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?

group hand fist bump
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

Thoughts from Tampere: 8 March and Women’s Matters

Potrait  de Simone de Beauvoir
Alice Schwarzer in conversation with Simone de Beauvoir

The International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8 last week.
So, how was the day noticed in one of Finland’s leading news papers, Helsingin Sanomat? On the front page was a picture of beautiful red roses. However, the roses proved to be part of a commercial advertisement. It announced that such timeless style does not wither. Accordingly, it is this image that a global IT-company offers to women on Women’s day. Another advertisement asked: ”Did you know that 90 percent of girls are uncertain about their appearance?”. The suggested solution was workshops on how to build up a strong self-esteem with a project organized by a cosmetic firm.  Thus, the self-esteem and the appearance are closely connected.

However, the news paper had also other stories and news to read. Namely that appearance also can tell stories about mistreatment. Perhaps the most dramatic news were the ones told about sexualized and gendered violence. It has been estimated that about 700 000 women in Finland have encountered violence. Last week two organizations, Amnesty International and The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters, had a campaign against violence targeted at women. As part of the campaign three well known Finnish women (a member of the Parliament, a journalist and television person, and a project manager in a ministry) had their faces made up to appear bruised and abused.  The authentic looking photos were published on social media and printed press. The women had used buses and trams and participated in meetings with their made up faces. They witnessed how people whom they met did not know what to say. They became silent, and did not know how to get close to them, as if out of their embarrassment people lost words. Even though the numbers of gender based violence are high in Finland compared to other European countries, also positive trends are visible. Perhaps the most significant change is that the violence against women is not any more found as a private matter.

Besides International Women’s Day, what also took place last week was Tampere Film festival. After reading the above stories on gendered violence, I went to the feminist film screenings in which women’s daily life and positions as well as masculine power were addressed with warm humor and satirical outset. One example was the short film Vox Lipoma (Fettknölen, 2018), a cartoon by Jane Magnuson and Liv Strömquist. The vox lipoma in question is a small growth on famous director Ingmar Bergman’s cheek and through which his relationship with romantic attachment, power and sexuality is explored. Furthermore, films from Kosovo, the UK, Egypt, and Iran told stories about women dealing with serious problems, such as violence or female circumcision, in their everyday lives. Last but not least, in the film Portrait de Simone de Beavouir (1974), directed by German feminist Alice Schwarzer, the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir and Schwarzer talk about their love life and about women’s emancipation and masculinity. Although the movie was made already in 1974, it gave a lot of inspiration to study women’s career chances and obstacles still today.

Päivi Korvajärvi

Collaborations with Gender Research such as Nordwit Strongly Recommended 

On Friday 8 March, Åsa Cajander from Nordwit was interviewed by SVT News about the university’s work with gender equality. The Swedish article is found here, and below is a translation to English:

Ways to Increase the Number of Female Professors 
About one-third of the professors at universities and colleges in Sweden are women. In the higher education institutes, the percentage is often at an even lower figure. But there are several initiatives to smooth out the differences.
At the Department of Information Technology at Uppsala University, the number of female doctoral students is lowest in the entire university. But at the same time, the differences between the levels are also the least – they do not lose as many women after basic education as other institutions do.

Experts needed
Åsa Cajander, professor of human-computer interaction, leads the gender equality work at the department. She believes that an important prerequisite for increased gender equality is that there is cooperation between the university and experts in gender science in order to spread knowledge about the problems.

For example, research has shown that, during recruitment processes, one can unknowingly formulate an application so that it specifically targets a woman or man. Training employees on gender issues can be a way to avoid this.

– Ten years ago we only had one female professor and all three leading positions at the department were held by men. Now there are five female professors, and the three leading positions are held by women, says Åsa Cajander.

Basic education
But Åsa Cajander thinks that the figures are still very low, and sees an opportunity for improvement when recruiting professorships.

Already during basic education, the percentage of women is lower than the average, which means that the number of women educated at doctoral level at the department is also very few.

– One solution can be to recruit from nearby fields and alternative career paths where more women work, says Åsa Cajander.

Fair recruitment
At Lund University, efforts are made to ensure that the recruitment process is as fair as possible. If a service only applies for one sex, the faculty should turn to the headmaster for an investigative discussion, where they present the application process and possibly re-do it.

– The fact that someone actually points out the problem and that the principal is spending time on it has been particularly important. We have been able to see the proportion of female professors increasing steadily over the years, says Lina Lindell, personnel consultant at labor law and employment at Lund University.

– In terms of numbers, it is difficult to create change, but it has become better. It goes slow but forward, says Åsa Cajander.

Which narratives do you tell on the International Women’s Day?

Heading from New York Times, Febr. 13 2019: The Secret History of Women in Coding, The beatuiful image has the caption: “Mary Allen Wilkes with a LINC at M.I.T., where she was a programmer. Credit Joseph C. Towler, Jr.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/magazine/women-coding-computer-programming.html

Happy International Women’s Day, to women all over the world!

There are many reasons why we still need a Women’s Day and many highly important issues to solve before we get a gender equal society – also in Norway! For instance, more women than men have a higher education in Norway, but women earn in average 86% compared to men. Girls choose maths at high school as often as boys, but only 24% applying to higher IT education are women. In OECD countries, only 2% of girls, against 20% of boys, imagine themselves in a future IT career. Even though IT used to be a field where many women found interesting jobs and where they felt “at home”, this is not part of the dominating cultural discourse in 2019. Instead, women’s early participation in IT is still referred to as a “secret history”, like a recent article in New York Times illustrates (see image). I recommend this article if you are not familiar with women’s part of computing history!

One of the things we emphasise in our work to improve women’s situation in technology-driven R&I (Nordwit, FixIT), is that we tend to shape narratives by including certain things, while excluding others. In the narrative about IT and computing history, women’s contributions is not part of the mainstream story, so many aspects of the women-in-computing-part of this narrative are indeed still “secret”.

I am very proud and happy that I was asked to talk about this “secret story” today, at the local Women’s Day eventCome, listen and discuss if you are near Sogndal!

Female entrepreneurs – a new perspective

HeraHub Meeting

On 22 February my collaborator Sophia Renemar, a female entrepreneur who set up HeraHub Sweden, and I went to the Vinnova final conference on normcritical innovation where we presented and discussed our project on normcritical female entrepreneurship. Norm critique is not a common notion in Anglophone culture, possibly because there is a less strongly developed idea of norm – idiosyncracy being more the order of the day – than in Sweden. HeraHub is an all-female enterprise, designed to support female entrepreneurs – all off which in many different ways goes against the Swedish equality grain. One very important aspect of our research was that the entrepreneurs in this co-working hub had an average age of 49 and their businesses, in almost all cases their first one, were on average 3 years old. Given the general perception of entrepreneurs as geeks starting in their parents’ garage and 30-somethings wearing sharp suits, this was quite a different demographic. It also meant that setting up a business occurred for them within a work life cycle where they had considerable prior experience of being employed in different fields. Many indeed set up a business in reaction against their previous work experiences of not being valued, being over-worked, being ‘good citizens’ but never being given credit, or also classically, one more restructuring too many. They were therefore less ideas-driven (‘I have a great idea – how can I turn it into a business?’) than refuseniks of neoliberal working conditions.

Food for thought!

Gabriele Griffin