Last week we came together for the last ordinary half-year meeting of the Nordwit consortium. We had two days of summing up findings from all our publications; a long and diverse list of 30 published and soon to be published manuscripts from our nearly 5 years of research together. You can see the proud list here: Nordwit publications.
Looking back at our studies of women’s tech-driven careers in academia, private and public sectors, in Sweden, Finland and Norway, we discussed similarities and differences of gender patterns, of continuous gender discrimination, and of a Nordic gender equality ideal that often fails to manifest itself in these patterns. One of the similarities we discussed was how the Nordic gender equality norm works as a confirmation that gender equality has been agreed upon and perhaps also achieved, with the effect that the actual institutional practices do not (have to) reflect the gender norm that is simultaneously endorsed. This creates a gap between the norm of gender equality and the institutional practices, where the narrative about the first to a great extent hides discriminating practices of institutions within fields of tech-driven research and innovation. You can read more about this in several of our publications, including the recent article “Unpacking the Nordic Gender Equality Paradox in ICT Research and Innovation“.
We will continue to discuss these and other issues as we prepare the final presentations of Nordwit’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations for improving the situation for women in tech-driven careers, inside and outside academia. While this meeting was virtual due to the pandemic situation, we hope that the final meeting and the Nordwit conference in February 2022 will be a face-to-face meeting in Uppsala, where we can hug when we meet, drink coffee together in-between the sessions, and share stories about all the stuff that is hard to include when the meeting room is virtual.
More than 600 researchers together for 3 days for the Gender, Work, and Organization conference, GWO 2021. This was an online and delayed version of the GWO 2020 conference, which should have been in Kent, UK.
There were nearly 40 streams of different topics at the conference; on professional careers, entrepreneurship, identities, discrimination, theory and a long list of other topics!
Minna Salminen-Karlsson and I organised a stream together with the title “Rural Frontiers In-Between Tradition and Change: GWO in rural contexts”.
This was our first dip into the rural in a GWO perspective, and we really enjoyed the fantastic papers from across the world, including Australia, the Netherlands, Mexico, the UK, Italy, New Zealand, the Solomon Island as well as from Norway and Sweden. After so long time of no travelling, it was wonderful to get those deep dives into these diverse cultures, as a next-best to travelling ourselves!
Thank you to everybody who participated in the rural stream! And a big thank you to the organisers of the GWO 2021 conference. It was amazing to share these three days with so many researchers!
Although I hope we will have the opportunity to have face-to-face conferences again, we certainly see the potential of digital conferences for including people from every corner of the world.
Studies of young people’s motivation to pursue a career in technology have often focused on when and how interest intechnology develops. Many teenagers lose interest in science and technology, and because his affects girls more than boys, it leaves a short gap to capture girls’ interest, it has been argued. Many initiatives to increase girls’ interest have been designed based on images of boys’ interest in video gaming and programming. The problem is that this type of interest is also gendered.
We are in the process of concluding a survey among girls in Norway with nearly 700 respondents who were studying science and technology at high schools and universities.
What has been the most important motivation for your choice of studying in science and technology?
When we asked the girls this question, the top 9 motivating factors were all related to working life and society:
93% agreed that exciting job opportunities in technology was an important motivation
80% were strongly motivated by the possibility of using technology for solving social issues.
In the opposite end of the scale we found activities associated with boys:
less than 5% of the girls have been motivated through after-school/leisure time activities involving technology
less than 14% found video games motivating for choosing technology at high school or university.
These findings support our previous empirical research finding that many girls are motivated by other things than technology when they enter tech education.
The report (in Norwegian) will be out soon, for those who want to read more!
Corneliussen, H.G. (2020) “Dette har jeg aldri gjort før, så dette er jeg sikkert skikkelig flink på” – Rapport om kvinner i IKT og IKT-sikkerhet, Sogndal: VF-rapport 8/2020. Corneliussen, H.G. (2020) ‘What Brings Women to Cybersecurity? A Qualitative Study of Women’s Pathways to Cybersecurity in Norway’ European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference (Eicc 2020). Talks, I., Edvinsson, I., & Birchall, J. (2019). Programmed Out: The gender gap in technology in Scandinavia. Oslo: Plan International Norway. McKinsey & Company and Pivotal Ventures. (2018). Rebooting representation – using CSR and philanthropy to close the gender gap in tech. https://www.rebootrepresentation.org/report-highlights/: Tech Report 2018 [Accessed March 2021]. Microsoft Corporation. (2017). Why Europe’s Girls Aren’t Studying STEM. – Microsoft Philanthropies.
This was the question I tried to answer at the European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference two weeks ago. Summing up a case study where we compare women in cybersecurity with women in other IT disciplines, I talked about which similarities and differences we found between the two groups. The study is based on 24 in-depth interviews with women studying or holding PhD, Postdoc or early research recruitment positions in academia, 12 in cybersecurity and 12 in other IT disciplines in STEM faculties.
Women are a minority in cybersecurity as well as IT in general, however, there has been some overall improvement in women’s participation, but not in cybersecurity. The graphs below visualize the massive male dominance in these disciplines.
Women in Cybersecurity and women in other IT disciplines share some features, like a notable lack of knowledge about IT disciplines when they are in transition between upper secondary/high school and university. The unfortunate result is that stereotypical ideas of IT, with images of male «geeks» and «hooded gamers» who had started programming early, dominate women’s expectations of ICT at university, and they don’t see themselves fit within this image: «I had never programmed before in my life“. The interviews document that there is still a strong association of IT with masculine stereotypes, and more, such ideas about IT becomes a barrier for women to choose any IT disciplines, including cybersecurity.
There are also differences between women in cybersecurity and other IT fields, for instance that cybersecurity was described as open for a more varied set of competences. The women could recognize their own strengths and expertise from otherdisciplines, like arts and social sciences, as relevant in cybersecurity, and this became an important door opener for many of them. We also found that it was easier for women to understand and associate themselves with the goals of cybersecurity rather than with the goals of other IT disciplines. They saw cybersecurity as a field concerning «everybody» and everyday life, thus not only relevant for women but also in need of women.
You can hopefully read more when the paper is published by ACM as: Corneliussen, H. G. (2020). What Brings Women to Cybersecurity? A Qualitative Study of Women’s Pathways to Cybersecurity in Norway, European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference (EICC 2020).
This is the question we ask in our recent article “What Can Statistics Tell About the Gender Gap in ICT? Tracing Men and Women’s Participation in the ICT Sector Through Numbers“. The aim of the article was to identify how the gender structure in ICT education and work was represented through statistics. We often associate statistics with “facts” – the pure numbers that can show how things really are. And statistics are indeed important to monitor fields, but statistics are also representations of someone’s choices of which stories to tell.
Which narratives can statistics tell about men and women’s participation in ICT? The question is relevant across the western world showing a pattern of more men than women in ICT work. This chapter presents an analysis of available statistics that contribute to an image of women’s participation in ICT work and education. The scope of the study is European countries with an emphasis on Norway, however, we also present statistics from OECD. The statistics confirm that the gender imbalance in ICT work is significant, suggesting that monitoring this field is important. The analysis also reveals challenges and gaps in the material, for instance the challenge of finding comparable numbers, a reduced use of gender as a variable in later years, difficulties in identifying the gendered structures of ICT due to a mixture of occupational fields for some of the relevant numbers, while other issues found to be relevant in qualitative studies are not represented in the available statistics. The monitoring of gendered structures of ICT work can be improved by developing statistics that better can capture inequalities and hierarchies. The findings also suggest that qualitative research is an important complement and correction to statistical overviews, in particular for identifying factors that alone and together contribute to gender inequalities in ICT.
Cite as: Simonsen M., Corneliussen H.G. (2020) What Can Statistics Tell About the Gender Gap in ICT? Tracing Men and Women’s Participation in the ICT Sector Through Numbers. In: Kreps D., Komukai T., Gopal T.V., Ishii K. (eds) Human-Centric Computing in a Data-Driven Society. HCC 2020. IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology, vol 590. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-62803-1_30
This was Nordwit’s second PhD course, organized as a joint event between Nordwit and Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at University of Bergen (UiB). Half the group met at UiB, while the other half participated online through Zoom, since Covid-19 still makes it challenging to travel.
The three keynote speakers for the course are all involved in research that in various ways raise questions about what current technological development means for feminist thinking about equality, freedom and change. Are algorithms gendered, and does it matter? What does sex and subjectivity mean in the age of neuro-technologies and AI? Are we at all still “human”? Is there a specific ethics of the posthuman?
Jill Walker Rettberg, Professor at Digital Culture at UiB, talked about “The Biased Face of Technology: Algorithmic Inequality and Algorithmic Persuasion”, and she presented a new framework for “situated data analysis”.
N. Katherine Hayles, Distinguished Research Professor of English at University of California, Los Angeles talked about “Ethics and the Posthuman: A Feminist Perspective” and her concept of “cognitive assemblages” suggesting a way of understanding how algorithms, AI and humans make decisions together.
Kari Jegerstedt, Associate Professor at Centre for Women’s and Gender Research, talked about “Bodies and Brains: Sex and Subjectivity in the Age of Neuro-Technologies”, exploring the challenging relations between biology and AI.
For all of us this was the first time hosting an event in an online-offline parallel stream, making the title “technologies are us” even more relevant than we had imagined when planning this a year ago. The zoom participants missed part of the social experience of meeting people, but overall, the course was a success with international participants from Norway, Europe and as far away as Australia and the USA.
In my last post I shared some of the findings in our new article: “Employers’ Mixed Signals to Women in IT: Uncovering how Gender Equality Ideals are Challenged by Organizational Context”, where we have identified various ways in which IT organizations renegotiate the call for gender equality in IT. Based on the findings we have suggested a model that visualises how the “national gender equality regime” fails to implement gender equality as an active goal in the organizations.
We explain the model this way:
“[T]he national gender equality regime creates expectations to employers’ active work to improve the gender imbalance in IT, reflected in rules and regulations. However, gender balance in IT is not a specific requirement and there are few and vague guidelines for the organizations for engaging in gender equality work in general. The organizations’ representatives see the request for gender equality in the context of their organization, introducing internal and external factors that contribute to modifying the understanding of women’s underrepresentation and whether or not it is worth changing. This process introduces doubt and alternative ways of perceiving the situation, resulting in limited space for organizations to find motivation to engage in gender equality actions.” (Corneliussen & Seddighi 2020, p. 46)
The most problematic finding is that the “draining” of gender equality as a goal is happening within the framework of the national gender equality regime rather than challenging the regime itself.
How can we approach the challenge of gender equality not being perceived as a relevant goal within fields of IT?
Read the full paper: Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. (2020). Employers’ Mixed Signals to Women in IT: Uncovering how Gender Equality Ideals are Challenged by Organizational Context. In P. Kommers & G. C. Peng (Eds.), Proceedings for the International Conference ICT, Society, and Human Beings 2020 (41-48): ADIS Press.
Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. (2020).Employers’ Mixed Signals to Women in IT: Uncovering how Gender Equality Ideals are Challenged by Organizational Context. In P. Kommers & G. C. Peng (Eds.), Proceedings for the International Conference ICT, Society, and Human Beings 2020 (41-48): ADIS Press.
Why is it so difficult to achieve gender balance in IT work? Our study of attitudes towards women’s under-representation in IT and how IT employers and organizations deal with this imbalance, give some of the answers. These are some of the attitudes that work as barriers to recruit more women to IT work:
Last week we ended a project that has been working in close collaboration with Nordwit in Norway: FixIT – a project that has developed and organised activities to increase women’s participation in innovation projects. We developed a “gender balance competence package” for increasing awareness of and knowledge about gendered structures in research and innovation, with a brochure with guidance and tools for organizations to work towards gender balance. A balance competence course offered to innovation actors from private and public sector.
This of course, required knowledge, and this is what Nordwit provided: research-based knowledge about women’s experiences in the field of tech-driven R&I as well as organizations’ and employers’ attitudes and strategies for increasing women’s participation in this field.
That’s the title of a short popular science piece I have in Nationen today discussing the “Nordic Gender Equality Paradox”: this often recognized “absurd” mismatch between the high degree of gender equality in the Nordic countries combined with a high degree of horizontal gender segregation in education and working life.
The low proportion of girls choosing ICT is not really a paradox, I claim here, but a result of how “those who should have cheered the girls on to fun, exciting and good paying jobs in ICT, failed them”. For more than two decades I’ve interviewed and talked with not only girls and women in ICT, but also a large number of teachers, parents, ICT companies and others who should have been first in line to encourage girls to engage in ICT contexts and education. Among these groups we have found a widespread distrust in the possibility of making girls interested in ICT. How could we expect girls to choose a career path that our culture does not expect girls to be interested in? The paradox is thus not girls not choosing ICT education, but this distrust and the absence of supporters cheering them on!
Corneliussen, H. G., & Tveranger, F. (2018). Programming in Secondary Schools in Norway – a Wasted Opportunity for Inclusion Proceedings of Gender&IT’18, Heilbronn, Germany, May 2018 (Gender&IT’18) (172-182). New York, NY, USA: ACM. https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3196839.3196867