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.

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!

Innovation from a feminist perspective

blog hildeInnovation, which is traditionally defined as any idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption, is a vital part of Nordwit research, as we aim to learn more about mechanisms supporting or working as obstacles for women’s careers in technology-driven research and innovation in and outside of academe. The focus in two sub-projects is on innovation systems as sites of study which consist of institutions and networks across public, private and knowledge sectors that have as one goal the promotion of activities related to research, development and innovation. In these sites of our bottom-up study, we meet and interview women as well as companies, institutions, funders and other relevant actors, that contribute to the innovation landscape. In this context we collect stories about women’s experiences, and we discuss challenges and strategies related to gender equality in the institutions.

From a feminist perspective, the ‘natural’ association of innovation with male-dominated fields like engineering, technology, and science, is criticized because it marginalizes women from participating in the work of innovation. Feminist perspectives problematize what is considered to be “natural” aspects of innovation by applying feminist theories, such as intersectionality and “situated agency”. The Nordwit framework recognizes that innovation happens in different contexts and spaces that are gendered in various ways. Thus, we consider innovations to include technical, service and social innovations in public and private sectors.

Our study documents that digital innovation, as part of the ongoing digital transformation, happens across sectors. This creates new techno-spaces, and many of the women we have interviewed have found work in such places rather than within the IT sector.

Can we FixIT? Increasing women’s participation in innovation

After one and a half years with researching women’s tech related careers in Nordwit, we are starting to see results. In Pillar 1 we have submitted one article to review, and we have two more in production that we will submit before end of this year. One of the most exciting results we see in Norway now, however, is that our Nordwit research has built a solid and highly valuable foundation for a new project that has been developed from our collaboration under Nordwit: the FixIT project!

FixIT is not a research project, but rather an action plan to increase women’s participation in research-based innovation, in particular targeting the innovation projects that recently received funding from the Norwegian Research Council (NRC). These projects have not reached the goal of having at least 40% women participating, and we responded to a call to increase women’s participation.

FixIT starts already in December 2018 and will go on for 14 months. Building on our Nordwit knowledge, the aim is to develop a “package” of gender balance competence that will increase the knowledge about how to work for a better gender balance in the innovation system. We are not alone in this project, but work together with actors from public and private sector as well as three networks for women in tech. (More in Norwegian here)

So yes, we are ambitious and hopeful as we aim to fix the gender balance with FixIT!

 

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!

ICT Changes Everything! But Who Changes ICT?

10pctwomenWe know that the proportion of women in IT education has been low for decades, but it was still disconcerting to welcome the students to the brand new Bachelor’s degree in information technology in Sogn and Fjordane last week, and find that there are only 3 women among the new students in a group of close to 30 students.

Clem Herman, Radhika Gajjala (WNRI team), and myself have a chapter in press with the title “ICT Changes Everything! But Who Changes ICT?” Through examples we illustrate the effects of a feminist gaze on ICT, including the importance of questioning who is producing and shaping technology.

Abstract:

Information and communication technology (ICT) has a changing power and digitalization is gradually changing society in all aspects of life. Across the western world, men are in majority in the ICT industry, thus, the computer programs that change “everything” are most often made by men. Unless questioned, this male dominance can be perceived as a “norm” and becomes invisible. Against this background, this paper will provide three examples of how a feminist gaze can contribute to raise important questions and produce an awareness of how exclusion mechanisms have produced a highly homosocial tendency in design of ICT systems in the western world.

The three cases illustrate how a feminist gaze leading to feminist interventions can make a difference in various ways. The first author presents a case study of a pilot for involving programming in public education in secondary schools in Norway, where a complete lack of gender awareness makes this an offer for boys in most schools. Author two presents a case study comparing the situation in the IT business in the UK and India, finding challenges not only to the situation in the western world, but also to white western feminism. Author three discusses alternatives ways of involving women in ICT work, through practices of feminist pedagogy, emphasizing hands-on work.

To be published here in September: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-99605-9_18

Welcome, Gilda!

Gilda

You might have noticed her name, as she has already been part-time involved in Nordwit. From 1th of August, Gilda Seddighi will be working full-time at Western Norway Research Institute (WNRI), where one of her main tasks will be to participate in Nordwit.

Gilda has a PhD from Department for Information Science and Media Studies and affiliated with the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research from University of Bergen, with the thesis “Politicization of grievable lives in Iranian Facebook pages” (2017). Gilda’s main research interests are focused on construction of meaning, gender and identity in relation to information and communication technology, emphasising an inclusive and democratic society by making visible marginalised voices.

We are happy to welcome Gilda as a member of the Nordwit team!