Doubts around what gender equality means in practice hamper working for an inclusive work environment in ICT

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Interviewing women working in ICT and listening to their professional life stories confirmed for one more time that women working as minorities in male-dominated workplaces experience harassments, exclusionary attitudes and routines that treat them as those being in the “wrong place”. In one extreme case, a woman who was the only woman among the employees in her workplace told us that she had experienced a work meeting being held at a sauna. These routines do not only prevent women making a sense of belonging to the field, but also exclude them from informal networks that are actually organized to have supportive function for career development. Continue reading “Doubts around what gender equality means in practice hamper working for an inclusive work environment in ICT”

Innovation ecosystems and industry-research relationships

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Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

When writing this, my very first Triple Helix Conference has been going on online for a couple of days. To me in some shared sessions there was a bit of an all-male panel vibe (with the mandatory woman here and there) but in fact some of the most interesting speeches in the conference have been by women. One such a speech was Joanna Chatway’s keynote on transformative innovation agendas and the need for new direction for Triple Helix, to which I will come back later in another blog post.

At least two prominent speakers thus far, the former prime minister of Finland Esko Aho and Martti Hetemäki, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance of Finland, have stressed the importance of the ecosystem related to innovation. Aho put the rise and fall of Nokia in context by stating that the Nokia success story was first and foremost an ecosystem success story and the loss in the end was an ecosystem loss. Hetemäki saw ecosystems as key to successful policies. He compared EU ecosystems to the Bay area (e.g. Silicon Valley) and raised the question, whether they could produce similar results than in the Bay area.

In the panel session on Innovation Expectations of 2020, the crisis relating to the corona virus pandemic was hoped to create stronger possibilities to utilize digitalization in Europe. This would, however, require such a speed that some of the industry representatives saw this as difficult, since political decision-making processes are slow. Time seems to be of essence of Triple Helix relationships between different stakeholders: while researchers have a longer perspective to the future, in business there are expectations of a relatively brief and clear view to making business out of discoveries. On the other hand, over time, findings from basic research can be quite important in innovations. Another issue important to industry–academic research relationships was transparency. Contrary to what one might expect, none of the panelists really saw lack of a common language as a problem in the relationships.

I’m on my third day of the conference, and hopefully the theme of innovation culture scheduled for today will prove to be interesting.

Minna Leinonen

Another sorry tale? Why career women end up staying at home…

One of the notorious issues working women face is the dreaded work-life balance. In the Nordic countries where portfolio careers with multiple employments (in various projects, to varying degrees, over diverse timespans) is a norm among academics and researchers during the early and middle years of their careers, it is, indeed, often not only the work-life balance that is at issue but also the work-work balance, i.e. the question of how to do justice to the range of demands of your various projects, not least when they are in different geographical locations and in different organizations.

Once women have children or other care responsibilities their room for manoeuvre becomes increasingly curtailed as they are – even in the Nordic countries – largely left to pick up the domestic pieces. Our research has shown that women in tech-driven careers are more likely to sustain such careers, indeed embark on them, if they have a partner with regular predictable hours who can work from home and effectively take up both house and care work. Where this is not the case, women struggle and can end up leaving academe (if they have worked as researchers there) for a less onerous role in the private sector where they undertake research but are not required also to publish, apply for funding etc.

Shani Orgad’s (2019) Heading Home: Motherhood, Work, and the Failed Promise of Equality (Columbia UP) explores why women in high-powered careers in London end up staying at home to look after their children and what the effects of this are. Orgad interviewed 35 highly educated career women who decided to become stay-at-home mothers, and 5 men. Challenging ‘preference’ and choice feminist views of women supposedly choosing to stay at home, this volume tells a story of impossible work demands (the idea of ‘balance’ is plainly laughable), partners who are largely absent due to their own impossible work demands, and relentless pressures to be everything: high-flying career woman and super-mom. Men are not confronted with any such demands; for them the work-life imbalance in favour of work remains largely unquestioned.

One man Orgad interviewed maintained that ‘the tech industry, particularly the social media end, has so many more female execs because their working model is much more family friendly, intrinsically is much more life friendly, they don’t have work-life separation, they have a kind of ménage and that works much better.’ (Orgad, 2019: 160) This is not, however, how the women Orgad interviewed saw it. Indeed, the covid-19 pandemic may be teaching some people that working from home – on the edges around keeping children entertained and partners from getting depressed – is often not very easy. Both female and male colleagues of mine have told me that they have got nothing done in the past 10 weeks because of being locked down at home. Those who have been productive have often been people living on their own for whom nothing much had changed in terms of their daily work routine as a function of covid.

Covid is certainly shifting the employment paradigm – work from home if you can – but it is also highlighting what the limitations of that imperative are. It may, in time, lead to a thorough review of the work cultures that many take for granted and that urgently need a serious overhaul to re-balance work and life.

Gabriele Griffin 

Thinking Nordwit research with Joan Acker

Gender, Work and Organization dedicates its last issue of 2019 to Professor and feminist sociologist Joan Acker (1924-2016) celebrating her work, life and legacy. Joan has had an enormous impact on feminist sociology and organization studies through introducing  well-known conceptualizations such as gendered organizations and gendering organizational theory, gendered processes of organizations, the abstract bodiless worker and inequality regimes. Joan’s theoretical views are based on a careful and rich empirical work and analysis. She binds the empirical observations and theoretical thinking together so that they form thought-provoking insights. Continue reading “Thinking Nordwit research with Joan Acker”

Designing action research in ICT work across sectors in rural Norway

As we continue our research in Nordwit, we are increasingly focusing on conducting action research, for which we have been in contact with ICT companies and organizations across sectors in rural areas in Norway. Action research is applied as a method for improving organizations’ practices of ensuring gender equality and increasing women’s participation in ICT work and technology-driven innovation. As the method implies, several circles of inquiry need to be developed, through which organizations will be involved in the process of identifying a problem and implementing the presumed solution. I am using this blogpost to think out loud about some challenges in designing action research in ICT work across sectors in rural Norway.

Image from Pexels.com

The ICT organizations with which we have been in contact differ greatly in the type of work they do. Some might have a technological focus, such as programming or designing IT systems, or they might be involved in designing IT solutions and services in the new contexts of digitalization. Despite these differences, we are able to identify some patterns in how they perceive the work in terms of promoting gender equality and overcoming barriers to gender balance in the organisations. One of the characteristics of many ICT organizations located in rural areas on the west coast of Norway is their small size, in that they often have under 50 employees. According to the Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act, all employers, regardless of size, have a general duty to be active in promoting gender equality. For all employers in the public sector, and for private employers with more than 50 employees, there is a set of requirements for investigating the possible existence of discrimination or other barriers to equality, and concerning how the statutory duty is to be carried out.

We meet many small companies that are often willing to listen to us and be challenged by us, but they do not have resources allocated for investigating barriers to gender equality. As Sara Ahmed (2012, p. 94) observed of diversity work, gender mainstreaming ‘is messy, even dirty, work,’ referring to the tensions diversity workers face in attempting to enforce changes in the institutions from within. As we conduct action research, we become those who need to do ‘that job’, in order to show people where and how their efforts fall short.  As these resources are usually lacking in the companies in question, there is an urgent need to construct guidelines on how, for instance, to increase women’s participation in ICT work and technology-driven innovation, in ways which are as uncomplicated as possible and are do-able within the context of the organisation. The challenge we face is to formulate guidelines which are workable and relatively straightforward to follow, without losing their power to contribute to change, especially when small companies do not have enough resources to continually do the “dirty work”.

Reference: 
Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Gilda Seddighi 

From the Nordwit reading group

The Tampere Nordwit team has an on-going reading group on gender in research and innovation. The participants have varied as the work situations and affiliations have changed. However, the group has continuously consisted of 5-6 participants, including the ‘core’ Nordwit members and associates: one doctoral student, one post doc and several senior researchers. The readings have been selected collectively to serve the interests of the participants, and they have covered classics, new texts, texts that have contributed to our conceptual and methodological understanding. Typically, each of the group gatherings discusses two articles that the participants have read beforehand.

In the spring 2020, we read, among others, the article ‘Sheep with five legs’ (Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence, Organization 2011) by Marieke van den Brink and Yvonne Benschop, the latter also a member of the Nordwit International Scientific Advisory Board. The article has been widely acknowledged in the research literature and is one of the ‘classics’ for us. Continue reading “From the Nordwit reading group”

Companion Pieces: Technologization, Transhumanism and Questions of the Limits of Innovation

Quite by chance (or was it?), I found myself reading Mark O’Connell’s To Be a Machine (London: Granta, 2017) and Jeanette Winterson’s recent novel Frankissstein (London: Penguin, 2019), one after the other. They make interesting companion pieces.

O’Connell investigates the transhumanist movement in its various forms. Here humans are viewed as constituting suboptimal systems, imperfect structures that can be enhanced through life extension projects such as cognitive augmentation with the aim of transcending the biological body and mind. O’Connell references certain procedures (e.g. cryopreservation of whole bodies and/or skulls only) and companies (e.g. Alcor in Arizona) that resurface in Winterson’s novel – it is as if they have been on the same trip but take somewhat different narrative approaches to exploring the same phenomenon: how to defeat death (or not) and live longer, ideally forever.

Winterson interweaves the tale of Mary Shelley’s production of Frankenstein into a contemporary narrative of technology-enhanced sociality (the world of sexbots, cryopreservation – again -, technocapitalism) where the issue of man defeating ‘nature’/biology/death through technology is replayed in a significantly more humorous and hence absurdist fashion than O’Connell manages.

Techno-optimism or techno-pessimism – is that the question? O’Connell’s exploration leads him into a world that is, as he repeatedly puts it, overwhelmingly male – men implanting devices into themselves, running cryofacilities, lecturing, or is that preaching, around the western, mainly anglophone world. Winterson’s world is less male-dominated but the fantasies of transcending human-ness through technology are, on the optimistic side, mostly displayed by males, on the pessimistic side queried by females. Different worlds?

Gabriele Griffin

Doing Nordwit research in exceptional times

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Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

The outbreak of the coronavirus and the disease COVID-19 has not only affected our health and safety but the possibilities and ways of work as well. This also pertains to social scientific research that we engage in Nordwit research teams. While in Nordwit we are quite accustomed to regular meetings in virtual surroundings, remote work has increased the use of communication technologies in my local team. Since our university is in lock-down for the most part and we cannot go to our offices, we are on the fast track of adopting tools for meeting and sharing our current material. Some are taking courses; some are learning by doing. Virtual meetings are important in giving rhythm and sense of direction to the work we’re doing but also for care, we get a chance to check up on each other.

Collecting interview data has changed, too. As a researcher used to meeting interviewees face to face, I am now taking the uneasy path of organizing career interviews online. It raises methodological questions, such as: How will interaction dynamics change in conversing online? Will I miss important clues when I am online? Will the sense of confidentiality be adequate enough for sharing important and sometimes hurtful experiences? Sensitivity to emerging ethical issues is also important when interviewees are working from home, often surrounded by kids who might be needing care and attention in the middle of the interview session.

As it should, such an acute crisis gives us pause. Professionally, these exceptional times with their restrictions raise questions about the world of work our research subjects are experiencing now: Has the virus outbreak and restrictions related to it affected the ways women view their careers technology? How is this situation changing their businesses and research environments? A lot of the women I’ve interviewed have kids and families. If they do remote work, how can they arrange it? Do they struggle with very concretely combining childcare and work?

These are only some of the questions that could be raised. We will see a rise in the need of social scientific knowledge to understand the vastness of effects of the virus outbreak on different levels of our societies.

Minna Leinonen

Trondheim Workshop on Gender and Equity in Academia

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Image from Pixabay

A couple of weeks ago, just before the expansion of the corona-virus in the Nordic countries, I attended a workshop “Gender and Equity in the Contemporary Academy: Kick-Off Workshop for the GENDIM Project in Trondheim, Norway. The GENDIM project, led by Professor Vivian Lagesen from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, investigates the gender dynamics underlying gender imbalance among university academics. The project takes as its starting point the concept “epistemic living space” (Felt 2009), enabling the investigation of epistemic, spatial, temporal, symbolic and social dimensions of academic work and career building in the current neoliberal environment.

Several presentations discussed the discrepancy between gender balance and meritocracy. It is generally agreed that gender balance is a good thing and work to reach gender balance in academia is an important goal. At the same time, people, both men and women, emphasise the importance of academic merits in university recruitments and career progression. Female academics in particular, tend to assure over and over again that they have attained their positions due to their merits, not because of gender balance measures. The same tension between gender balance and meritocracy is apparent also in our interviews with Finnish female academics.

How to become a professor and have career success was another topic that resonates very well with our Finnish findings, just to name a few issues that were eagerly discussed over the workshop. Based on interview material gathered in Norway, Vivian Lagesen distinguished four narratives of how professors make sense of their career trajectories: 1. Narratives of self-inclusion, emphasising hard work in a meritocratic and competitive system, 2. Narrative of ‘tailwind’ in which the interviewees, often with an academic background, have always taken more or less for granted that they will become professors,  3. Narrative of supported inclusion, characterised by help, encouragement and support from networks, and 4. Narratives of ‘headwind’, involving various hardships in a chilly university climate. Sarah R. Davies, drawing on her interviews, gave four pieces of advice of how to become a professor: Work hard, Know the right people, Be lucky, and Be focused. This logic, she underlined, represents individualisation of responsibility.

As a whole, the workshop raised a wide array of important issues concerning, among other things, gender, career, race, policy, power, and inclusion in the neoliberal university context. Both similarities and differences among the Nordic countries became evident. This will offer valuable background against which our Finnish findings can be mirrored and reflected on.

References:
Felt, U. (2009) Knowing and living in academic research: Convergence and heterogeneities in European research cultures. Prague: Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

 

Oili-Helena Ylijoki

Defining Digital Excellence from a Gender Perspective

NordWit has a new brief spin-off project where the results from our work in the centre gives important input. The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet, UKÄ), together with the The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket), has been commissioned to analyse and propose how the supply of digital excellence can be developed in the short and long term. The assignment includes the development of improved statistics and forecasts of the total need for competence in business and the public sector with the aim of improving the conditions for universities and universities to meet the need for excellence in the short and long term. However, there is no accepted definition of what digital excellence is. The new project hence aims to develop a definition of the concept of digital excellence. The definition should form the basis for UKÄ and the Swedish Growth Agency’s project.

Åsa Cajander will be a part of a team that will work on a definition of Excellent Digital Competence in the spring 2020. The work will be led by Professor Jan Gulliksen and the other members of the team are professor Arnold Pears and Mattias Wiggberg. The team is composed of people with complementary skills to create the best possible working group, and my area of specialty in comparison to the others is the gender perspective.

Digital excellence is likely to include a basic broad knowledge of the basics of digitalisation as well as in-depth expertise in one or more sub-areas, such as programming technology, AI, data security or user experiences, just to name a few. Digital excellence also certainly includes some form of documented practical experience of actively participating in several successful development projects. One can also discuss how digital excellence is connected to ethics, and how gender plays a role. Our studies from NordWit about careers in technology driven areas are of course a great input in this work. My perspective is that it is important that the definition of digital excellence is gender inclusive and opens up for aspects that are traditionally female coded, such as caring for society and people.

The OECD notes that the lack of digital specialists and digital excellence is a bottleneck for innovation and growth in Sweden. The need is expected to increase in the coming years as digitalisation develops and new technologies such as AI will have an impact.

In order to work with this on a political level there is a need for a definition of Excellent Digital Competence, and the team is working with this using several different methods:

  • Literature studies to map the state of knowledge, analyses of identified documents
  • Short interviews to capture the different needs of the target groups, both from industry and academia
  • Continuous reconciliation meetings with clients to clarify the work and give it direction and to iteratively refine and improve the quality of the result
  • Workshop/Focus groups to discuss and anchor proposed definitions, as well as to anchor the work and to get input into problem picture
  • Design thinking methodology for developing creative innovative solutions

Our work will be presented in a report in the spring 2020.

Åsa Cajander