokertall-2019/index.html).

Looking at the numbers of female applicants for the Information technology bachelor in the rural region is however depressing: only 1 woman among 20 applicants. Why are there so few women who dream about a future that includes IT competence? And why so few in this region?

In our Nordwit interviews with companies and institutions in this rural region of Norway, the attitudes towards welcoming women in IT related positions are positive! But at the same time, almost every company and institution that we talked with had experienced the challenge of identifying and recruiting women – to such a degree that it made some of them even start to question whether they really needed more women in IT positions. When interviewing women working with IT in the same region, we found many women working in different sectors and industries, while we were not successful in identifying and recruiting many women working as IT experts in private IT companies. And it is almost tempting to ask if the single female applicant is a part of a trend – are women starting to doubt that they are needed in the IT industry in this rural region?

Whatever reasons there are for the poor numbers for our regional IT education, it should worry all of us: the businesses who need IT experts today and in the coming years; the University College who will miss out on many talents; and the young women who miss out on a type of competence needed in nearly every branch and industry in the years to come. As Mariscal et al. suggest: “A better digital inclusion of women will also significantly improve their financial inclusion” (2019). Failing to recruit women will affect the economy, as the “absence of women working in the information and communication sector is argued to be costing the European economy 9 billion euros a year in lost revenue” (Maclean, Marks & Chillas, 2017, ref. to Iclaves, 2013).

On the other side: it is possible to make changes. Carnegie Mellon University is one of the higher education institutions that has worked active and systematic with the challenge of recruiting women for several decades, and they now have about 50-50 in many classes (Frieze & Quesenberry). It requires an effort! I guess that the main question then is this: What is our excuse?



Carlin, M. S., Skjellaug, B., Nygaard, S., Vermesan, O., Svagård, I. S., Andreassen, T. W., . . . Røhne, M. (2015). Effekter av teknologiske endringer på norsk nærings-og arbeidsliv. Rapport A27222, SINTEF IKT.

Iclaves, S. (2013). Women active in the ICT sector. European Commission, Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology.

Maclean, G., Marks, A., & Chillas, S. (2017). Women, Work and Technology: Examining the Under-Representation of Women in ICT. In K. Briken, S. Chillas, M. Krzywdzinski, & A. Marks (Eds.), The New Digital Workplace: How New Technologies Revolutionise Work (177-194): Palgrave Macmillan.

Mariscal, J., Mayne, G., Aneja, U., & Sorgner, A. (2019). Bridging the gender digital gap. Economics: The Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, 13(2019-9), 1-12.

Frieze, C., & Quesenberry, J. L. (2019). How computer science at CMU is attracting and retaining women. Commun. ACM, 62(2), 23-26. doi:10.1145/3300226

Nordwit represented at PhD summer school on computer gaming

hammer-tusk-79755-unsplashÅsa Cajander will be one of the teachers at a PhD summer school on Virtual Characters & Computer Game Technologies organised by Animatas. Animatas is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions project that aims to give researchers the necessary skills and international experience for a successful career. Animatas stands for Advancing intuitive human-machine interaction with human-like social capabilities for education in schools. Åsa Cajander’s topic for the summer school is on gender equality in academia and the work environment. She will talk about her experiences as a woman in computing, and also some research findings from careers in technology driven areas from the NordWit Centre of Excellence.
You can read more about the summer school here:

Needed: Gender equality experts in academic recruitment committees!

fancycrave-254181-unsplashIn March, I got an opportunity to meet the Young Academies from Baltic and Nordic countries. I was invited to their workshop to introduce our Nordwit NCoE and to talk about gender equality in academia. In my presentation, I presented some of our very tentative observations from the interviews we have made in Finland with women from the fields of bio- and health technology. The interviews are made to understand how women have experienced their working and career possibilities in academia; and why they have decided to either leave the academia or stay in there.

The reasons to leave are quite familiar to all of us working in the current academic reality in the Nordic countries: precariousness, too little time for research, requirement of international researcher mobility. What was surprising to me coming from social sciences, was the impossibility to stay in academia as an independent senior researcher in the fields of STEM and medicine. This means that during or after postdoctoral period, everyone who wants to stay in the academia must establish their own research group and usually collect funding both for themselves and for their group members. It is self-evident that not everyone is lucky or capable of securing this kind of funding.

Among our interviewees are women who have applied and received lots of funding, and who currently employ up to 15 people in their research groups. Still, not all of them have succeeded in the academic recruitments. One aspect of these recruitments is gender, as one of our interviewee who has followed the recruitments from her own permanent position argues:

I think there are these kinds of old boy’s networks. (…) I know very competent women who have left because they feel that they are not chosen to do the responsible jobs that they would like to do, and then some male colleague is chosen who doesn’t have any particular merits why they should choose him.

After my talk, I got really important questions and comments from the audience. One of them was precisely about the recruitments from someone who had been involved in appointment committees. He said that those are really the places to look into. This has been to some extent done by Marieke van den Brink and Yvonne Benschop (2011) in the Netherlands. Their plan was to participate as observers in the selection interviews for full professors but this was denied due to privacy issues. Instead, they analyzed the appointment reports and the interviews they made with members of appointment committee members. Van den Brink and Benschop noticed how “younger candidates with equivalent qualifications” were preferred over older; and these older candidates were more often women since they had more career interruptions than men. Though committees were looking for the most excellent researchers, often the likeability of candidates gave them extra “excellence points”. Men professors gave these points to young male candidates who reminded of themselves. In addition, women could be disqualified because they were “too nice” to make it in the academic game of survival, whereas for men being nice was a merit.

In order to tackle gendered inequalities in academia, the recruitment processes must be transparent, and they need to include experts of gender equality. We can start this first in the fields with persistent gender imbalance in the number of full professors, but all fields should follow. It is unacceptable to have professors in appointment committees, who claim that men are appointed because “Men have been working with men for ages. That is natural. It is easy.” (van den Brink & Benschop 2011, 515).

Tiina Suopajärvi


Van den Brink, Marieke and Benschop, Yvonne 2011: Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence: Sheep with five legs. Organization 19(4): 507–524.


”Strangers” in academia

strangerWhile reading our interviews with Finnish women working in bio technology, I happened to glance through a recent article entitled The ”stranger” among Swedish ”homo academicus” by Alireza Behtoui and Hege Høyer Leivestad (2019). Their results on academics of migrant background remind of the complexity of the subtle acts of marginalization in higher education.

Based on Swedish registry data, their study shows that academics coming from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa are over-represented within medicine, technology, IT, and the natural sciences and underrepresented within pedagogy and the human and social sciences. This is more or less opposite to the gendered segregation in academia: women are overrepresented in the humanities and social sciences and underrepresented especially in technological fields.

Behtoui and Leivestad have also gathered semi-structured interviews with migrant-origin academics. According to this data, technical fields are preferred not only because they offer better labour market opportunities and higher salaries but they are also experienced as easy subjects because in them, Swedish language skills are less important than in the humanities and social sciences. Unlike mathematics-based technological fields, the humanities and social sciences require delicate lingual competence. ”We felt inferior all the time, because in humanistic departments, Swedish language is the language of the seminars”, relates a female professor.

Notwithstanding the differences, there are much common problems in career building among migrant and female ”strangers” in academia. Behtoui and Leivestad report of a lack of resourceful and powerful supervisors and networks, and hidden recruitment mechanisms such as closed procedures, tailored job profiles and the selection of ”right” reviewers. In addition, the migrant-origin academics felt that they are pushed into topics on the periphery, such as migration, minorities, diversity and immigration. They become ”race or ethnicity specialists” but the status of these sub-fields within the discipline is low, manifest, for instance, in difficulties in getting research funding.


Behtoui, A. & Leivestad, H.H. (2019) The ”stranger” among Swedish ”homo academicus”. Higher Education 77, 213-228

Oili-Helena Ylijoki

NordWit Meeting in Uppsala

img_7147-e1554469288339.jpgThe NordWit Centre of Excellence team has had a meeting in Uppsala. We had very nice and productive days resulting in an energy boost for me!

We started out the centre meeting with discussions on comparative work between the research pillras in the centre. During this coming year we will do comparisons across the different data that we have collected. Some areas that we discusses as possible to explore further is the importance of family life support for women in technology driven areas, and that our data goes much further than the fact that we have good day care in the Nordic countries. Another topic that was discussed was similarities and differences between the Nordic countries, as well as extracting the positive things found in the different countries to find best practices or lessons learned.

We also discussed the practicalities of collaboration. One conclusion was that it is easier to discuss and analysis when doing analysis, but writing is possible to do remotely. Many of the NordWit team will meet in Tampere in June at the STS conference and will work together then.

During the second day of the meeting we discussed research papers in detail. The papers were sent out before the conference and we looked at them in detail to enhance quality.

We also discussed submissions of conference streams, and our future book anthology that is coming up. This was followed by a very nice feminist walking tour of Uppsala where Elina Nilsson guided us.

The third day we discussed upcoming PhD summer schools and planned the content of them.

We had really productive and nice days and I am looking forward to the next NordWit meeting.

Acknowledging Labour

adult-book-brickwalls-7363It is that time of year, at least here in Sweden, when annual reports to funders etc are due – that ‘tissue of lies and fabrications’, as a fellow professor cynically called it on account of the ways in which the forms one has to fill in force one into particular ways of describing what one has done. These forms at times bear little relation to reality, and would benefit from a ‘better fit’ to that reality. I prefer to be less cynical, and to think of it as a way of acknowledging all the labour that has gone into this year. Annual reports provide one with the opportunity to reflect on all the research colleagues and I have done during this period. Researching women in tech-driven careers, as we have done in Nordwit this past year, has provided rich data for analysis from the many interviews we conducted, the working conditions we have observed, and the connections we are making across diverse employment domains. Here shifting work contexts are very clear, as is the fact that this offers opportunities to women to move into areas they do not conventionally inhabit, particularly, in our Centre work, in the rural areas of the Nordic countries where both the need for future-oriented employment and for living different kinds of lives from urban contexts are prominent. Women thrive here – and the odds are not stacked against them in the same way as they sometimes are in densely populated areas within more traditional work environments. As tech-driven becomes the new normal, gender will matter differently from how it has done in the past – that is for sure!

Gabriele Griffin

Do women need female role models in the field of IT?

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This is one of the questions we ask in Nordwit in our rural study in Norway.

Previous research is ambivalent about whether women need female role models or not in a male dominated field.

“The act of categorization does not involve a positive test”, West and Zimmerman explain, but rather an “if-can” test: ‘if people can be seen as members of relevant categories, then categorize them that way'” (1987).

Our study of women in IT work in Norway has documented that having female role models from IT had not been important for their career in IT, like one of them say: “There haven’t been anyone before us” in this field.

In a forthcoming chapter we present our findings as a model reflecting the informants’ responses in relation to the lack of female role models in IT. They rather point to an empty space where the female role models should have been: a “void” (like above, or feeling alone), or towards substitute female role models (for instance a female prime minister), or they suggest alternative supporters of both genders (for instance partners and mentors).

One of our reviewers for this chapter was eager to point out that women might not want or need female role models. Which is indeed true. But what does that really mean? That female role models are irrelevant? According to our study: no. It rather means that women in the male dominated field of IT are in danger of failing the “if-can” test – like Åsa Cajander’s post also indicates. The answer is, we suggest, not to assume that women don’t want or need female role models, but rather that when facing a professional field that is so tightly connected to the presence of men and masculine symbols, there is a “doing gender” going on in parallel with “doing IT” – and therefore it is difficult to identify female role models that reflect this profession, as women risk failing the (masculine) “doing gender” part of IT.