Author: Carol Azungi Dralega (NLA University College)
It was a tall order, an academic exercise aimed at exploring a phantom. Tickling our curiosity were concerns whether indeed women, highly educated, pursuing tech-driven careers in academia, research, innovation and media industries were to be found in the rural and peripheral spaces of Sogn og Fjordane in Norway. What were the driving factors in their career trajectories; what opportunities were available to them and what bottlenecks stood in their paths?
Existing literature is as sparse as it paints a bleak picture for the women targeted in this study:
a) Literature on women in technological careers documents women as underdogs in academia, in innovation and cultural industries. Related studies point to a trend that pitches women in impressive numbers in the classroom, a number that steadily dwindles as they transition into the workplace and further on at the upper echelons of management and leadership. This leaking pipeline from the classroom to the boardroom is an issue researched and documented – but not quite covering rural dimensions.
b) Rurality on the other hand, has been conceptualised and documented as white male spaces (Bryant and Pini, 2011) entrenched in patriarchal cultures (Philo, 1992). Spaces where women actually migrate from in search of political influence, education, work, healthcare and plurality (Nordregio). Spaces predominately agricultural (Bryant and Pini, 2011) as well as spaces that are closest to pure nature (Short 2006; Rye 2006). Rural areas are also documented as spaces where social structures are characterised by homogeneity, cohesion and strong sense of local as well as national identity (Cloke 2006). The centre-periphery power dynamics in the disfavour of the periphery is often characterized by few SMEs and small and less prestigious institutions of higher learning. Research and innovation activities are often fraught with both the physical (distance to the centre) and symbolic power that often resides with the centre. So, who are the women in our study and how do they fit within these conceptual frames?
The findings are both fascinating as they are enlightening. Some of the women were native to the region; some had left but had returned home, others were internal migrants from other parts of Norway while others were international migrants – all forging their tech-related careers in the rural and peripheral region of Sogn og Fjordane. We found affirmations of conventional wisdom on the one hand and contestation of notions of rurality on the other. We gained insights into what it means to be a woman working in tech-related fields in the rural region where gender, age, nationality, academic and technological proficiency along with centre-periphery power dynamics come into play in renegotiating and redefining notions of ‘Rural authenticity’.
Also, Ryszard Kapuściński (2007) and Edward Said’s (1978) post-colonial perspectives of the ‘other’ as analytical frames helps us unravel the many intersecting ‘otherings’ our women represent – such as the other as women; women working with technology, women working with technology in rural areas among others. We found out how rural spaces can be fluid and socially constructed as idyllic spaces where career women in IT fields not only get relevant jobs but also thrive (for instance, they are visible, are ‘pushed up the ladder’, have informal and informal support structures around them and so forth). At the same time, we unravel rurality as static arenas of struggle, the degree and form depending among other things on who you are, where you come from and who you know – suggesting that, for women, tech-driven careers in rural areas are experienced as a double edged-sword.